Ode to the Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

Maple trees are among the most popular shade trees in America. They grow fast and tall, averaging 40 feet but capable of reaching 120 feet. I remember the one in the backyard of my childhood home on Long Island. We lived in a suburban development typical of its time: Finished in the late 1960s, the homes were similar in size and layout and every house sat on the same amount of land which was some measure of an acre. The community was called Point of Woods – which was humorous as most of the “woods” were cleared in order to build the houses. Most homes were surrounded by large areas of lawn. The yard cried out for a shade tree. Enter the maple.

Our maple tree felt special. My grandmother spotted the seedling growing in her tiny urban yard in Queens, a borough of New York City. Mature maples lined her two-way street; they were so large that their tops completely shaded the street and their shallow roots buckled the sidewalks. Grandma was no stranger to gardening so she nurtured that seedling for a bit and then potted it up and brought it to Long Island to plant in our new backyard. With lots of attention, but little actual care, it grew fast and tall and quickly delivered welcome shade.

Alas, I have no (good) photo to share of the maple of my youth. Besides, my tree may have been the invasive (!) Norway maple (Acer platanoides) which was widely planted as a street and shade tree back in the day. I have something much better to share with you — a spectacular red maple tree that has, for years, graced the Durham County, NC yard of a fellow master gardener.

Red maple trees are native deciduous trees. They tolerate a wide range of growing conditions which may be why they seem to grow carefree. It is one of the first native trees to flower in very early spring and there is something red about it year-round. It has red twigs, buds, and flowers in winter, reddish new leaves in spring, red leaf stalks and seeds in summer, and reddish (or yellow) foliage in autumn. 1   

There are a number of types of maple trees and it is not easy to identify them from afar. You need to observe their structure and then get close enough to observe the bark, the leaves and their arrangement, the flower and/or the fruit. A distinguishing characteristic of the red maple (in addition to its overwhelming redness as described above), is that the edge of its leaf, also known as the margin, is highly serrated.

To learn more about the characteristics of other maple trees, consult the NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox online.  

Photos by Wanda Cruthfield, used with permission.

Footnotes

1. Spira, Timothy P., Wildflowers & Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains & Piedmont, 2011 University of North Carolina Press

Additional Resources & Further Reading

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox
https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/acer-rubrum/
Also take note of the list of maples often confused with the red maple

Maple Tree ID – especially as it pertains to trees tapped for syrup
https://www.massmaple.org/about-maple-syrup/make-maple-syrup/maple-tree-id/

Beware the Norway maple – it is an invasive species! http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=275380https://www.invasive.org/alien/pubs/midatlantic/acpl.htm

Maple spider mites could be a concern
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/maple-spider-mite-oligonychus-aceris-shimer-acariformes-tetranychidae

Getting Back to Basics

September is synonymous with school. So, this week we are getting back to basics with a post that defines foundational gardening terms. The better you understand these terms and phrases, the easier it will be to identify, select and care for plants in your landscape.

Growing season:  The period between the beginning of growth in the spring and the cessation of growth in the fall.

Hardiness zone:  Expressed as a number and letter combination from 1a to 13b, the US Department of Agriculture has assigned a zone to every geographic area of the United States based on the average annual minimum winter temperature. Tags on plants sold commercially often identify the zone(s) in which the plant will grow.   

Microclimate. Climate affected by landscape, structures, or other unique factors in a particular immediate area.

N-P-K:  Acronym for the three major plant nutrients contained in manure, compost, and fertilizers. N stands for nitrogen, P for phosphorus, and K for potassium.

Coreopsis major, blooming along roadsides now, is a native perennial hardy in zones 5a to 9b. It attracts butterflies and songbirds and is deer resistant. The flowers are large (for coreopsis) and the stems are tall. Photo by A. Laine

Annual: Plants started from seed that grow, mature, flower, produce seed, and die in the same growing season.

Biennial: Plants that take two years, or a part of two years, to complete their life cycle. By freely reseeding, a biennial plant may seem to come back year after year, but you are actually seeing new plants.

Perennial: A plant that lives more than two years and produces new foliage, flowers, and seeds each growing season. Tender perennial:  A perennial that is not tolerant of frost and cold temperatures. Applying a winter mulch can help it survive It may die off above ground and regrow from the roots.

Woody perennial: A plant that goes dormant in winter and begins growth in spring from above-ground stems. Herbaceous perennial: A plant that dies back in the winter and regrows from the crown in spring.

Exotic: A plant of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad, but not fully naturalized.  Naturalize: The process whereby plants spread and fill in naturally.

Native plant: A plant indigenous to a specific habitat or area. Nativar: A plant that is a cultivar of a native plant. Cultivar: A cultivated variety of a species. Propagation of cultivars results in little or no genetic change in the offspring, which preserves desirable characteristics.

Integrated pest management. A method of managing pests that combines cultural, biological, mechanical, and chemical controls, while taking into account the impact of control methods on the environment.

Invasive. Growing vigorously and outcompeting other plants in the same area; difficult to control.

Noxious weed. Weeds that have been declared by law to be a species having the potential to cause injury to public health, crops, livestock, land, or other property. Noxious weeds are very invasive. There are 124 plants in NC that meet the legal criteria.

When a gardening term has you stumped, refer to the glossary chapter of the Master Gardeners Handbook for a definition – there are hundreds of entries — and a small dose of continuing education.

— A. Laine

Resources & Further Reading

Glossary Chapter of Master Gardener Handbook: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/glossary

Find your plant hardiness zone:  https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, 2012. Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Noxious weeds in NC: https://plants.usda.gov/java/noxious?rptType=State&statefips=37

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/coreopsis-major/

An Innocent-looking Invasive: Ficaria verna or Fig Buttercup

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

A fellow Extension master gardener recently brought this cheerful-looking plant to my attention. Its common names are lesser celandine or fig buttercup. (Scientific name is Ficaria verna and was formerly Ranunculus ficaria.) She spotted it blooming in March on the Ellerbe Creek and also beside the Eno River at Penny’s Bend, an area known for extraordinary native flora. However, this plant is not native to the the Southeast nor even to North America. It is an aggressive, exotic, invasive species that threatens to displace our beloved native spring ephemerals.

Ficaria verna
Lesser celandine. Photo by Mary Ann Chap

Lesser celandine is a herbaceous perennial that emerges earlier than most native species.  Additional identifying characteristics are:

  • A basal rosette of dark kidney- or heart-shaped leaves;
  • A bright yellow flower blooms on a single stalk that rises eight to nine inches above the leaves;
  • Small bulbets borne in the leaf axis.
  • Abundant fig-shaped tubers form along the roots; Even when separated from the parent plant, the tubers can produce a new plant.
  • An overall tight low-growing mat that rapidly chokes out neighboring seedlings.
  • It grows best in moist, shady soils like those in a river’s floodplain.

Supporting its rapid growth are three ways the plant can reproduce: by the tubers/root fragments, by seeds, or by the bulbets. Any of these methods can form a new plant in the vicinity of the parent or be carried downstream to begin colonizing in a new location.

lesser-celandine-roots-CC-300x400
Tuberous roots of lesser celandine. Photo by C. Carignan, http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/lesser-celandine

Complicating matters of identification is that lesser celandine looks very much like marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) which is native in North Carolina and enjoys similar growing conditions. The two can be distinguished by the number of petals on the flower (typically eight for lesser celandine and five for marsh marigold) and the appearance of the leaf margin (smooth for lesser celandine and serrated for marsh marigold).

MarshMarigold
Marsh marigold. Photo by Michael Gäbler, CC-BY-3.0

Like many invasive plants, this one was introduced commercially as an ornamental plant. It became popular in the Northeast, but its status is in transition. It appears on the The North Carolina Native Plant Society invasive plants list as a “significant threat.” Yet it is absent from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s list of noxious weeds in North Carolina. That list reports that it is absent/unreported in N.C. and S.C., however according to the South Carolina Native Plant Society, it is banned in S.C.

Exotic plant species that essentially grow too well in an area negatively impact a local ecosystem by crowding out the native plants.  Insects, birds and animals native to the area depend upon native plants for nutritional sustenance and preferred habitat.

If your property offers the ideal growing conditions for lesser celandine or marsh marigold and you appreciate diversity in your landscape, keep an eye out for an expanding patch of low-growing plants with bright yellow flowers. If it turns out to be lesser celandine, feel free to remove it. If you locate it on land you do not own, say while you are enjoying a public park or private nature preserve, you may bring it to the property owner’s attention, but you do not have the right to remove it. The patch recently found at Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve has been removed, and the patch on Ellerbe Creek was sprayed by a licensed herbicide applicator. It was linked to a larger patch growing behind a house just a couple blocks upstream on a feeder creek.

Sources & Further Reading

https://scnps.org/education/citizen-science-invasive-fig-buttercup

Factsheet: http://www.docs.dcnr.pa.gov/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_010251.pdf

https://ask.extension.org/questions/440047

https://www.ncwildflower.org/plant_galleries/invasives_list

https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=RAFI

http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/lesser-celandine

NCSU suggests planting Geum as an alternative:  https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/geum-spp/

About Marsh Marigold:  https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/caltha-palustris/

How the North Carolina Botanical Garden defines “invasive exotic species: http://ncbg.unc.edu/exotic-plant-policy/

About Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve:  http://www.enoriver.org/what-we-protect/parks/pennys-bend/

 

Growing Rabbiteye Blueberry Bushes: Plan Now, Plant Later

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

Fall is for planting! We master gardeners say that all the time. It is true for most plants, yet not for  blueberry bushes as I have learned from Bill Cline, an NC State Extension specialist on blueberries. The best time to plant or transplant blueberry bushes is when they are dormant. In Durham County, February is a safe bet.

I planted three Rabbiteye blueberry bushes several years ago in an open wooded area; two survive but far from thrive. I wanted to know what I did wrong and, more importantly, what I needed to do right. The payoffs would be sweet juicy fruits a short walk from my front door and a bushy landscape plant with crimson autumn color.

RabbiteyeRed
Crimson-colored autumn foliage makes blueberry bushes attractive landscape plants. Even this spindly one in my yard. Photo by Andrea Laine.

About the Species

Blueberry bushes are deciduous woody perennials that are members of the Heath family and Vaccinium species. They are acid-loving plants native to North America and related to azaleas and cranberries. They are pollinated by insects. A winter chilling period is required for fruit to form.

Types of blueberries that can be grown in North Carolina are Highbush, Rabbiteye and Southern Highbush. The Rabbiteye (Vaccinium virgatum), however, is native to the southeast and easiest to grow. It is the one that does best in home gardens in the Piedmont. Rabbiteye berries will ripen from mid-June to mid-august and there are many cultivated varieties.

Powder blue fruit
Fruit on a ‘Powder Blue’ Rabbiteye blueberry bush. Photo by Bill Cline, NCSU. Used with permission.

Growing Conditions

Pay close attention to three conditions for your Rabbiteyes to thrive: Full sun, acidic soil and good drainage. If sited anywhere with less than full sun, the plants will struggle. If the pH is not within the range of 4 to 5, nutrients may not be absorbed. Planting bushes in a raised bed fashion in soil amended with pine bark will help lower the pH and improve drainage. Cline notes that a lack of aeration in the soil is a problem he sees often in home gardens. Mix and mound the amended soil and mulch the area with bark, wood chips, pine straw or black plastic to suppress weeds and hold in moisture.

At planting time

At planting time (late winter), remove all flower buds and prune canes to six inches. Keep only three or four upright shoots. This will encourage the plant to branch out and form a vegetative, multitrunk bush. Removing the flower buds will prevent fruiting the first year and build a stronger plant. It may be three years before you harvest a crop. If you are transplanting an existing bush as I am, cut the top off and just move the root ball. Water the plant regularly the first year.

Pruning

Pruning stimulates growth of young and productive shoots. Selectively prune the bush every year during winter.

 

blueberry bush
Blueberry bushes in need of a good pruning. Don’t be timid! Photo by Ann Barnes, used with permission.

BeforeAfterBlue Pruning

Don’t be timid! Remove old, weak or diseased canes. Remove twiggy matchstick wood and take a few larger canes out each year. Strive for an upright plant. Annually remove 40 to 50 percent of flower buds; this will encourage bigger berries. Cline notes that no one should need to climb a ladder to pick blueberries; on a properly pruned bush the majority of fruit will be beneath knees and shoulders.

 

Tips

  • An insect must visit each flower or a berry will not form. Plant two or more cultivars for cross-pollination and to stretch the fruiting season and increase the yield. Standard Rabbiteye cultivars are: Premier, Tifblue, Powderblue, Climax, Brightwell. Newer ones are: Alapaha, Vernon, Ochlockonee, Columbus, Onslow, Ira.
  • Make every effort to keep bushes healthy through the spring and into summer months. Flowers need to survive in order for fruits to develop.

    Tifblue flowers
    Flowers on a ‘Tifblue’ Rabbiteye bluberry bush. Photo by Bill Cline, NCSU. Used with permission.
  • Pick your berries and collect them in shallow buckets so that fruit isn’t crushed. To increase quality and reduce rot, pick all ripe fruit at each harvest and do not pick or handle fruit when it is wet.
  • Test your soil before fertilizing.

Alas, I probably cannot produce the ideal growing conditions for blueberry bushes in my landscape, so I have adjusted my expectations. Rather than adding more bushes and creating a blueberry patch, I will transplant the two I already have to the sunniest part of my yard (half day at best) and follow all the tips above with the hope that my bushes may succeed as ornamental plants if not great fruit producers. And, as long as there are farmer’s markets in Durham, I’ll be berry happy.

Five ways to enjoy fresh blueberries:

  1. Bake into a pie. Here’s an award-winning recipe from the 2015 NC State Fair.
  2. Sprinkle on a green salad.
  3. Add to a breakfast bowl of oatmeal or yogurt.
  4. Straight up as a snack.
  5. Add antioxidant power to a smoothie.

 

Resources and Further Reading

NCSU’s blueberry portal:
https://blueberries.ces.ncsu.edu/

Growing blueberries in the home garden
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/growing-blueberries-in-the-home-garden

Principles of Pruning the Highbush Blueberry
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/principles-of-pruning-the-highbush-blueberry

22-minute video of hands-on blueberry pruning workshop
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkFhMwoiUDQ

Blueberry pruning diagrams
https://blueberries.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/blueberry-pruning-diagrams.pdf?fwd=no

Fresh blueberries are extremely perishable and easily damaged by rough handling and adverse temperatures
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/postharvest-cooling-and-handling-of-blueberries

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/nursery-list-of-small-fruit-cultivars-for-home-use-in-north-carolina

An overview of growing Rabbiteye bluberries from Alabama cooperative extension
http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1078/ANR-1078.pdf

Recipe for Blueberry Pie
http://statefairrecipes.com/2016/09/2220/

 

 

 

Plant List of Native Alternatives to Invasive Species

Editor’s note: This is the third and final installment in a series about creating a bird-friendly yard. In the two previous blog articles, Wendy Diaz, EMGV, wrote about pivotal moments in her life as a gardener: deciding to focus on native plants, and creating a plan based on plant recommendations from the National Audobon Society.

My plan to create a bird-friendly yard will be accomplished in two stages. Stage 1 is the removal of high-threat invasive species in the fall of this year (2018), and Stage 2 will commence in the spring of 2019 by removing non-natives that are not high threat but their native alternatives would provide more benefit for wildlife and not multiply as quickly.

My garden  plan includes the following replacements based on recommendations from the New Hope Audubon Society, NC Botanical Garden and the Going Native Website1,2,3:

 Already Removed

Invasive Plant Native Alternative Plant
Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Chinese beauty berry (Callicarpa dichotoma) native beauty berry (Callicarpa  americana)
Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum)
Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

Stage I Removal of High Threat Invasive Species (Fall, 2018)

Invasive Plant Native Alternative Plant
Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) or trumpet vine (Campsis radicanas) or Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) and Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)
Big Leaf Periwinkle (Vinca major) spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata), Frogfruit (Phylla nodiflora), Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), Common blue violet (Viola sororia), Crested dwarf iris (Iris cristata)
Heavenly bamboo (Nandina) Florida-hobblebush (Agarista populifolia),  Strawberrybush (Euonymous americanus)/ St. Andrew’s Cross (Hypericum hypericoides)
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) coral honeysuckle (Loncicera sempervirens)/Yellow Passionflower (Passiflora lutea)
English Ivy (Hedera helix) Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)/winterberry (Ilex verticillata) /winged sumac (Rhus copallinum)

Stage II Removal (Spring, 2019)

Non-Native Plant Native Alternative Plant
Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
Butterfly bush Coastal sweet-pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)
Japanese privet common wax-myrtle (Morella cerifera)
Morning glory native clematis viorna (Clematis viorna)/milkvine (Matelea carolinensis)
Chinese holly Inkberry (Ilex glabra)/Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)/ Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)
Forsythia Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)/high bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
Grass Rosy Sedge (Carex rosea) and Pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
Siberian Iris Scarlet rose-mallow (Hibiscus coccineus)
Liriope (Liriope muscari variegated) Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Next time you are considering an ornamental plant to add to your landscape why not try a native plant that suits your needs and helps wildlife at the same time? At the very least, don’t plant invasive species like I did. Hopefully in time, I will attract new birds, butterflies and caterpillars. Then I will need a better camera lens to zoom in on all the new flowers and animals!

DSC_8497
Scarlet Rose-Mallow Home garden Photo taken by Wendy Diaz July 25, 2018

DSC_2337
Blue bird next to white oak. Home garden Photo taken by Wendy Diaz May 10, 2017

References:

  1. https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/howto/mapping/invexse/index.html
  2. https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/howto/mapping/nplants/index.php
  3. http://www.newhopeaudubon.org/wp-content/themes/nhas/library/docs/native-plant-growing-guide-piedmont-nc.pdf

More Reading on Invasive Species: 

http://ncbg.unc.edu/uploads/files/PlantThisNotThat.pdf

Where to buy Native Plants:

  1. https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/howto/implemen.html#where
  2. https://growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu/growingsmallfarms-pollinatorresources/