February: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Welcome to the newly minted month of ‘Febril.’ Seems like we did this last year. Therefore, beware, lest you let your guard down and get caught by the other new month—Maruary which could easily be just around the corner, lurking, waiting to zap your saucer magnolia blossoms and any other non-cold hardy vegetation. And, it ain’t snowed yet neither. So, as tempting as 70 degrees might be, be smart. Just for the record, I didn’t just pull this stuff outta the air. I done researched it like them professors learned me to in Horticulture (yea, I can spell, too)  School on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. Pay attention, y’all. It’s real stuff.

Lawn Care*

Cool season grasses (i.e. fescue and bluegrass) should be fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer following the recommendation of your SOIL TEST.

Late February/early March is the best time to apply a pre-emergent to prevent crabgrass. There are several easy-to-use granular products on the market. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label for safe and proper handling and application. Calibrate your spreader to ensure accurate application amounts. Too little will not give you effective control and too much may damage the turf.

Fertilizing

See Lawn Care above and Planting below.

Planting*

And so it begins: the vegetable garden. The reason for existence, for frozen fingers in February, summer sunburn and the endless supply of liniment in the medicine cabinet.

It is time for root vegetables and salad. Vegetables you can plant now include cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips. Work a little fertilizer into the soil that was tested in October (while it was still free to do so) following the recommendations of said SOIL TEST.

Be cognizant of soil moisture levels.  It appears that Mother Nature is going to maintain that for now, but she can be really fickle.

Pruning*
If you have been ignoring previous posts, now would be a good time to prune bunch grapes and fruit trees.

Also due for judicious trimming are summer flowering shrubs and small trees. That list includes crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and hydrangeas that bloom on new wood (Hydrangea arborescens & H. paniculata). Blueberry bushes will also benefit from a February pruning.

While you’re out there whack back the ornamental grasses, also.  The new blades haven’t emerged yet and the plants are looking a bit tired anyway.

Got some overgrown shrubs that you’ve been meaning to (or reluctant to) prune heavily? Go for it now.  I understand that if you’ve never done it before it can be a bit intimidating. Trust me. The plant will almost always not only survive, but also thrive. I am aware of the never-more-than-a-third rule, but sometimes that is not enough. If it needs to go back to 12 to 18 inches, go for it. Chances are you and the plant will be glad you did.

Spraying

The orchard needs attention. Peaches and nectarines should be sprayed with a fungicide to prevent leaf curl. Spraying a dormant oil on the fruit trees will help control several insects later in the year.

Other fun stuff to do outside in February
Perennials can be divided if the soil ever gets dry enough.

Many landscape plants can be propagated via hardwood cuttings this time of the year. Some of the plants in the category are crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species), flowering quince (Chaenomoles species), junipers (Juniperus species), spiraea (Spiraea species) and weigelia (Weigelia species).

Bluebirds will be most appreciative of a through house cleaning before the Spring nesting season. Remove all the old nesting materials and let them start afresh. It’s like clean linens for them.

Oh, yeah. Lest we forget … order flowers or other living things from the plant kingdom for your significant other. Just for the record, guys like flowers and plants, too. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Think positive thoughts about an early Spring and no late freezes.

Additional Reading from NC State Extension

Carolina Lawns: A guide to maintaining quality turf in the landscape
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/carolina-lawns

Planting calendar for annual vegetables
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/central-north-carolina-planting-calendar-for-annual-vegetables-fruits-and-herbs

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

Plant propagation by stem cuttings
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/plant-propagation-by-stem-cuttings-instructions-for-the-home-gardener

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.

April To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Hallelujah it is APRIL!! Real Spring is here. Statistical frost-free date is April 11. Get them tomato plants ready!! I mean if the seed packet says 65 days and you started the seeds in mid-February then you should be enjoying that first ‘mater sammich about Easter this year. Right? Well, maybe that’s pushing it a bit, but definitely by Mother’s Day. So, here’s a bunch of stuff to do while you are waiting for the tomatoes.

Lawn Care
This is the first month you may fertilize warm season grasses (i.e. Bermuda, centipede and zoysia) as they should be breaking dormancy soon. DO NOT fertilize cool season grasses again until fall.

Mow fescue and bluegrass at a height of three to four inches.

This is your last chance to put out pre-emergent crabgrass control. The deadline is when the dogwoods bloom. After that, the seeds will have germinated and pre-emergent by definition will no longer be a viable option.

Fertilizing 

  • See “Lawn Care.”
  • Fertilize any shrubbery that didn’t get fed in March.

Planting
Is this what everybody’s been waiting for, or what? By mid-month it is crazy time in the garden(s).

In the veggie garden sow, sow, sow. Melons, squashes, beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, peppers, tomatoes and corn. Presumably you have already amended the soil per your SOIL TEST recommendations. Be sure to plant enough to share with someone who might not have any at all.

Warm season grasses can be planted by the end of the month. Seeding is possible, though not recommended. Plugging and sodding are the better options with warm season grasses. Check out NC State Turf Files for detailed information on all lawn turf types.

Pruning

bloom-blossom-blue-sky-1505004
Flowering cherry tree photo by Carissa Rogers from pexels.com

  • Remove any winter damage from shrubs and trees.
  • Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs [I.e. azalea (Rhododendron x hybrid), lilac (Syringa species), forsythia, spiraea, wiegelia, etc.] until after the blooms fade.
  • Prune fruiting shrubs [i.e. holly (Ilex species) and pyracantha] while they are in bloom to avoid removing all of this year’s berries.
  • If necessary, prune spring flowering trees [i.e. Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’), flowering cherry (Prunus hybrids), redbud (Cercis species)].

Spraying

  • ALWAYS check plants for pests before spraying (except for borers which you won’t be able to see).
  • Be on the lookout for the following insect pests: azalea lacebugs, boxwood leaf miners, euonymus scale, hemlock & juniper-spruce spider mites. Spray only as needed following label instructions.
  • Spray iris beds for iris borers.
  • Treat cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) for worms. An organic product containing BT is a good green choice.
  • Spray squash plants near the base of the stem at first bloom to control squash vine borers. Continue this procedure weekly until June 1 using only an appropriate insecticide.
  • Spray apple and pear trees while in bloom with streptomycin to control fire blight. Use two applications: one at early bloom and a second at full bloom. If we have a rainy spring consider a third application.
  • Begin weekly applications of fungicide on bunch grapes.
  • Continue a rose spray program (forever and ever).
  • Begin weekly fruit tree spraying after the flower petals fall off.

Other Exciting Things (or not) to Keep You Happily Outside in the Glorious Spring Weather
Mulch. Mulch, mulch, mulch. The possibility of a hot dry summer always looms large in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Shredded hardwood, pine needles (pine straw), shredded cypress and pine bark in its many guises are all good mulches.

When you are bored or desperate to remain outside to avoid painting the bathroom, dusting the ceiling fans, bathing the cat … whatever, there are and always will be weeds to pull. It is the environmentally sound way to get rid of them and the kids and/or grand kids can help (until they turn 11 at which time the helpfulness gene goes dormant).

It’s Spring y’all.  Go out and enjoy.

Further Reading
https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/