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
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

Carolina Lawns: A Guide to Maintaining Quality Turf in the Landscape

Understanding a 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.

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.
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!




Guides to identifying weeds:






Gardeners Calendar: To Do in June

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

It’s June? (very soon!) OMG!! Did May ever happen? I hope you are more ready for summer than I. Although, ready or not, here it comes. Forthwith a hopefully helpful list of possible gardening activities presented for your perusal.

Lawn Care

If you have heretofore procrastinated on this item it is TIME to fertilize warm season grasses (i.e. Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine). It is also the best (and really only) time to fertilize Centipede. The general recommendation is for half a pound 15-0-14 or equivalent per 1000 sq ft. Should you desire to be truly accurate–GET a FREE SOIL TEST.

It would be difficult to core aerate our clayey soils too much, so a day or two after a rain or a good irrigation would be an ideal time to do just that.

When mowing warm season grasses a good rule of thumb is to remove one-third of the new growth per mowing.

If you have been drooling over your neighbor’s Zoysia lawn June is a good time to start your own with sod or plugs.


After getting your FREE SOIL TEST in order to avoid over fertilizing, now is the time to feed your dogwoods following the recommendations.

Vegetable gardens would like a side dressing of fertilizer about now to maximize production.


Again, for the procrastinators out there, if you want a crop this year better get these plants (too late for seeds) in the ground ASAP: tomatoes, peppers, black-eyed peas, lima beans, green & wax beans, pumpkins, sweet potatoes.

Start (from seed) Brussel sprouts and collards to set out in mid-July.


Coniferous evergreens–they produce seeds in cones–like pines, cedars, junipers, arborvitaes, etc. may be pruned now.

Hedges can be pruned now but be advised: Do not remove more than one-third of the total plant top (the green part).

Keep pinching your garden mums until mid-July.

Hydrangea macrophylla (the ones with the BIG leaves) can be pruned when the flowers fade.

Azaleas may be pruned until July 4. (An “old wives tale” that works.)

Dieback in ericaceous plants (acid-loving) such as azalea, rhododendron, Pieris, etc. can be pruned out now. Remember to cut below the damage and to sterilize the pruner with 10% bleach between cuts.

Pest Control and Herbicides

Patrol your shrubs for the following likely suspects: lace bugs, leaf miners, spider mites, aphids and bag worms. Use appropriate measures to curtail their destructive tendencies. If the bag worms have already bagged themselves you will have to hand pick them and destroy them in any manner you see fittin’.

June is also the beginning of the Asian invasion better known as Japanese beetles.  There is a myriad of treatment options out there.

Tomato early blight could be rampant this year what with all the warm dampness.  Watch for dark spots on the leaves and treat with an appropriate fungicide. There are some good organics out there.

June is a good month to eradicate poison ivy, kudzu and honeysuckle. Get ‘em with an appropriate herbicide while they are rapidly growing.

As with shrubs it is time to be on guard in the garden. Several (many?) insects are looking for gourmet gardens to satisfy their gastronomic inclinations. Look for a variety of worms on cruciferous veggies (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower), cucumber beetles on cucumbers (ironically), squash borers on other cucurbits–squash and melons, flea beetles on green beans, tomatoes and eggplant, and aphids on anything green.

Continue with regular pest management programs on bunch grapes, fruit trees and roses.

Use pesticides wisely, sparingly and only when necessary. Always read the label and follow directions.

Other Fun Garden Stuff to Keep You Outside

Water lawns as necessary but try to do it early in the day to avoid evaporative loss.  Watering lawn in the evening promotes disease. Lawns and gardens need about one inch of water per week either from natural sources or irrigation.

Strawberry beds can be renovated now.

June is also a marvelous time to sit on the deck or patio with a glass of your favorite cold beverage and enjoy your garden.

Best Practices for Container Gardening

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

Containers enable practically anyone to cultivate a garden. Containers can be placed inside or outdoors. Annuals or perennials, flowers or vegetables can be grown in containers. Herbs are especially well-suited for containers, and even trees and shrubs can be contained. Success lies in matching a plant’s growth requirements and growing conditions (Right Plant, Right Place) to the appropriate container and following good planting practices. Here is a primer on best practices for container gardening outdoors.

Choose plants with a confined or compact growth habit. Most annuals fit this description as well as nearly all leafy green vegetables and some fruit trees – apples, peaches and figs. If perennials are your choice, look for ones labeled “bush,” “dwarf,” “miniature,” or “specifically bred for containers.”

Container Depth and Diameter
Match the size of the container to the plant’s growth requirements. You want to give the roots room to spread and take hold.

  • Annuals have shallow roots so a 6- to 8-inch depth container will do.
  • Perennials or plants with a taproot (carrots) require greater depth — 10 to 12 inches.
  • Herbs can thrive in 4- to 6-inch depth.
  • Shrubs and trees need a depth and diameter of 12 inches each.

The number of plants you intend to include in one container and their size at maturity are factors to consider when choosing the diameter of a container. In general, larger containers do not dry out as quickly and are less likely to restrict growth, flowering and fruiting.

Container Material
Be mindful of the porosity of the container you choose.

  • Nonporous: plastic, metal, fiberglass, glazed
  • Semi-porous: wood, pressed fiber
  • Porous: clay, unglazed ceramic, terracotta
semiporus container kathleen_moore ccby20
Containers made from wood are semi-porous. credit: Kathleen Moore cc by-2.0

Porous containers like terracotta lose moisture more readily. They are ideal for growing plants that prefer drier conditions like cacti or succulents. Nonporous materials will hold moisture in, thus require less frequent watering. Unglazed ceramic is not recommended for a winter garden it is capable of absorbing water which under freezing conditions may cause the pot to crack.

Container Drainage
Holes are necessary in ALL containers! This is a conundrum for those of us who are drawn to the many attractive containers on the market that do not offer drainage. Once upon a time, people would add stone or gravel to the bottom of the container to create drainage. The experts now recommend against doing that because it causes water to collect in the potting mix just above the gravel. Only when no air space is left in the potting mix will the water drain into the gravel below. In the meantime, plant roots are standing in water and developing root rot. Double-potting is the solution. Put the plant in a pot with drainage holes and place it inside the pot without holes. Remove the pot to water and drain.

Container Color
The color of the container also comes with consequences. Dark-colored containers will absorb heat. This is a plus in winter, but could be a drawback in summer as the potting mix will heat up and dry out. Avoid placing dark- colored containers in full sun. Metal containers also get very hot in the sun as do blacktop driveways. Containers placed on black-top surfaces may need extra care.

Potting Mix
Do not use soil from your yard! Purchase a quality potting mix or medium made especially for the type of gardening you will do. There are commercial mixes that are customized for indoor gardening, outdoor gardening, vegetables, cacti, African violets, orchids, etc. These mixes will have the right balance of fine and coarse textured components for what you want to grow. Plus there will be no weed seeds, disease or insects.

5-Steps to Planting Success
You’ve chosen a container, plant(s) and potting mix; Now it’s time to pull it all together and assemble your container garden. Aim for the soil line to be a quarter- to 3-inches from the top of the container. Plant the crown at the soil line.

  1. Fill container one-third with lightly damp potting mix.
  2. Remove plant(s) from its nursery container. Gently splay roots. Center plant in pot.
  3. Fill potting mix around the roots and up to the crown. Spread potting mix evenly. Do not tamp down the potting mix.
  4. Water well – until water drips from the container’s bottom. This initial watering will settle the potting mix. Add more potting mix if a water well forms.
  5. Top dress with mulch to reduce moisture loss. Be sure to keep mulch a few inches clear of the plant stem so air can circulate. Scatter pine cones or the spiky fruit of a sweetgum tree on top to discourage critters from digging.

Now sit back and watch your garden grow. Don’t forget to water regularly, fertilize periodically, and always site the container according to the plant’s light and temperature needs.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0

Master Gardener Handbook: Plants Grown in Containers

Container Gardening Planting Calendar for Edibles