by Judi Lloyd

October 2021

Tips for fall garden cleanup

By Judi Lloyd

Garden cleanup has its virtues but can do more harm than good if taken to excess. For instance, many gardeners like to clear dead leaves out from beneath shrubbery, where the leaves often come to rest after fall winds give them a few swirls around the yard. In fact, trees and shrubs would love to have their roots cozied in beneath a thick blanket of leaves. Such a blanket keeps roots warmer in winter, cooler in summer, and moister year-round. All of which spurs roots to grow more, and more root growth means more robust plants.

Many gardeners similarly wield leaf blowers and rakes to remove leaves that have drifted onto the lawn. But these leaves do no harm there, unless they blanket the ground so thickly that they exclude light.

A final pass with the mower might be all that is needed to grind leaves fine enough to filter down through the grassy blades to the soil. A mulching mower, or a conventional mower fit with a mulching blade, does this job well. The benefits of working the leaves into the lawn are similar to those of raking leaves beneath shrubbery. Next summer, your lawn will look nicer and be better able to survive periodic droughts.

Let’s next take a look at all those dead and misplaced tree and shrub branches, many no longer hidden behind green leaves. Wouldn’t it be nice to prune these plants to look healthy, prim and pretty now? Anytime you notice them is a good time to prune dead branches and, in most cases, diseased ones too.

Generally, though, don’t prune for beauty at this time of year. Fall pruning might stimulate a little cell activity at a time when plants should be shutting down in preparation for the cold. And wounds left by fall pruning stay exposed all winter. So, plants are more likely to be injured by cold weather, and pruning wounds are more likely to get infected if plants are pruned now than if pruned in late winter or early spring. Don’t bother with wound dressings to avert infections; they’re generally useless.

If you can’t resist the urge to grab your pruning shears and beautify some trees and shrubs, work with plants that are very cold-hardy and subject to few diseases — ornamentals such as spirea and ninebark.

The place to put most of your tidying energy is into your vegetable and flower beds. Old, infected plant parts left lying around can help spread diseases like tomato leafspots, powdery mildew of zinnia, phlox, and other plants, and peony botrytis.

For specific concerns such as these, it pays to thoroughly clean up this time of year. In this case, ripping dead, old plants, stems or leaves out of the garden and then carting them away to the compost pile also carries away some potential pest problems. Another reason to clean up vegetables and flowers now is to give you an earlier start next spring when the urge strikes you to plant. But some restraint is needed even where vegetables and flowers grew. A few plants left here and there will capture snow and hold it on the ground. Snow insulates the soil and even adds a bit of nitrogen for next year’s plants.

A few stalks left here and there also liven up the drab winter landscape. Birds will flit about old sunflower heads looking for a few remaining seeds. And while seed heads of coneflower and teasel hardly get a second glance in summer, they begin to look mighty interesting come February!

September 2021
Is there a such thing as beneficial insects?
By Judi Lloyd
When you ask a vegetable gardener about insects in their garden, the typical reaction is to cringe and tell you their tried-and-true way of getting rid of them! Most people think of insects as foes, rather than friends. But did you know that there are many insects that can actually help us keep the “bad” insects at bay? These helpful critters are called “beneficial” insects. They can help reduce the populations of problem pests in the garden. But in order to do so, we must provide them with habitat to do so. Beneficial insects include parasitic wasps, ground beetles, lady beetles, lacewings, and others.
Parasitic wasps control pests by laying eggs on or in the bodies of pests, and as the eggs hatch they feed on the pest, slowly killing it. One example of this is the Braconid wasp that lays its eggs in a tomato hornworm. Once the larvae hatch inside the hornworm, the spin white cocoons attached to the hornworm and will emerge as adults several days later. Parasitic wasps also lay eggs in aphids. Ground beetles will feed on slugs, and they also will eat weed seeds.
There are many plants that host or attract beneficials but several plant families are particularly attractive to beneficials. One of those plant families is the carrot family, Apiaceae. Plants in this family that are particularly attractive are dill, fennel, cilantro, Bishop’s flower, and Queen Anne’s Lace. These plants tend to attract parasitic wasps and flies. It is important to let them flower if you want to attract the beneficial insects, and fortunately their flowers are very attractive! Interplant these among your vegetables to keep beneficials on duty. Plants in the daisy or aster family (Asteraceae) and the verbena family (Verbenaceae) are attractive to both beneficial insects and to the human eye! These plant families have many of our popular flowers.
Good flowers for beneficials in the aster family include sunflowers, marigolds, yarrow, calendula, coneflower, and coreopsis. Asters are especially attractive to beetles and lady beetles. Plants in the verbena family attract a variety of beneficials. Good plants in this family include lantana, hybrid verbena, and lilac vervain. Certain plants in the legume family (Fabaceae), such as sweet clover, hairy vetch, and fava bean, are grown as cover crops to protect soil and add nutrients to the soil when another crop is not growing. They are also attractive to a number of beneficial insects. For the best habitat, intersperse a mix of attractant plants in your vegetable garden, or consider dedicating a bed to be for a “beneficial insect mix”. Besides planting flowers, a diverse landscape including well-managed lawn, trees, shrubs, and perennials that provide flowers throughout the season can help sustain beneficial insects. Undisturbed areas such as a perennial landscape or forest edge provide a place for overwintering. Mulch in the vegetable garden provides habitat for ground beetles. Beneficial insects also need water. An easy way to provide it is in a shallow pot saucer with pebbles in it for the insect to land on. While having a healthy population of beneficial insects will reduce your need to apply pesticides, there is still a possibility that you will need to apply a pesticide to control insects or slugs during the season. Be aware that pesticides can harm beneficial insects in addition to pests. Before spraying, make sure the insects you see are pests and not beneficials. To reduce the effect on beneficials, apply pesticides only when needed. Choose pesticides with little residual activity, such as insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Apply pesticides in the evening and avoid contact with flowers that attract beneficials will also reduce the exposure beneficial insects have with the pesticide.
 
August 2021

Do your basil plants have dead looking brown spots on some of the leaves?  Can they be saved?

By Judi Lloyd

 Investigate the possibility that your basil plants have developed basil downy mildew. This is a devastating disease that affects many types of basil.  At first, you’ll see leaf yellowing, followed by leaf browning. Leaves will curl and wilt. Check the underside of the leaves for a gray-purple fuzzy material. I’ve listed some sites below where you can compare photographs of your affected leaves to leaves with basil downy mildew. 

This is caused by a fungus-like organism called Peronospora belbahrii. It can come from contaminated seed, infected transplants, or from wind-blown spores. It spreads by wind, by rain and water splash, or by your hands, clothing or gardening tools that come in contact with an infected plant. It thrives in humid warm conditions and can spread very quickly, ruining your entire basil crop. 

Unfortunately, there is no known cure. Once you see it on your plants you must take prompt action. You can harvest the healthy leaves that show no sign of disease. However, they should be used immediately so get out your favorite pesto recipe. The entire plant and all infected leaves should be bagged and disposed of in your garbage. Do not add this material to your compost pile.

Green-leafed varieties of sweet basil are most likely to develop basil downy mildew. To avoid this problem in the future, look for the sweet basil cultivars ‘Prospera’, ‘Rutgers Devotion’, ‘Rutgers Obsession’, ‘Rutgers Thunderstruck’ and ’Rutgers Passion’. They are new releases that have been naturally bred to be resistant to basil downy mildew. Purple-leafed varieties, Thai basil, lemon basil and spice basil are less susceptible to this disease.

Don’t plant your basil in the same spot year after year. Instead, rotate your crop. Grow your plants in a way that will keep them dry. Plant in a sunny location. Space plants as far apart as possible to increase air circulation.  Avoid overhead watering, such as with a sprinkler. Water early in the morning so foliage dries quickly. Use a drip or soaker hose to water. If you use a watering can, wet only the soil, not the leaves.

Once it appears, fungicide treatments available to the home gardener are not likely to control the disease adequately, if at all.  Using these products would be a waste of time, effort and money. 

For a definitive diagnosis, bring a sample to the Craven County Cooperative Extension Center at 300 Industrial Drive in New Bern, or submit a sample to the Plant Disease and Insect Clinic at NCSU. Detailed information on how to do this is available at https://projects.ncsu.edu/cals/plantpath/extension/clinic/submit-sample.html.

Check any of these sites for pictures and more Information:

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/basil-downy-mildew

July 2021 Midnight Delight Hibiscus

Hibiscus comes in very different forms

Judi Lloyd

Tropical hibiscus shrubs are the darlings of many warm winter gardeners. They flower on and off throughout the growing season in locations that don’t dip below 45F.  They often are grown in containers, even in warmer areas, for ease of growing. If you want the same effect, and more, from in-ground plants in colder climates, grow hardy hibiscus. Tropical hibiscus look great planted in shrub hedgerows, as foundation plants or as container plants. While there are many flowers per plant and varieties come in a range of colors, nothing tops the show the hardy hibiscus puts on this time of year.

Hardy hibiscus grows slowly in spring and often you think you’ve lost the plant to winter. However, it eventually starts growing. Once the warm, summer weather hits, the plants explode into color with up to 12-inch diameter, disk-shaped flowers in a range of colors from white to deep burgundy. They stay in flower right up until frost. ‘Lord Baltimore’ is an old- fashioned variety with red flowers. ‘Lady Baltimore’ is similar with white flowers and a red throat. ‘Plum Crazy’ has frilly, pink colored flowers. Give plants full sun and well-drained soil amended with compost and mulch to control weeds. Once the flowers pass, deadhead to prevent self-sowing and cut the plant to the ground after a frost. It will come back year after year. If your plant self-sows seedlings, chances are they will revert to red colored flowers, regardless of the parentage.

For tropical hibiscus, select varieties, such as the Shades of Summer Series and Tropical Escape series, from a broad range of color choices. Keep plants well-watered and fertilized. Give them enough room to grow in the garden since they can reach 8- to 10- feet tall and wide. Grow them in containers and move containers indoors in winter, even in warm climates, so they will flower longer and get a jump on spring.

Expect leaves and flowers to drop as the days shorten. Cut back on watering and don’t fertilize. The goal is to get the plant to survive, even if it looks ratty come late winter. Come spring it will send out new growth and start setting flower buds for another bloom show.

June 2021
Caring for knockout roses
 
 By Judi Lloyd
 
Knock Out roses are a great addition to any home landscape. They bloom from spring to frost with little maintenance.  First off, to get the best from your Knock Outs they need 6-8 hours of sun, good soil, proper spacing (5-6 feet apart) and annual pruning once established.
 
There are two types of pruning for your Knock Outs.  The first is to keep a good shape by cleaning out excessive and dense canes. The second is hard pruning.  With hard pruning, you can cut back by one third to one half, especially if your Knock Outs have grown vigorously in the past season. If you cut further than this, your roses will pour their energy into re-growing foliage rather than flowers.
 
You may also want to do a little corrective pruning in the summer to allow sun and airflow into the center of the plant and to rid the bush from any wild growing canes to maintain a nice shape.  Also observe the 3-Ds: remove dead, diseased, and damaged wood. If you have recently planted your roses, wait until the second or third season of growth before you prune to give your shrubs a chance to mature.
 
Now let’s talk about how to prune.  First gather your tools.  You will need a hand pruner with bypass action to get good clean cuts. Avoid anvil-type pruners, as they will crush the stems. Make sure your bypass pruners are clean and sharp.  Linda Chalker-Scott of WSU suggests that research shows common household cleaners like full-strength Lysol is the best choice over bleach or alcohol based solutions to sanitize your tools.  You will also need a good pair of protective leather gloves (watch out for those thorns) and maybe a pair of long handled loppers to easily reach in to the center of the bush.
 
Prune the bush for height, width and to make it more open in the center in order to increase air circulation and help prevent diseases. Whenever two canes cross each other, remove one to prevent places for diseases to enter. Periodically dip pruners in a disinfecting solution to decrease spread of disease. Make your pruning cuts at a 45-degree angle, 1/4″ above an outward facing leaf bud, with the slant away from the bud.  Aim for your mature Knock Out to grow to 4 feet high and 4 feet wide. Count on vigorous growth, as that is the nature of this cultivar. 
 
Although Knock Outs are touted as self-cleaning, you may want to deadhead throughout the growing season to encourage more blooming.  Normal bloom cycles are every 5-6 weeks. To deadhead cut just above the five-leaflet closest to the flower clusters. If you are having a special event at your home and you want to wow your guests with a spectacular display of blooms, deadhead one month prior to the event.  Everyone will think you are a gardening rock star!
 
 
Photo by Anna Nekrashevich on Pexels.com

What are microgreens?

By Judi Lloyd

May 2021

 Sprouts, microgreens, and baby greens are very young, tender plants, used as salads or garnishes on many types of dishes. Each of the names- sprouts, microgreens, and baby greens are all considered different products, as the plant is harvested for eating at different times. They can add color, texture, and interesting flavors to meals.

Microgreens, in particular, are gaining popularity among chefs and more farmers are growing them. These are easy to grow and sprouts and microgreens can be grown indoors at home. Sprouts are the youngest of the three. They are exactly as the name describes—seeds that have just germinated. They may not have any green color to them. Typically, the entire plant is eaten including the shoots, the roots, and the seed, which may still be visible. Popular seeds for sprouting include mung beans, alfalfa, sunflower seeds, lentils, peas, mustards, and others.

Sprouts can be grown in a simple sterilized jar, covered with a couple of inches of water, and then by a food grade cloth The real key with sprouts is sanitation. There is a risk of contamination with Salmonella and E. coli, which is often the result of contaminated seed. Growing them at home does not mean they are safer since seeds are often the source of infection. It is very important to purchase seeds that are sold specifically for sprouting and that have been tested for the presence of microorganisms. Wash hands thoroughly before setting up your sprouting operation.

Microgreens are the next size up from sprouts. Many edible plants make excellent microgreens, including plants whose greens are not often consumed, such as carrots. Lettuces do not make good microgreens because they are too delicate. Common choices are broccoli, dill, basil, arugula, beets, and mustards. They each add a unique flavor and texture to any dish. The flavors are often similar to the mature version of the plant but tend to be more subtle.

Growing your own microgreens at home is easy. Microgreens are grown in soilless potting media, such as a peat moss-based mix with vermiculite or perlite. To grow your own, put potting media from ½” to 1” into a sterile tray with drainage holes. Broadcast seeds across the entire tray or plant in rows and gently press into the media. Some harder seeds, like beets, will germinate more easily if they are soaked in water before sowing. Keep the seeds moist with by misting until they germinate. After germination, keep moisture in the media from below the tray with a solid tray that holds water. Avoid watering the microgreens directly because this can encourage disease to develop. Because they grow in media, do not eat the root. Instead, harvest microgreens by cutting the plant above the soil line when they are approximately 1.5-2.5” tall. Use clean scissors to cut them and gently scoop the harvested handfuls into a clean receptacle.

The different plants used for microgreens vary in time from planting to harvest, but typically the process takes 7-21 days. It is easiest to sow only one cultivar in a tray but if you would like variety, consider planting cultivars that germinate and reach harvest stage in the same amount of time. Baby greens are the next size up. Plants used for baby greens are typically more familiar to us as greens- baby spinach, lettuces, kale, beet greens, and others. We only eat the leaves from baby greens and they are often used in salads.

Next time you’re out at a restaurant or farmers’ market, look for microgreens and give them a try! If you like them, and enjoy growing things at home, consider growing a tray yourself, to add variety to winter cuisine.

April 2021
Clematis are beautiful and easy to grow!
Judi Lloyd
 As I began looking over my “to-do” list for spring, one of the care items is pruning back clematis in preparation for spring. Clematis (pronounced KLEM-a-tis) is a large genus with hundreds of species, made up of primarily woody vines climbing by twining leaf stalks or in some cases trailing over support. They are grown for their colorful flat, cupped, or bell-shaped flowers. The fluffy spiral shaped seed heads add texture to the fall garden as well. They have a range of bloom times from late spring to late fall, and some just keep blooming over much of the growing season. There are evergreen varieties as well as deciduous. They can be anywhere between 6 ft. and 30 ft., depending on the variety and amount of sun for the above-ground growth and shade for the root zone. They grow best in well-drained, organic-rich soil with neutral pH and proper fertility, as they are hungry feeders. Although most blooms tend to be three inches or less, the giant purple Clematis x jackmanii can produce blooms as wide as 7+ inches across! They are not generally seriously affected by insect or disease problems. Clematis love the sun and generally need at least 4 hours of sun per day. Eastern exposure or lightly shade sites are perfect. If you have a full-sun spot that clamors for a climber, try one of the smaller blooming varieties there. Clematis do not have the advantage of tendrils or aerial rootlets that allow climbers such as English Ivy to take hold and scale walls. They climb by their leaf petioles, so you will need to encourage the vine to grow vertically instead of horizontally by securing the woody stems to the support you have chosen to begin with. Consider the adult size of the vine, fully loaded with blooms when you choose your trellis system. Match the ultimate size of the plant with the size of the support. Stone walls and fences make beautiful supports once the plant gets established as do old sheds that have become an eyesore. An anchored section of chicken wire will help get started in these spots. If you plan to purchase a new clematis this spring, prune it before you plant it. Down to about 12 inches high to prevent the stem from breaking off at the base. This pruning will encourage the plant to put out new growth down low, branching out to develop more stems, eventually giving you more flowers. After a proper mulch layer is applied, think about planting complementary colored, lower growing perennials around their base. This will have the added value of shading the root zone and hiding any “skinny legs”. Artemisia “Silver Mound” adds a nice texture and cooling color contrast. If you want to repeat the color echo of the clematis, veronicas will call out more blue tones.
Do Ginkgo Biloba trees grow well in our area?
March 2021
By Judi Lloyd
Ginkgo Biloba trees are spectacular – especially in the fall. Undisputedly, the most majestic of all trees, this giant has it all. It is considered to be a living fossil as it is old – very old – with fossils found dating to 270 million years ago. Not only is it old, it is also beautiful. It has a unique fan-shaped leaf and a glorious fall color of buttery yellow. Traditionally the ginkgo is massive with a mature height of 50 to 80 feet and a 30 to 40 foot spread. It is resistant to insects and diseases and is extremely drought tolerant. Not a fast grower, it averages 13-24 inches per year with a spreading canopy on most cultivars. It was brought to the US in the late 1700s from China and grows well up to zone 8. It isn’t picky about soil conditions and can flourish in compact spaces, making it a great street tree for urban areas. The ginkgo is also tolerant of air pollution, street salt and salt spray and is easy to establish. Full sun and good drainage is the best spot for the ginkgo. There are both male and female cultivars of ginkgo and the female grows an extremely fowl smelling fruit, so it is recommended that only male cultivars be planted. For those homeowners who don’t feel that they have enough space to grow a ginkgo tree, there are many compact cultivars available for today’s smaller properties. You can even grow them in large containers. Water regularly when the tree is young and only give it simple pruning early on so it will have a strong central leader. There are also columnar cultivars that don’t have a tremendous spread. Ginkgo biloba ‘Fastigiata’ is a columnar tree with a spread of 10 -15 feet. ‘Autumn Gold’ is a larger cultivar growing to 40-50 feet tall with a spread of 25-30 feet. Ginkgo biloba ‘Pendula’ is a nice dwarf cultivar, growing to 8 feet tall and there is a true dwarf, ‘Mariken’ that gets only 4 feet tall. If you haven’t seen it, check out the gorgeous one on the Tryon Palace grounds! A last interesting thought: This is what the dinosaurs used to eat! 
 

February 2021

Winter is not a time to forget about your garden

By Judi Lloyd

Here are some tasks that should be taken care of over the winter.

Trees and shrubs:  Keep leaves raked off lawn and around shrubs as they can create a hiding place for pests.

Lawns and ornamental plantings: Over-seeding with annual rye grass may make for a green lawn over the winter, but it is harmful to lawns, especially centipede. Clean and winterize your mower for the season.  Drain gasoline or add a fuel stabilizer.

Flowers:  Plant spring flowering bulbs between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And, don’t forget the Master Gardener bulb sale at the Farmers Market!  A 2–3” blanket of mulch will protect overwintering perennials and help minimize weeds.  Label plants with durable markers and consider mapping flower beds as backup. 

Vegetables:  Hungry for fresh greens?  Start a micro-greens garden on your window sill.  Sow micro-green seed mixes in shallow trays of potting soil and harvest when seedlings are 3–4” tall.  You can start a new crop each week to continue getting your “salad” all winter.  The average crop-time for most micro-greens is 7-10 days from seeding to harvest.  Kale, cabbage and collards are the hardiest crops.  You can continue to harvest them throughout the winter.  Carrots can be left in the ground and harvested as needed.  I’m even trying some out on my back deck in pots this year.  If temperatures are expected to dip in the mid-20s, cover lettuce, broccoli, spinach and beets to prevent cold injury.

Fruits:  Remove any unharvested fruit from trees.  Citrus trees, including lemon, grapefruit and mandarins are not hardy outdoors in zone 8, but can be grown in large containers that are brought indoors for the winter.

Houseplants:  Cut back on watering for the winter.  Allow tap water to come to room temperature before using to water house plants.  Because municipal water is treated with chemicals like chlorine or fluoride; it’s a good idea to let the water sit in an open container for 24 hours prior to watering.   Place poinsettias in a brightly lit area where temperatures stay above 55°.  Remove them from the foil wrappers before watering.  If you force amaryllis bulbs to bloom for the holidays, cut back the stems after flowers fade.  Place plants in a brightly lit area and water as needed.  These bulbs are hardy and can be set outside in April.

“CLIP” NOTES:

– This is good time to take soil samples to send to NC State (there is a $4.00 fee for processing from November until the end of March) to see what you need to do to improve next year’s lawn and garden soil.  Note: this should be done every 2 to 4 years.

– Check bird feeders and refill as needed.

– Drain and store hoses and sprinklers.

– After your mums have finished blooming, cut stems back close to the ground and dispose of leaves and stems.

– Winter damage to plants results from drying, freezing and breakage. Keep plants watered during dry spells.

– Store clay and cement planters in a cool, dry location to prevent damage from freezing.

– If you have a pond, prepare it for winter by removing and cleaning filters and pumps.

January 2021

Is Mistletoe the romantic plant we think of?

By Judi Lloyd

We all think of a romantic encounter when we think of mistletoe.  However, mistletoe is actually a semi-parasitic evergreen shrub or plant. 

While most plants will root in the ground, when a mistletoe seed lands on a suitable host plant (typically a tree), it sends out roots that penetrate the tree limbs and draw on the trees nutrients and water.  As a green plant, mistletoe does contain chlorophyll and is able to make some of its own food, so it does not completely deplete its host tree. But a severe infestation of mistletoe can kill a tree by robbing the tree of its nutrients. There are at least 100 different trees that are susceptible to a mistletoe infestation, but typically the infestation will appear on hickory, pecan, oak, red maple and black gum trees.

Mistletoe is most easily seen in winter. Look for ball shaped green masses up to 3’ wide connected to otherwise bare tree branches. Each mass in a tree is an individual mistletoe plant and a single tree may host only a few or many mistletoe plants. Birds are responsible for spreading mistletoe by seed. They relish its white berries, which ripen in early winter. When birds feed on these berries, the seed inside the berry passes through the bird’s digestive track surrounded by a sticky film that helps the seed stick to tree branches.

Mistletoe spreads and grows relatively slowly and is rarely considered an immediate threat to tree health. Healthy trees are able to tolerate a few mistletoe plants with little harmful effect. Trees that are heavily infested with mistletoe may become less vigorous, stunted, and can possibly be killed if subjected to additional stress from drought, extreme temperatures, root damage, insect infestation, or disease. If mistletoe is growing on trees in your yard the best thing you can do for them is to provide extra water during drought and a 2”-3” layer of mulch or ground leaves around trees from the trunk out to the edge of the canopy. This will reduce competition from grass, conserve moisture, and protect trees from injury by mowing equipment.

If there are trees on your property where mistletoe growth cannot be tolerated, you can simply cut the mistletoe back flush with the branch. Although this will not kill the parasite, it will help slow its growth. Removal of infested branches should be done 1-2 feet below the point of attachment.  But if this is going to result in a huge pruning wound, then long term you’re creating additional problems for the tree.

In a tree where many branches would have to be removed to rid it of mistletoe, simply letting nature to take its course is the better option as removing multiple branches is harmful and often fatal to trees. Pruning trees to remove mistletoe is best done in winter by a certified arborist.

Like many organisms that at first appear to only be pests, mistletoe also has some benefits. It is tremendously valuable to wildlife, particularly birds and insects. For most property owners, the presence of mistletoe should be considered a sign of a diverse ecosystem rather than a threat to tree health.

December 2020 by judi Lloyd
Natural elements for holiday decorations
 
A fresh Frasier fir wreath with nothing more than a bow works. In fact, it’s stunning.  A Christmas tree with twinkling lights and a few balls creates understated elegance.  When it comes to table arrangements, the gardener in me takes over.  I love using fresh greens from my landscape.
 
Is this the year for a live Christmas tree?  NC has approximately 1,300 growers producing Frasier fir Christmas trees on an estimated 40,000 acres.  The NC Frasier fir is the most popular Christmas tree in North America and is shipped into every state in the US and other points all over the world. Consider buying your live Christmas tree from the New Bern Civitans.  Their tree lot will open on Friday, November 27th, 3931 MLK Jr. Blvd., US 17 across from Paula’s Pizza
where they will be selling Christmas trees, wreaths and peanuts.  Hours of operation will be: Friday-Sunday (Nov. 27-29) 9 am to 7 pm. Limited hours beginning Nov. 30th
Monday thru Friday 4 pm until 7 pm; Cash or check. Tree Prices – 6-7 ft. $60; 7-8 ft. $70; 8-9 ft. $85; 10-11 ft. $155. Wreath prices – Decorated $40; Undecorated $35 and $5 discount with tree purchase. Due to COVID-19, they have ordered less trees than in the past.  Trees will sell out early. Money raised from these sales goes to LOCAL charities such as RCS, Merci Clinic, Coastal Carolina Women’s Shelter, Salvation Army, Special Olympics and many more.
 
Once inside, keep your Christmas tree well-watered.  After Christmas, your live tree can be moved outside and be redecorated for the birds.  This is a great project for kids.  Anchor the tree in a bucket full of damp sand.  Decorate it with strings of popcorn, apples, leftover breads and pinecones covered with peanut butter then dipped in birdseed.
 
Container plantings aren’t just for the spring and summer.  Consider creating a container display using evergreens to keep some green for the winter.  Plants grown in containers don’t have the ground to insulate their roots, so choose plants that are hardy to two zones less than here.  We’re zone 7.  Get creative and use the berries from landscape plants for color or add early spring-blooming bulbs.
 
Forcing bulbs can bring spring’s color to the dreary short days this time of year.  The two most popular ones during the holidays are paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis.  Paperwhites are the easiest of all bulbs to force.  A shallow bowl with water and pebbles is all you need to have those wonderful sweet smelling blooms in no time.  Amaryllis are also easy to force.  Their large lily-like blooms generally last indoors for several weeks.  The bigger the amaryllis (remember to check out Cravenmastergardener.org) bulb the better, as it will produce more than one stalk of blooms the first year.  The smaller ones, while a little cheaper, will probably only produce one stalk.  They like to be pot-bound, so choose a container that is only an inch or two bigger than the bulb.  Make sure that the top third of the bulb is exposed and put the pot in bright, indirect light.  Keep the soil moist but not wet.  A thick flower stalk will shoot up and flat leaves will follow within two to eight weeks.  Rotate the pot every few days so that the flower stalk gets consistent light on all sides (otherwise it will grow crooked).  And, the best part is that where we live, you can plant it outside in the spring and it will come up every year after that with gorgeous blooms in your yard!
 
Enjoy the holiday season with some of these natural decorations.
 
Judi Lloyd lives in River Bend and can be reached at judilloyd@yahoo.com
November 2020
How to salvage some of your herbs over the winter months
By Judi Lloyd
If treated properly, many herb plants will survive in the garden for a number of years. Others are sensitive to frost or severe cold weather and must be brought indoors, protected, or replanted each year. Annual herbs will be killed with the first hard frost in the fall. Remove dead plants in order to minimize overwintering insects and disease problems. Some frost sensitive herbs, such as basil and geranium, can be brought indoors for the winter. Take cuttings to root or pot the entire plant.
Many perennial herbs are winter hardy in all or parts of North Carolina and can be left in the garden. A few plants are marginally winter hardy; in a mild winter, they survive but may die during a severe winter. They can be brought indoors to overwinter. Unless they receive adequate light indoors they may drop some of their leaves.
After a severe winter, some outdoor plants such as rue, sage, thyme, and southernwood, may appear brown and dead. The leaves may simply be dehydrated or the plant may be dead almost to the ground. Scrape the bark of a few stems to determine the extent of damage. If the stem is green, delay pruning until after new growth begins.
Most herbs benefit from a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch during the growing season. Mulch is an adequate winter protection for herbs such as mint, chives, and fennel providing protection to minus 20°F. A winter mulch helps maintain uniform soil temperatures around the root system and provides protection against heaving cause by frequent freezing and thawing of the soil.
Lemon verbena and a few other perennial herbs are not reliably winter hardy. Extra winter protection can be provided by cutting plants back to within a couple inches of the ground after the first hard frost and covering the remaining stub with soil. Then cover the soil with a 4- to 5-inch layer of mulch.
Harsh, drying winds can prove as fatal as cold temperatures to some of the less cold tolerant herbs. Wind breaks can aid the survival and appearance of herbs such as French tarragon, germander, English lavender, Roman chamomile, and winter savory. The more cold-sensitive herbs have a better chance of survival if grown in a protected location.
Other cultural practices that influence winter hardiness include: fertilization, pruning, soil drainage, and watering.
Herbs should not be fertilized after early August. Late summer applications of nitrogen fertilizer will promote new growth that may not have time to mature before frost. The herbs will remain actively growing instead of becoming acclimated for cold weather.
Avoid severe pruning in late fall since winter hardiness is reduced until the cuts have healed. Woody plants should not be severely pruned within 4 to 6 weeks of the first severe freeze.
Excessively wet soil or sites with standing water can decrease winter hardiness of some plants. This is especially true for Mediterranean plants such as rosemary, thymes, lavenders, and French tarragon that are adapted to dry climates.
Keep plants adequately watered during late summer and fall. Drought stressed plants are weaker and are often less cold hardy. Water during a dry winter, especially before a severe freeze.
 (stock photo)

October is an interesting month for gardening
By Judi Lloyd
 
With this gorgeous weather, cooler both day and night, it makes for comfortable work outdoors. 
We should be purchasing our fall annuals now while they are in good supply (pansies, violas, ornamental kale, snapdragons, etc.), but now many of our summer annuals are looking better than they did during all that heat. It seems a shame to pull them out now, so what to do? I often buy my winter annuals this month, but don’t plant them until the other ones begin to look ragged.
This is a good time to divide spring flowering bulbs (iris, day lilies, etc.) but too early to plant new spring blooming bulbs.  Best to wait until after Thanksgiving for that, which is perfect timing, as the Master Gardener Extension Volunteers will be starting their annual fall bulb sale soon and I hear they have some real beauties planned for you to buy.
Now is a good time to divide peonies, daisies and rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susans).  Cut back perennials when they have passed their prime.  Pull out annuals that are in decline.  Remove weeds and leaves from under plants as they can harbor disease and insect pests over the winter.
You can turn off your irrigation system at the end of the month, but be careful to keep watering during dry periods.
Prior to bringing in the houseplants you have “summering” outdoors, you will need to inspect them for insects that may want to hitchhike into your home hiding in the soil or under leaves.  Generally, just a light spray with a hose will dislodge these pests.  You can still leave them outside as the nights continue to stay warm. Put them in the shade now to prepare for going back into dimmer light indoors.  That way, they won’t drop so many leaves on the floor.  Pot up a few small herb plants to enjoy indoors when it gets cold.  You may also want to take cuttings of your favorite coleus and geraniums to root.
 

How do I prune my drift and knockout roses?

By Judi Lloyd

Roses can be intimidating for many gardeners. But truly, roses are tough customers that can stand up to a good pruning and even tolerate mistakes more readily than many other plants. Pruning is vital for plant health. It helps protect against diseases and encourages continued blooming for the types of roses that will repeatedly set buds. It also helps shape the plant and opens up the interior for better air flow, preventing fungal diseases. Another reason to prune your roses is to keep them from producing seeds, which will sap their energy and can prevent further blooming.

Basic rose pruning involves removing dead, damaged, or diseased branches and can be done at any time of year. Damage often occurs on crossing branches, where wind causes thorns to rub against adjacent canes.

There are several types of pruning:

  • Spring Structural Pruning – The purpose is to shape the plant once the threat of frost is past; spring pruning removes dead wood and any damaged wood that may have died back over the winter. It’s better to prune late than too early and suffer unnecessary dieback.  
  • Summer Pruning – Make your cut lower than the first leaflet to manage shape and growth. Both deadheading and shaping can be done from June through September.
  • Deadheading – This is a good practice for all roses. Make the cut at the 1st set of leaves that have five leaflets on the stem. Normally this is the second or third set down the stem.

A few basic tips for good, general pruning are:

  • Make your pruning cuts at a 45-degree angle, about 1/4 inch above the bud of an outward-facing leaflet. By pruning at a leaf with 5 leaflets, the buds will grow branches that will produce more flowers. Pruning above that, where there are only 3 leaflets on the stem, can produce non-flowering stems.
  • Pruning to an outward-facing bud promotes outward growth, opens up the plant to air circulation, creates more pleasing shapes and helps to resist disease.
  • Look at the overall shape and health of the plant, but begin pruning from the base of the plant. Remove any weak or twig-like branches thinner than a pencil. Removing spent blooms will tidy up the plant and spur further blooms.
  • Buy the best pruning tools you can afford. Bypass pruning shears are best because they cut cleanly using a cutting blade against a non-cutting edge.  You’ll also need bypass loppers or even a small saw for large rose bushes. Good puncture-proof gloves are a must to protects your hands from sharp thorns!
  • Sharpen your pruning tools periodically and wipe them after each use with a soft, lightly oiled rag to prevent rust. Store tools in a dry area.

Now that you have some tips on pruning your roses, hopefully you’re feeling more confident to take on this task that you may have been avoiding in your garden. It’s easier and less risky than you might have thought. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. So, go ahead, pick up a pair of pruners and give it a try. It’s okay to make mistakes – your rose bushes will forgive you. Remember, it’s better to have a healthy, blooming plant that may experience a rough cut or two than one that, without any pruning, will grow increasingly unattractive and unhealthy. 

Information in this article is cited from Monique Allen’s blog in The Garden Continuum.


Echinacea is a beautiful and easy plant to grow August 2020
  by Judi Lloyd
 
There was a time when if you said “echinacea”, it would draw blank faces. Even going by the common name of purple coneflower would only get some recognition. But now, everyone knows both terms. We can give credit to all those garden writers and gardeners who have been talking about and growing echinacea in their gardens for years. We grow echinacea for the gorgeous colored blooms, the pollinators who like those flowers and the seed heads that birds love in late summer. Plus, it’s a tough plant that comes back every year and spreads by self-seeding.
There are many selections of echinacea available that ever before. The ‘PowWow’ series features a number of different colored varieties. ‘Wild Berry’ has rose-purple colored blooms that flowers all summer without deadheading. The stalks are sturdy making this a great variety for cutting. The PowWow White version is a similar sturdy plant that reaches 2 feet tall and wide but with pristine white blooms. ‘Rainbow Marcella’ features gorgeous coral pink colored blooms. This variety is compact growing only to 15 inches tall. It’s a nice addition to the front of a garden border or even a container.
The key to growing echinacea is planting in full sun and in well-drained soil. In fact, this native plant is drought tolerant, so don’t be too hasty to water often once established. This, of course, isn’t true of new plantings that will need consistently moist soil for the first year in your garden. Echinacea will spread around by dropping seeds in fall. Each spring we do a lot of selective thinning to remove seedlings in places where we don’t want them. So, it’s good to know what the seedlings look like.
Echinacea look best paired with other summer blooming flowers. You can grow many different perennials around your echinacea patches on your property. Daylilies, bee balm, yarrow, dwarf sunflowers, rudbeckia, salvia, Veronica, aster and helenium are all good companion plants for echinacea.  It is a good winter practice to leave the cones on the plants well after the petals have dropped. The gold finches love the seeds and will flock to them in fall. Once the birds are finished, you can either leave the flower heads to enjoy in winter or cut back the plant. Since echinacea doesn’t seem bothered by many pests or diseases, it is to fine leave the plant in the garden all winter and then wait until spring to clean it up.
The easiest to grow are the basic Purple Coneflower. Some of the more “exotic” varieties may end up reverting to this one after one or two seasons anyway.

June 2020


Mini Mimosas?
By Judi Lloyd
Those are not“mini-mimosas” growing all over your yard! These prolific seedlings are a weed called Phyllanthus urinaria (commonly known as chamber bitter).  It is a native of Asia but has found new homes in several parts of the world.  It seems to have an affinity for our climate here in the southeastern United States.
Chamber bitter is a broadleaf annual weed bearing frond-like branches.   That means that, if you wait long enough, it will not survive the winter. The branches are arranged alternately with two rows of leaves on each branch and look very much like a mimosa seedling.
On the underside of the branches, you can see round seed pods which can explode, spreading the seeds over a large area.  These seeds can be produced in as little as two weeks.
They emerge in early summer when the ground has warmed and grow rapidly.  This weed is drought tolerant and germinates in both landscape beds and turf. The message for early August is to “hand pull aggressively”, so as to reduce the seed bank for next year.  
The mimosa tree, Albizia julibrissin, is native to Asia and was introduced into the United States in 1745.  They are also known as the Persian silk tree.
Mimosa trees can grow up to 50 feet in height.  Its frond-like branches resemble ferns.  In early summer (May through July), they show off their pink, pom-pom like flowers.  In late summer, they develop 6-inch long seed pods which can remain on the tree until the following spring.
Although the mimosa tree has been widely cultivated for its beauty, it has become invasive in many states, including North Carolina.  New trees sprout from the roots and its seeds are spread by animals and water.  They grow uninvited in many places including forest edges and along the banks of streams, where they can form dense stands.
Since both mimosa trees and chamber bitter are invasive, control can be difficult. 
Chamber bitter is best controlled in landscape beds through hand pulling.  A one- to three-inch layer of mulch can be effective since the seeds require light to germinate. If you choose to use chemical control, use it only if you can apply the herbicide without getting it on other plants in the area.
Mimosa trees can be controlled through removal of the root suckers or saplings.  Any seed pods that are present should be collected, bagged and disposed of in a heavy garbage bag to prevent sprouting. Contact our local Extension office for additional information regarding chemical control of chamber bitter and mimosa.

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