To Do in October

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, wasn’t September fun?! Dry, wet, dry, OMG wet. Heartfelt sympathies to those who suffered loss by Florence. For those of us whose gardens were only moderately affected (or not at all) here is the October calendar.

Fertilizing
Not much to do here unless you are planting spring flowering bulbs. Should that be the case, incorporate a little balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 or equivalent) into the soil as you plant. Store any leftover fertilizer in a dry place for the winter.

Planting

  • The above-mentioned spring flowering bulbs (e.g. hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, crocuses, etc.).
  • Pansies! Those plucky members of the Viola genus who can brighten up a gray winter day should be on everyone’s list unless, of course, there are deer nearby.  Apparently, the pansies make a great dessert after a meal of azalea branches.  Plant them soon as the more established they are when it gets cold the better able they will be to withstand the cold.
  • “Fall is for planting.” It’s not just a slogan from the nursery industry. It is gospel. The very best time to plant any new landscape plants you have been planning is now.
  • Peonies can be planted or transplanted now.
  • In the vegetable garden consider a nitrogen fixing cover crop like red clover, hairy vetch or winter rye. This will help keep down the weeds and add nitrogen to the soil. In the spring just till it into the soil to add nutrients and organic matter.
  • If you happen to be one of the foresighted people who have a cold frame now is the appropriate time to plant a winter’s worth of salad. Lettuce, green onions, radishes, carrots, spinach and other leafy greens will grace your salad bowl all winter if planted now.

Pruning
Once frost (It’s October. It is going to frost!) has finished the decimation of the perennial garden cut off all the dead tops and throw them on the compost pile. Root prune any trees or plants you plan to move in the spring.

Spraying
Unless you have a lace bug problem, it is time to clean up and winterize the sprayer and store the pesticides in a secured, dry location that will not freeze. As for the lace bugs, they are active whenever the leaf surface temperature is warm enough (i.e. whenever the sun shines on the leaves). A horticultural oil spray can be helpful in controlling both feeding adults and egg stages.

Lawn Care
Maintain adequate moisture levels for any newly seeded or sodded lawns.  Avoid leaf buildup on lawns.

Tall fescue and bluegrass (not the fiddlin’ kind) can still be planted in October.

Propagation
Keep an eye on any new cuttings in the cold frame (the one without the salad greens in it). They should be checked at least twice a month and watered as needed.
If you are a gardener lucky enough to be able to grow rhubarb now is the time to dig and divide it.

Other stuff to do that will keep you outdoors while the leaves turn color:

  • Take soil samples while they are still FREE. NC Department of Agriculture will charge for them from November to April.
  • Put those raked 0r blown leaves into the compost bin or till them into the veggie garden.
  • Clean fill and put out the bird feeders.
  • Dig and store (cool, dark, dry) tender summer flowering bulbs (E.g. gladioli, dahlia, caladium) before frost.
  • Clean up lubricate and otherwise prepare lawn and garden equipment for its long winter’s rest.

A mea culpa. This writer neglected to inform you that it is time to band trees that are susceptible to canker worm invasions. This involves wrapping and securing the trunk with a coarse material like burlap or quilt batting about 4 or 5 feet above the ground. That in turn is wrapped with a corrugated paper wrap that is then covered with the stickiest gooeyest stuff you’ve ever played with. All these materials are available at some nursery/garden centers, one of which is very proximal to the Durham Cooperative Extension office.

For a fun activity now that will yield fresh living flowers in the bleak mid-winter try your hand at forcing spring flowering bulbs. Plant bulbs in pots early in October and place them in the refrigerator. In twelve weeks bring them out into the house and watch them grow and bloom. Kids love it.

 

Holy Moley

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

A mole has taken up residence in my yard and, seemingly overnight, disrupted a couple of landscaped ornamental beds and killed two biennials. Well, it’s time to send that critter an eviction notice!

I immediately installed a spike as I’ve experienced good results with them in the past. These low-tech devices periodically emit a sonic vibration that supposedly moles find irritating. It worked, somewhat; The critter vacated the one bed, waddled (I imagine) across the walkway leading to my front door and dove into the next nearest bed to begin again. Aargh.

So, I poked another spike into the soil thinking, “can’t hurt, might help.”  True enough–no moles were hurt. Extension resources say my go-to solution has not been scientifically proven effective.

Know thy enemy
Solving a problem is more difficult when you know next to nothing about its cause. It was time for me to do some reading and uncover a few facts about moles:

  • Moles are solitary animals and, since they live underground, have few predators (snakes and foxes are two). Three to five moles per acre are considered a high population for most areas.
  • Moles are carnivores; they prefer to eat insects and grubs. They eat 70% or more of their body weight each day. With an appetite like that it is no wonder they cover so much (under)ground.
  • Moles are very efficient at tunneling. Observe their front feet in the accompanying photo and you can see why. The feet are broad and flat with long, protruding claws to help toss soil aside. They “swim” through the soil. They can tunnel forwards or backwards. Their deep (10 to 18 inches) and wide tunnels can destroy plant roots in their path, which is likely what happened to my biennials. get-rid-of-moles
  • Moles do not eat plants. If you notice plants or their roots suddenly vanishing, that is the work of white-footed mice or voles who are opportunistic herbivores – they make use of a mole tunnel to reach their food source.
  • In addition to grubs and insects, moles eat earthworms, spiders and other beneficial soil microorganisms. Moles like shaded, moist, cool loamy soil. No one warned me that a reward for improving my clayey soil would be moles. They also enjoy mulched areas and compost piles.
  • North Carolina is home to two species of mole: the Eastern mole and the star-nosed mole. The latter is a rare species and thus, moles are a protected species in this state.


Actions that may solve a mole problem
A 24-inch square piece of hardware cloth, bent in half and buried in the soil may work to protect a small area or a treasured plant. This option is hardly practical for my larger landscape and besides, I treasure all my plants.

Chemical repellents, toxicants and fumigants are not recommended as their effectiveness is limited at best and potentially dangerous to humans, pets and other wildlife. Extension also recommends not planting Euphorbia latharis (mole plant) nor Ricinus communis (castor bean plant) for similar reasons.

The most effective way to control moles is to trap them. Since moles are a protected species in N.C., you need a depredation permit to trap them. Depredation refers to wildlife causing property damage.

Benefits moles bring to nature
I am highly unlikely to experiment with trapping a mole, permit or not. And the problem would have to get pretty bad before I paid someone to trap a mole for me. So, it is time to consider what benefits moles bring to nature. Maybe we can coexist.

  • For starters, moles eat white grubs and the larvae of pest insects. Grubs become Japanese beetles so hooray for moles.
  • Tunneling loosens and aerates the soil. It also mixes the soil near the ground surface with deeper subsoil.
  • Borders of marigolds may repel moles from gardens. This method has not been scientifically tested but who would object to planting marigolds? Thus, I am counting it as a benefit.

Alas, there are just too few benefits of moles in the landscape. Sigh.

640px-Marigold_Flower

Drawing a conclusion
I might have won the battle, after all. One source noted that spring floods are probably the greatest danger to adult moles and their young. I know it’s not spring, but Hurricane Flo just dropped several inches of rain on Durham. Maybe the two inches of water that seeped from the over-saturated soil into my basement was also enough to wash away the smorgasbord that my resident mole was enjoying and he will soon pack up for new digs. Wishful thinking? Can’t hurt, might help me feel better.

Further Reading:

Find lots more detail about moles and trapping them at this resource from Penn State Extension:  https://extension.psu.edu/moles

https://wayne.ces.ncsu.edu/2015/12/moles-or-voles/

https://extension2.missouri.edu/G9440

https://www.ncwildlife.org/Licensing/Regulations/Nongame-and-Other-Regulations/Wildlife-Depredation

http://www.metromastergardeners.org/faq/index.php?action=artikel&cat=9&id=20&artlang=en

Photo credits:
Mole: https://www.almanac.com/pest/moles
Marigold:  Sarbast.T.Hameed [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

 

Learn With Us, week of September 16

Sept. 18, 2018, 6:30 – 8pm Arboricultural Tree Climbing Demo –
Durham Garden Forum
Sarah P Duke Gardens, Durham, NC
Leaf & Limb Arboriculture Company will present a climbing and roping demonstration and discussion of the value of proper tree care. This session will be both indoors and out to see the tree roping and climbing demonstration.

Free for members, $10 General Public. No charge for parking.

 

Sept. 23, 2018, 3-4pm Raised Beds – South Regional Library
South Regional Library, 4505 S. Alston Avenue, Durham, North Carolina 27713
Join EMGV Charles Murphy for a presentation about raised bed gardening.

Class is free. Registration is required.
Register with Pana Jones (panajones2@ncsu.edu) or call 919-560-0521
OR
Register online at the Durham County Library website durhamcountylibrary.org. Click on “Events” to find the full calendar of events. Go to the date of the class and sign up.
You can also call the Information Desk at South Regional Library to register: 919-560-7410.

September is the Time to Seed Tall Fescue

by Carl J Boxberger, EMGV

September 1 to 15 is the correct time of year to seed tall fescue in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina. Here are seven important steps to follow:

1) Soil Test:  Have your soil tested to determine lime and fertilizer requirements for your lawn area. Soil test kits are available at the Cooperative Extension Office.

2) Site Preparation:  Break up the soil in the area to  be seeded with a rake for small areas or use a lawn coring machine for larger areas.

3) Fertilization: Apply the recommended fertilizer to your lawn. If you have not completed a soil test  then apply a complete N-P-K (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) turf grade fertilizer with a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio (12-4-8 or 16-4-8) at a rate of one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

4) Seeding:  Seed with a quality tall fescue blend for sun/shade depending on how much sun and shade your lawn receives. Seed at a rate of six pounds per 1,000 square feet. Stay away from Kentucky 31 tall fescue as there are much better tall fescue blends available. Things to look for are a high percentage of seed germination and a low percentage of weed seeds in the mixture.

When buying grass seed, also make sure the weight of the bag is equal or close to the actual amount of seed in the bag. Some companies add a coating to the seed which is unnecessary and can be misleading. Look closely at the label on the bag to learn what you are buying.

Do not hesitate to ask the personnel at a nursery or other quality garden center for help in choosing the proper seed for your yard’s conditions. The single most important investment in ensuring high quality turf is the purchase of high quality seed.

5) Mulching: Spread straw (without weed seeds) over the seeded area at a rate of one to two bales per 1,000 square foot area.

6) Irrigation:  Keep the top half-inch of the soil moist after seeding. Water the newly seeded lawn lightly two to three times a day for 15 to 20 days as the seed germinates. As the seedlings grow and root, water less often but for longer periods of time which will encourage stronger root growth.

7) Mowing:  Once the newly seeded grass reaches a height of four-and-one-half inches tall, mow the tall fescue back to the proper mowing height of three inches

Suggested Maintenance Fertilization Schedule for Tall Fescue:
September: One pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet
November:  One pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet
February:  Half to one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet

References:
Carolina Lawns: A Guide to Maintaining Quality Turf in the Landscape
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/carolina-lawns

Understanding a Turfgrass seed label
https://ag.umass.edu/turf/fact-sheets/understanding-turfgrass-seed-label

Strategize to Beat Weeds

by Marty Fisher, EMGV

I have a lovely patch of chocolate chip ajuga—it has dark purple evergreen leaves and blue flowers in early spring. It spreads stoloniferously and lately, it has begun to drift through my perennial bed, establishing small colonies in attractive drifts. It’s a nice companion to red and yellow pansies in the spring, fades away to let perennials shine in the summer, and provides a fluffy green and purple texture to brighten winter.

So, just imagine my horror this summer, when hundreds—I kid you not—hundreds of tiny, bright green weeds appeared woven throughout my ajuga like a rampant cancer.

chamberbitter
This is the dreaded chamber bitter, new to my garden this year. It’s also known as gripe weed, leaf flower, or little mimosa. It has yellow flowers on the underside of the leaves. If it’s nestled amongst your perennials as mine was, the only good solution is hand weeding, before it sets seeds and preferably when the ground is soft and wet.
IMG_1062.JPG
Chocolate chip aguga…before infestation with chamber bitter…

There was nothing to be done but spend hours on my hands and knees painstakingly plucking the little suckers out one by one. I discovered the name of my new weed is chamberbitter, which sounded exotic enough to make me feel a little better. It looks a little like a mimosa and has yellow flowers under the leaves. It likely rode in on something I planted, or perhaps one of the many birds I feed graced me with it. I must have missed it last year, and it set seed and multiplied. It is now July, and I am still plucking at it, watering it with my sweat as I go.

This awful experience got me thinking about the strategies weeds use to get into our gardens, gain a foothold, and multiply. They have multiple methods of getting into our gardens—through birds’ digestive systems, in containers from nurseries, or they simply ride in on the wind! One source I consulted suggested removing the top layer of soil from nursery plant containers before planting. This seems like a good strategy, especially for the ubiquitous oxalis! But I can’t think of anything to stop the weed attack from birds or the air…

As happened with my ajuga, weeds like to mingle with existing plants—nestled as close to our favorite plants as possible. This provides protection and makes them harder to eradicate. They also are adept at snapping off when we try to pull them, leaving their roots intact to sprout again. For bigger weeds, I use a Japanese hori hori knife.

The knife can slice into the dirt just at the base of the weed, without disturbing the soil too much. Then you can grab it as close to the ground as possible and pull. Other valuable tools include an old table fork for twisting out the roots of weeds and a fishtail weeder for digging out tap-rooted or bulbous weeds such as dandelion, violets, or dock.

This may come as a shock, but every inch of your garden and mine is chock full of weed seeds. They can lie dormant for years, and all they need to germinate is a little light. When we dig, plant, or even hand weed, we bring weed seeds into the light. So, it’s critical to cover any exposed or disturbed soil with mulch. Two inches of mulch is recommended. More can cut off oxygen to the plants we love. Never skimp on mulch—I would skimp on fertilizer before I skimped on mulch!

The best time to pull weeds is before they set seed, and after a good soaking rain. Once weeds set seed, the battle is lost. You’ll be fighting them for years to come. After a rain, weeds come up easier with less disruption of the soil, and mulch applied after weeding will hold in the moisture from the rain. For really bad weed infestations, the best solution is spraying with glyphosate. But this is not an option in closely planted landscape beds, as glyphosate kills any plant it comes into contact with.

Never put freshly pulled weeds into the compost bin. Heat is the key to composting them. I find it very satisfying to lay them out on my asphalt driveway where I can watch them cook in the sun. Even after they are fully cooked, I’m not brave enough to put them in my compost bin, but sources say, once they are dead and rotting, you can put them in clear plastic bags, leave them in the sun for two or three days, then compost them. (I don’t now that I reallyneed compost all that much!)

We are all busy. It would be great if we could mulch at the best time and weed at the best time. But sooner or later, we all miss the ideal timing. I think weeds know this will happen, and they take full advantage of it. By nature, they are designed to grow and set seed rapidly, the better to evade the gardener and spread their offspring across the land. So, if you can’t get in to fully eradicate them, lop off their heads. This keeps them from setting seed until you can get back in the garden.

I am not sure I believe this, but according to soil scientists, fewer weed seeds germinate in soil that contains lots of compost and organic matter. But it can never hurt to enrich the soil, so good advice regardless! (My perennial bed is full of compost and organic matter, and I have plenty of weeds…just saying …)

My goal every year is to get everything planted, weeded, and mulched before we leave for the July 4th holiday. Then I coast until time to plant winter veggies in early August. I wish everyone a weed-free summer!

So here is a rogues list of plants I have been fighting lately. Only because of its name, tops on my list is Hairy Crab Weed, or Mulberry weed. It is a monstrous weed and it has a distinct smell.

Then of course there is Japanese stilt grass, which is ruining the chances of survival for our native wildflowers. It loves shady woodland environments.

Nutsedge is another candidate for most obnoxious! The best weapon for this one is glyphosate but if it’s in your perennial bed, that’s not an option since the spray will kill your desirable plants. Nutsedge retains a “nut” or a seed, in the ground. After you pull it, it will re-sprout.

IMG_1043So, I guess the bottom line is, weeds are just something we are going to have to deal with. I don’t think you can completely eliminate them but if you set aside a day each month to pull them, you can keep them somewhat at bay. Happy Summer!

 

Resources:
https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/indiana/journeywithnature/japanese-stiltgrass.xml

https://www.uaex.edu/yard-garden/resource-library/plant-week/mulberryweed.aspx

Guides to identifying weeds:
http://oak.ppws.vt.edu/~flessner/weedguide/

https://weedid.missouri.edu/weedKey.cfm

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