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/

October: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, the calendar says it is October. The thermometer says it is August and the rain gauge left town due to sheer boredom. Me? I am just confused. Do I keep watering for the benefit of the plants and to the detriment of the checking account? Or, do I just let most of the plants go and start over in the Spring?  Most of the established landscape plants are okay; A little dry, but okay. So, maybe I’ll water the few potted plants that I really love and let the rest go (or maybe it’ll rain). Such a conundrum. So stressful.

The following are wonderful things to do in a statistically normal year and are more or less applicable even this year. Besides, it is October and not going outside is not an option.

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 for 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 on moving 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 to 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 27 to April 1, AND you will have to get them to Raleigh yourself. (Durham County Master Gardeners will deliver soil samples to Raleigh for you between April 1 and Thanksgiving.)
  • Put those raked or 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 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 12 weeks bring them out into the house and watch them grow and bloom. Kids love it.

Happy Gardening!

August: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Alrighty then! We survived July, just barely. Thank you, Mother Nature, for the break at the end of the month. So, how does your garden look?  And the water bill? (Ouch!) Well, July is behind us now and August is upon us with her bounty of veggies and plethora of blooming plants. Let us hope the rain gods will be less capricious and the heat stays somewhere else. Whether or not those things come about there are things to do in the garden and don’t forget to be hurricane prepared. (You know, the ones that come in off the ocean – not the ones that reside at PNC Arena.)

Lawn Care

Check the lawn for grubs. If you find some, treat with an appropriate insecticide. If you do find any, be grateful and put the sprayer away.

Late in the month prepare any areas that need to be seeded with cool season grass (tall fescue, bluegrass).

Fertilizing

Give your strawberries a shot of nitrogen fertilizer.

DO NOT fertilize trees or shrubbery until December.

Planting

Sow pansy seeds this month in flats to transplant to the landscape in September.

Perennials, hollyhock, delphinium and Stokes’ aster can be sown now for healthy plants in the spring.

Repot more house plants.

Plant a fall garden with beets, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, radish, rutabaga, squash and turnips.

Pruning

Nada. Nope. Don’t! No pruning of trees or shrubs until November.

In case of hurricane damage, disregard the above admonition.

Spraying

Same stuff as last month. Look for spider mites on coniferous evergreens (juniper, arborvitae, etc.) and lace bugs on azaleas and pyracantha.

Continue rose spray program and weekly spraying of fruit trees and bunch grapes.

Watch for worms on cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) and borers on squash.  Spray only if necessary. Follow the label instructions.

Propagation

You may still take cuttings of shrubs.

More fun things to do if you just can’t get enough of the August heat

Make sure your LANDSCAPE PLAN is up to date especially if you plan to modify the landscape this fall.

Keep running up the water bill when the August thunderstorms skip your house.

Build a compost bin.

Dig Irish potatoes.

Stay cool and hydrated. September and October will soon be at hand.

I must Stop the Mock Strawberry (Duchesnea indica)

By Wendy Diaz, EMGV

Last year, I noticed a spreading wildflower around the base of my beautyberry bushes (Callicarpa Americana) in a perennial bed along the south side of my house that I originally thought was Wild Strawberry1 (Fragaria virginiana). It appeared amongst my creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), which I was using as a ground cover. 

Mock Strawberry colony of plants covering ground of ornamental flower bed. Photo by Wendy Diaz on May 6, 2019

This year, it has taken over the bed and migrated into the lawn and even the aggressive creeping Jenny has lost its battle with this plant, which now covers every plant in the bed that isn’t higher than five inches. A lesson that I should have learned a long time ago … if the gardener ignores a few weeds in the garden, the gardener risks bigger issues in the future. The culprit, as it turns out, is a perennial weed commonly called Mock or Indian Strawberry (Duchesnea indica)2,3and not the native wildflower, Wild Strawberry4. The relatively sudden appearance of this plant in my yard is likely the result of birds eating drupes elsewhere and spreading them to my yard2.

Creeping Jenny has been covered by Mock Strawberry in ornamental bed. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on May 6, 2019

Mock Strawberry (Duchesnea indica)

Mock strawberry is an herbaceous perennial plant of a height between three and eight inches and spreads by runners or hairy stolons3, 5 into large colonies of plants over time. Each plant consists of small trifoliate basal leaves with long petioles that develop from a root crown2. Each leaflet is about one inch across and elliptical with rounded toothed lobes5. Its five-petal yellow flowers of about 0.5-inch diameter appear in spring and develop into tiny edible red tasteless fruit or drupes that are held upright2. Small red seeds form on the bumpy surface of the fruit. It prefers moist soils and partial sunlight and can adapt to regular mowing because of its low growing habit2. It was introduced as an ornamental plant from south Asia.

Five-petal yellow flower of the Mock Strawberry. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on June 20, 2019
Trifoliate basal leaves and red fruit or drupes of Mock Strawberry. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on May 6, 2019

Control

To help reduce Mock Strawberry lawn encroachment, it is recommended that one improve surface drainage, aerate when needed and conduct infrequent watering5. If the gardener is interested in chemical control, the recommendation for both pre-emergence and postemergence control formulation is provided in detail on the NC State TurfFiles website5.  In my perennial bed I have decided to control it by hand weeding and mulch. 

Comparison to Wild Strawberry

Wild Strawberry or Scarlet Strawberry can make a desirable ground cover in woodland gardens with some wildlife value1, 4 and it can control erosion on slopes. Mock Strawberry is easily distinguishable from the native Wild Strawberry because its flower is yellow and the Wild Strawberry has a white flower. Other differences include lower growing and smaller leaves of the Mock Strawberry and the drupes are erect. The Wild Strawberry drupes tend to hang downward and the teeth on the leaf edges are sharp-pointed rather than rounded. Best of all, the fruit of the Wild Strawberry is juicy and with a pleasant sweet-tart taste whereas the Mock Strawberry is bland with a dry texture.

Your yard may not have ideal conditions for Wild Strawberry as a ground cover but nevertheless cultural control of Mock Strawberry is more desirable than letting it takeover your ornamental beds and crowding out more desirable lower growing plants.

References

  1. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=291715&isprofile=0&=

2. https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/weeds/plants/mock_strawberry.htm
3.  https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/duchesnea-indica/

4. https://www.ncwildflower.org/plant_galleries/details/fragaria-virginiana

5. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/indian-mock-strawberryor

https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/weeds-in-turf/indian-mock-strawberry/

Core Aeration of Lawns

by Carl J. Boxenberger, EMGV

Core aeration is a process by which cores or plugs of soil and thatch are removed from the lawn. Core aeration is done by a machine with hollow tines.

Soils that are prone to heavy traffic are subject to compaction. Core aeration reduces soil compaction by removing plugs of soil which opens up a channel in the lawn and allows water, oxygen and nutrients to penetrate down in the soil.

Core aeration should be done when the grass is actively growing. Fall is the time to core aerate cool season lawns such as tall fescue. Spring and early summer is the time to core aerate warm season grasses such as Bermudagrass.

Gardener operating soil aeration machine on grass lawn. Stock Photo c Mikhail Pavlenko

Core aeration equipment with hollow tines can be rented at local equipment rental companies.  There are also professional turf maintenance companies that will aerate your lawn if you do not want to tackle this by yourself.

Run the aeration equipment over your lawn to remove soil cores. Chop up the cores by running a lawn mower over them. If you have a large lawn and a tractor, you can distribute the cores by dragging a piece of chain link fence or mat over them.

Core aerate a few days after a rain. This will have allowed the soil to drain. If you pull plugs when the soil is wet they will form wet clods of soil alongside the aeration holes and actually inhibit air infiltration into the soil, defeating the purpose of aeration.

Further Reading

NC State Extension Turf Files: https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/

News alert about zoysiagrass mite damage
https://ncturfbugs.wordpress.ncsu.edu/2019/05/23/zoysiagrass-mite-alert/