February: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Welcome to the newly minted month of ‘Febril.’ Seems like we did this last year. Therefore, beware, lest you let your guard down and get caught by the other new month—Maruary which could easily be just around the corner, lurking, waiting to zap your saucer magnolia blossoms and any other non-cold hardy vegetation. And, it ain’t snowed yet neither. So, as tempting as 70 degrees might be, be smart. Just for the record, I didn’t just pull this stuff outta the air. I done researched it like them professors learned me to in Horticulture (yea, I can spell, too)  School on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. Pay attention, y’all. It’s real stuff.

Lawn Care*

Cool season grasses (i.e. fescue and bluegrass) should be fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer following the recommendation of your SOIL TEST.

Late February/early March is the best time to apply a pre-emergent to prevent crabgrass. There are several easy-to-use granular products on the market. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label for safe and proper handling and application. Calibrate your spreader to ensure accurate application amounts. Too little will not give you effective control and too much may damage the turf.

Fertilizing

See Lawn Care above and Planting below.

Planting*

And so it begins: the vegetable garden. The reason for existence, for frozen fingers in February, summer sunburn and the endless supply of liniment in the medicine cabinet.

It is time for root vegetables and salad. Vegetables you can plant now include cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips. Work a little fertilizer into the soil that was tested in October (while it was still free to do so) following the recommendations of said SOIL TEST.

Be cognizant of soil moisture levels.  It appears that Mother Nature is going to maintain that for now, but she can be really fickle.

Pruning*
If you have been ignoring previous posts, now would be a good time to prune bunch grapes and fruit trees.

Also due for judicious trimming are summer flowering shrubs and small trees. That list includes crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and hydrangeas that bloom on new wood (Hydrangea arborescens & H. paniculata). Blueberry bushes will also benefit from a February pruning.

While you’re out there whack back the ornamental grasses, also.  The new blades haven’t emerged yet and the plants are looking a bit tired anyway.

Got some overgrown shrubs that you’ve been meaning to (or reluctant to) prune heavily? Go for it now.  I understand that if you’ve never done it before it can be a bit intimidating. Trust me. The plant will almost always not only survive, but also thrive. I am aware of the never-more-than-a-third rule, but sometimes that is not enough. If it needs to go back to 12 to 18 inches, go for it. Chances are you and the plant will be glad you did.

Spraying

The orchard needs attention. Peaches and nectarines should be sprayed with a fungicide to prevent leaf curl. Spraying a dormant oil on the fruit trees will help control several insects later in the year.

Other fun stuff to do outside in February
Perennials can be divided if the soil ever gets dry enough.

Many landscape plants can be propagated via hardwood cuttings this time of the year. Some of the plants in the category are crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species), flowering quince (Chaenomoles species), junipers (Juniperus species), spiraea (Spiraea species) and weigelia (Weigelia species).

Bluebirds will be most appreciative of a through house cleaning before the Spring nesting season. Remove all the old nesting materials and let them start afresh. It’s like clean linens for them.

Oh, yeah. Lest we forget … order flowers or other living things from the plant kingdom for your significant other. Just for the record, guys like flowers and plants, too. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Think positive thoughts about an early Spring and no late freezes.

Additional Reading from NC State Extension

Carolina Lawns: A guide to maintaining quality turf in the landscape
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/carolina-lawns

Planting calendar for annual vegetables
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/central-north-carolina-planting-calendar-for-annual-vegetables-fruits-and-herbs

Pruning trees and shrubs
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/pruning-trees-and-shrubs

Plant propagation by stem cuttings
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/plant-propagation-by-stem-cuttings-instructions-for-the-home-gardener

In 2020 I Resolve to …

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

If you’re still searching for a new year’s resolution, I’ve got a really good one for gardeners. It doesn’t require sacrifice or expense yet can be very rewarding. Repeat after me: “I resolve to go on a monthly walk … in my own yard!”

Intentionally walking your yard on a monthly basis will result in a custom task list for your garden. Sure there are things we know we ought to do at certain times of the year, but it is easy to overlook them when they are out of view. During a monthly tour, nothing remains out of view.

I’m the only bonafide gardener in my household, so I do a solo walk. But if your partner gardens alongside you, then include them on the tour.

If not for the monthly tour, I would miss the little joys in a winter garden like the orange hips on this Gardenia ‘Lynn Lowrey.’ Photo by A. Laine.

Schedule your monthly walk for a day of the week that you are generally home and for a time of day when the yard is well lit. This is especially important if there are shady spots on your property. It can also be beneficial to conduct your walk at different times of the day throughout a season to observe where light falls in your yard.

Wear comfortable, seasonal-appropriate shoes and clothing. Take along a notebook and pencil, or a smartphone or tablet if you prefer. Whatever suits you for note-taking. The amount of time to allocate will depend on the size of the property and how many plantings it has. I generally spend 30 minutes or so to tour an acre.  

Your mission is to stroll the property at a semi-leisurely pace. Cover as much ground as possible and observe what’s happening in the garden. Get close to plants, linger a little. As you go along, record what plants or areas need attention and in what way(s). Empty spaces — opportunities for new plants — will become more clear. The monthly walk is also an optimal time to note what’s in bud or bloom or current weather conditions if you keep a gardening journal or would like to begin one.

On my January 3 tour, I noticed the first blossoms on a Camellia Japonica — a very early occurrence as this one usually blooms in February. Photo by A. Laine.


The challenge is to note what needs doing without actually doing it right then and there. I know this is hard, but it is important, so please try. Resist the urge to pull a few weeds, deadhead a flowering plant, or sweep a walkway. Help yourself stay focused by not bringing any gardening tools with you. I don’t even wear gloves (and I always wear gloves to garden).  

The monthly tour is something I’ve come to look forward to as I find it relaxing and meditative as well as productive. It really sets me up well for a good day’s work on the following days of the month that I do devote to actual working in the garden. One year my September monthly tour revealed a downed maple tree (about six-inch trunk diameter) behind our detached garage. It had most likely fallen during a recent tropical storm, but would have gone unnoticed for much longer had it not been for a sighting on the monthly tour.

Further Reading
The monthly garden tour is an excellent way to begin a garden journal. Here are two good Extension resources to learn more about what that may entail.
https://extension.psu.edu/garden-journaling

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/appendix-a-garden-journaling

January: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Congratulations! We all made through another decade (although technically the new decade doesn’t start until 2021). We gardeners have seen it all—extended heat and drought, a week below freezing, too much rain, not enough rain, eight inches of snow in December, 100 degrees in mid-October. You name it, meteorologically, and we had it. Yet we persist.  Like farmers, we are eternally optimistic … or just plain nuts. Your call. That being said, here’s the “To Do” list for January, weather permitting, of course.

Lawn Care
If you haven’t already cleared the lawn of leaves, exactly what are you waiting for? There won’t be anymore leaves falling until the oaks shed their bottom leaves in the spring. Just do it, already.

Take a really good look at the grass area of your yard and see if there is the possibility of eliminating some (all?) of the grass. Less lawn equals less expense and greater sustainability.* Think about it. It’s your planet, too.

Fertilizing 
Nope.  Nothing to see here folks.

Planting 
Maybe some asparagus crowns, but that’s about it for January. I take that back. I have successfully transplanted trees from the nursery in January. Just remember, if it turns dry, they need water even if they don’t have any foliage.

Pruning *
This is it! Your best reason to go play in the yard in January. Trees and shrubs are less traumatized by January pruning. The wounds heal faster from January infliction than in other months. Also, unless you have an actual hedge, please resist the temptation to use the hedge trimmer. Shearing is best left to the English, French or Japanese formal gardens. Hand pruning individual branches will produce healthier and more aesthetically pleasing plants.

Spraying
So, the plants you brought in off the deck for the winter had “friends” on them and now they are somewhat bothersome? It happens. If possible, take them back out on a nice day and spray them with a horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Let them dry, then bring them back inside. If you have to spray them inside, be careful. Wipe up any over-spray. ALWAYS READ THE LABEL.

If you have azaleas planted in a sunny location you probably have azalea lace bugs. They will be actively feeding whenever it is much above 40 degrees. Spray them with a horticultural oil and be done with them (at least until hot weather).

What to do when January is too inhospitable to play outside
Three words: seed catalogs, Google. Think about places in the garden where you might experiment with plants you haven’t tried before. Research the plant’s appropriateness for the space. “Right Plant Right Place” isn’t just a catchy phrase. Especially think about natives. Is the sunniest part of your yard right out front? Stick some tomatoes in with the petunias and marigolds, peppers in the perennial bed. It’ll give the neighbors something to talk about until you start sharing the tomatoes. If you have an HOA, my condolences.

Stay warm, y’all. March is closer than you imagine.

*Resources & Further Reading
Bull City Gardener Learning Series – Sustainable Lawns and Alternatives: April 16 and April 18, Learn more: https://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/

General Pruning Techniques for Trees & Shrubs
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/pdf/general-pruning-techniques/2014-09-29/general-pruning-techniques.pdf

December: To do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

How did it get to be December already? Wasn’t it 100 degrees and October yesterday? Unbelievable! So, I was looking at last year’s December calendar and I can’t think of how to improve it. Therefore, y’all get an encore! Heck, come next year it might be a new tradition.

The holidays
Are upon us.
It’s cold enough
To prune the euonymus.

Most of the leaves
Have fallen down
And into the compost
Raked and blown.

The door is closed
On the potting shed.
Most of the garden
Has been put to bed.

But before the year
Turns over anew
There are a few more things
Left to do.

Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ Little Gem Trees CC BY-ND

Lawn
Mow the fescue
One more time.
Remove the leaves
To keep it fine.

Planting
Landscape plants
Can still be planted
There in that space
Where you’ve always wanted.

Prune
Prune the nandina
And red-berried holly.
Arrange them on the table
To make it look jolly.

Herbaceous perennials
Can still be cut back.
While weeds and “bad” trees
Can be thoroughly wacked.

Spraying
While some of us think
Spraying is fun
In the month of December
There should be none.

Other Stuff That’s Mostly Fun
The Christmas tree
Really needs water
And will appreciate
Being away from the heater.

To keep your poinsettias
Cheery and bright
Put them in the room
With the sunniest light.

As to your soil recommendations
Apply the lime.
Save the fert
For the warmer springtime.

If it’s viticulture
Or an orchard you seek
Order plants now
To plant by March’s second week.

For your strawberries
A sweet straw bed
Either wheat or pine
A blanket for their heads.

May your holidays
Be blessed and merry
As bright and cheery
As the holly’s berry.

And may next year’s garden
Be like my Grandmother’s
A bounty for you
And a bounty for others.

Further Reading
December is a good time to explore the NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/

November: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Rain glorious rain and it isn’t cold yet, at least not as I write this. What more could one ask for? Now that there’s some moisture in the ground it can really be planting season. I have a large number (more than 70) mostly perennial plants to stick in the ground, but I haven’t been able to get a shovel into it. Now it is “just do it” time. Perhaps I shall first make a chiropractor’s appointment for next week. So, that’s my plan. What are you doing with the rest of your fall?

Lawn

If you have a warm season grass lawn all you need to do is keep it relatively free of leaves. If, on the other hand, you have a cool season grass lawn, you are still cutting it 3.5  to 4 inches tall AND keeping it relatively leaf free. Continue the battle with fire ants.

Fertilizing

Not much going on here. If your lawn’s soil pH is low, less than 6 (I’m sure you were astute enough to get the soil tested before NCDOA starts charging for the service later this month), apply the recommended amount of lime. A good way to incorporate it into the soil is to core aerate the lawn before the application.

Wood ashes from your fireplace can be spread on your gardens and shrub beds. Be careful to avoid acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, gardenias, etc.

Planting

  • Let me repeat, “Fall is for planting!” There is still lots of time to add/transplant plants in your landscape (per your PLAN, naturally).
  • Plant one-year-old asparagus crowns now.
  • Sow a cover crop over the veggie garden if it is done for the year. A planting of annual rye, wheat or barley will help prevent erosion and keep weeds to a minimum. Besides you can just till it into the soil in the spring as a bonus.

Pruning

  • After Jack Frost has claimed the last of your herbaceous perennials, including existing asparagus, they can be cut back to the over-wintering rosettes or the ground.
  • Dead and/or diseased wood can be pruned out at any time.
  • Weeds and undesirable trees can now be removed without the aid of three bottles of water per hour, head sweat band and insect repellent.

Spraying

Surely by now you have cleaned up and put away the spray equipment. If not, just do it.

Other stuff to do that will keep you outside

  • As mentioned earlier, add lime where recommended. No fertilizer until spring.
  • Walk around the yard on mild days; It may be awhile before we see any more of them.
  • Okay. You can go inside now and order those fruit trees and vines you’ve been talking about. They will be delivered in time for planting in February or March. (Did you know hardy kiwi will grow well in a sunny place and produce a prodigious amount of fruit?)
  • While you are in there look at your landscape and/or gardening plan and make adjustments based on this year’s experiences.
  • Oh, yeah.  Don’t forget to stuff that bird, mash them taters, and bake that punkin pie.

May your Thanksgiving be
bountiful enough to share with those
whose Thanksgiving will not be.