Learn With Us, July 2022

Durham Garden Forum – Agronomics: The Economics of Land Use
July 19, 2022, 7 – 8:30 PM

with Delphine Sellers, retired director of the Durham Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Via Zoom. Registration Required: durhamgardenforum@gmail.com. Dues for the 2022 calendar year are $25. (Another option is to pay $10 to attend one lecture.)

Are you interested in becoming a Master Gardener? Durham County’s 15 week training program will begin in January 2023, and interest meetings will be held this summer. Contact the Master Gardener office at mastergardener@dconc.gov for more information or to be added to the interest list.

Check out Triangle Gardener‘s list of area lectures and other learning opportunities.

Stay hydrated and cool while you are enjoying outdoor spaces, and keep learning!

Garden Hose Maintenance and Repair

By Ann Barnes, EMGV

A garden hose may not be the most exciting tool you have in your shed, garage, or yard, but it is certainly one of the most essential. Between watering your lawn and garden, washing a vehicle, and keeping your steps or favorite outdoor chair clean, you may find yourself using the garden hose many times per week.

A good hose can last for many years with just a little maintenance. To keep it in its best condition, either coil your hose or hang it after each use. Leaving a hose kinked rather than coiled can cause a weak spot that could later crack and leak. Hoses should also be protected from temperature extremes to prolong the life of the hose materials. If you have an easily accessible spot to hang your hose in a garage, crawl space, or shed, this would be an ideal place to store it when not in use. If keeping it outdoors is the best option for you, try to find a shady spot to coil your hose, especially during the heat of the summer. UV light can degrade the hose, leading to cracks. Once the weather turns cold, lift your hose to drain any water out and move it to a protected location. Don’t allow water to freeze in your hose, as ice will expand and may cause the hose to burst.

Even with proper storage and care, your hose may develop a leak over time. If water is leaking from the connection between the hose and spigot, the repair may be a simple one. There should be a rubber or plastic washer in the coupling that attaches to the spigot (the “female end” of the hose). Simply remove the existing washer and replace it with a new one. Some hose manufacturers recommend replacing the washer every year or so. If you have leaks where a sprayer nozzle connects to your hose, replacing the washer on your sprayer could be the solution there as well. The part is inexpensive and easy to install, so why not buy a bag of washers and replace them when you get your hose out of winter storage each year?

If your hose has developed a crack or hole, you may be able to repair rather than replace it. Small holes or cracks can be repaired with electrical tape or a specialty hose repair tape. Duct tape is not recommended for more than a temporary fix, since it is not designed to be water tight.

A large crack, multiple leaks, or a run-in with a string trimmer may require splicing. This is not a difficult task and is much less expensive than replacing a good hose. You will need a hose mending kit, available from any hardware store. The kit consists of a brass (or plastic) fitting and two clamps. Many kits are designed to fit both 5/8” and 3/4” diameter hoses, but always make sure you are purchasing one that fits the hose you own. To repair the hose, disconnect and drain the hose and cut out the damaged section. Loosen the clamps from the fitting and slide a clamp on each side of the area to be spliced. Next, insert the fitting into the hose. The fitting is designed to fit tightly, so you may need to soak the cut ends of the hose in hot water to soften them first — or repair your hose in the sun on a warm day. Once the fitting is tightly inserted into both sides of the splice, push the clamps as close to the middle of the splice as possible and tighten the clamps with a screwdriver. Now you can reconnect your hose and make sure there are no more leaks.

If the couplings at either end of the hose are bent or otherwise damaged, they can be replaced using a similar technique. In addition to making sure you purchase a correct-diameter kit, check that the kit is for the end you need to replace. The coupling that goes to the spigot is often called the female end, while the side that attaches to a sprayer is the male end. Remove the damaged coupling, slide the clamp onto the hose at the cut end, insert the fitting, then tighten the clamp.

Proper storage and care will help to prevent hose leaks, but even the best garden hose may eventually become damaged. Hopefully, these tips will give you the confidence to repair rather than replace a leaky hose.

Resources & Further Reading

https://ask.extension.org/questions/430281

https://gilmour.com/house-hose-maintaining-repairing-longer-life

https://www.bobvila.com/articles/repairing-a-garden-hose/

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

In a short time I will relocate to a place with entirely different land features and growing conditions than I have enjoyed in Durham County. Of all the places I have lived (three states and six dwellings) my current home is where I have had the biggest amount of land on which to garden and ample time each week to spend gardening. It is also where I learned a lot more about gardening: as a volunteer at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, as an Extension master gardener, and through trial and error in my own yard.

Reflecting on my gardening experiences has brought forth a list of recommendations I would like to share. Each recommendation is followed by the reason it made a difference to me and a tip about implementation. Of note, my garden is primarily ornamental and includes two natural areas, the property (1.74 acres) is fenced (so, deer-free but I contend with my share of rabbits and voles), and I have no outdoor pets.

If I knew then what I know now, I would:

Plant on top of the soil.  Digging through clay and rock is not fun for anyone and, often enough, not even successful, resulting in improper planting. When I first heard this tip, I dismissed it as cheating. Years later I gave in and tried it, and I haven’t looked back. Yes, I still attempt to dig a proper hole first. But if it proves too difficult, I dig what I can and make up the difference with commercially bagged garden soil or compost piled on top of the hole and mixed with the native soil.

Add a dose of compost every spring. As with planting on top of soil, before laying down compost rough up the soil surface a few inches deep. It will encourage the existing soil and the compost to mingle and improve the soil more effectively. Great gardens begin with great soils (and soil tests)!

Mulch every other year. Did you know that you are supposed to rake off old mulch before applying new mulch? I have too much garden for that chore! Yet not doing it while mulching every year (as I did for a while) does no good; layer upon layer of undisturbed mulch becomes compacted. Compaction causes a barrier where water runs off and air pockets beneath the soil line are compressed. Lately I’ve compromised by giving the mulch an extra year to break down. I poke and turn it with a pitch fork the days before new mulch is applied. This option is easier on my wallet, too.  

Weeding grass out of flower beds is no fun!

Lawns … a) Seed fescue grass every other year (alternating with mulch years) unless it really needs it. b) If ornamental beds haven’t been mulched in a while, don’t seed the lawn (see photo). c) Skip fescue entirely and plant zoysia or another warm season grass. It’s too hot here for fescue to thrive, especially without a lot of time and money.

Plant more native shrubs. I’ve come to appreciate native plants for their benefits to native wildlife. I’m no scientist but I’m in my garden a lot and the more natives I’ve added or let be, the greater variety of insects and birds I’ve observed. But frankly, the native plants are more carefree and thus bring me more joy.  (Granted I could really make a difference by getting rid of my lawn …)

Be bold about removing things that aren’t “right plant, right place” (apple tree in a shady valley, hostas in too much sun, hydrangeas in a cramped spot). They will struggle to flourish and you’ll be disappointed. Once something un-spectacular is gone from sight you will hardly remember that it was ever there.

Raise a few chickens. I had never lived anywhere that backyard chickens were allowed. So, it’s no surprise that it took me this long to consider raising them myself. There’s a perfect site in my yard (remember that shady valley where the apple tree struggled). And mine is an egg-eating household. Plus, chickens and gardens play well together.

Rejuvenate or replace the hedge sooner. Hedges are high maintenance. At least the really good-looking ones are. I’m always shy about making the first cut but have rarely regretted giving my hedge a confident trim or applying a rejuvenating prune to a shrub in need. Alternatively, plant a loose hedge; one that need not be squared off or rounded to look decent. Fragrant tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is a great choice as is the anise tree (Illicium floridanum).

Photo by A. Laine

Foundation plantings. Think twice before putting shrubbery up against the house. Mine were present when I moved in; But had I removed them a decade ago, they would not be the nuisance they sometimes are today. Vegetation up against the house is not necessary (in my opinion) and it’s a pain when it comes time to paint the exterior, power wash, or make a repair. It’s also a hassle to trim bushes placed so close to the house!


Focus, Focus, Focus. If I knew then what I know now, I would have heeded the advice to design and landscape one section of my yard at a time. Not strictly adhering to this rule haunts me on dry summer days as I traipse around the garden with a hose or watering can tending newly planted trees, shrubs or perennials.

There’s no time like the present to learn from our mistakes.  Ask yourself what you would do differently and then set out to do it.  

Extension Resources & Further Reading
Publications and factsheets from NC State Extension
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/

A comprehensive look at soil compaction
https://extension.umn.edu/soil-management-and-health/soil-compaction

A guide to maintaining quality turf in NC
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/carolin a-lawns

Create your own native landscape, even in an urban landscape
https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/create/index.html

Raising chickens
https://poultry.ces.ncsu.edu/backyard-flocks-eggs/
https://extension.psu.edu/successfully-raising-a-small-flock-of-laying-chickens

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox
https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu

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

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

Happy Holidays

Blog posts will resume on January 8, 2020. Til then, we hope you enjoy this video from NC State Extension and our previous posts about winter plants traditionally used in holiday decor.

North Carolina grows 40,000 acres of Christmas trees. Learn more about this industry in a new 4-minute video from NC State Extension:

A refresher for reflowering poinsettias

Forcing and “pickling” paperwhites

Mistletoe and running cedar in the winter landscape

Holiday Cacti and Holiday Cactus Care

Evergreen plants for holiday decorating