Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tips & Tasks for Fall

• September is the month to start fertilizing cool-season lawns.
Use the holidays as a rule of thumb for fertilizing lawns: Fertilize around Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving.
• Reseed thin areas of cool-season turf with 3 to 4 pounds of turftype fescue per 1,000 square feet. Completely bare areas should be seeded with 5 to 7 pounds of turf-type fescue per 1,000 square feet.

• For fall color, plant pansies, flowering kale, and cabbage when temperatures begin to cool.
• Perennials, such as liriope, daylilies, and hosta, can be divided. Plants should be healthy and at
least three years old.
• Leaves are falling. Shred them and start your compost pile.
• Fall is for planting. Trees and shrubs do best when planted during dormancy. Have a realistic maintenance plan before planting.

• Continue to irrigate the fall garden during dry periods. Side-dress leafy vegetables with a complete fertilizer to promote growth during the early fall.
• Dig sweet potatoes before hard frost. Cure at a temperature of 80 degrees for a few days and store in a cool, dry location.
• Till and plant cover crops to enrich the soil and improve organic matter. Wheat, rye, and barley make excellent cover
crops for vegetable gardens.

- Darrell Blackwelder, Rowan Co.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pest Alert: Azalea Lace Bugs

Lace bug damage. Clemson University
USDA Cooperative Extension  
Slide Series,
Azalea lace bugs are one of the most damaging pests of evergreen azaleas in North Carolina. They get their name from the adult’s lace-like wings and hood. Adult azalea lace bugs are about 1/8 inch long and 1/16 inch wide, cream colored or clear, with brown and black markings on their wings. They feed on the undersides of leaves, where they leave dark spots of excrement. Lace bugs overwinter as eggs inserted into azalea leaves and emerge in spring in North Carolina.

If insecticides are needed, treat this pest when it is in the immature stage in spring and follow up with a second application in 7 to 10 days. Horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps are good choices for homeowners and are compatible with beneficial insect populations. For more information on lace bugs, contact your Cooperative Extension Center or visit
Adult lace bugs. Jim Baker, 
North Carolina State University, 

While minor damage may go unnoticed, lace bugs often cause the upper sides of leaves to look bleached out due to the presence of numerous yellow spots. Affected leaves may drop off the shrub. Most azaleas in the landscape have some lace bugs present; however, these insects often cause greater problems for plants that are stressed. Providing proper growing conditions and including a variety of plants in the landscape are the first steps to prevent azalea lace bug problems.  

- Colleen Church, Davie Co.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Smart Gardening: Right Plant, Right Place

Many landscape problems can be avoided by planting the “right plant in the right place.” But how do you know what the right plant is?  
The first step in finding the right plant is to know your hardiness zone. Most of the piedmont is in US Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 7a or 7b. This means that the thirty-year average yearly minimum temperature is between 0° and 5° F (zone 7a) or 5° and 10° F (zone 7b). Plants selected for our area should be rated as hardy to zone 7 or cooler, to survive our winters. In addition, some plant professionals use the American Horticultural Society's heat zone map because heat tolerance is sometimes more important than cold hardiness. Plant death from heat is slow and lingering. Heat zones are determined by the average number of days per year an area has temperatures higher than 86° F.  
Next, you need to know your soil. Most of us in the piedmont have heavy clay soils. When a plant label says "needs well-drained soils," that does not describe our native soils. Of course, you can amend your soils with soil conditioners and organic matter, but soil cannot be changed overnight, and without regular amendment, it will revert to its natural state.
Another step in finding the right plant is knowing your year-round sun exposure. An area that is partially shaded in December could receive full sun to partial shade in the summer. As a general rule, a north-facing side will have less sun, and a south-facing side will have more sun. Also, an eastern exposure will typically be cooler, and a western exposure will be hotter. Of course, this all depends on your location and whether or not any trees or shrubs above the site are deciduous.
In addition to looking at your soil and light exposure, you should also stand at the site and look upward before planting anything. If there are power lines, eaves, or other height-limiting factors, make sure you choose plants that won’t become too tall when they mature. Remember that height ranges are just that: ranges Plants can easily exceed the range listed on their tags.  
One last thing to consider before creating your list of the right plants is water requirements. When you plant, create groups of plants that have similar water requirements to save yourself time and money.

- Amy-Lynn Albertson, Davidson Co.
These plants are planted too close together and have grown so large they are blocking the front door.
Photo: By Mark Danieley (Alamance Co.)


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pest Alert: Bagworms

Eric R. Day, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
Bagworms are one of North Carolina’s most pesky insects. Bagworms damage a variety of ornamentals but are most often found on Leyland cypress, arborvitae, and other conifers. Getting rid of them requires understanding their life cycle. Timing is everything. Many gardeners treat bagworms at the wrong time, resulting in frustration, loss of money, and waste of insecticides.

Bagworms are identified by their cone-shaped bag made of silk and host-plant debris. Some mistakenly think these are host-plant cones. Unfortunately, by the time most folks notice the bags in mid to late summer, the worms have barricaded themselves inside, and the time to apply an insecticide has passed.   

During winter and spring, bags left behind by last year’s bagworms will be full of eggs. If you see only a few bags, which can contain 500 to 1,000 eggs, remove them by hand and destroy them. Be careful if they are located in the upper branches. If hand removal is not practical and you intend to use an insecticide, start monitoring affected plants and their close neighbors in May. Look for tiny worms, one-eighth inch or longer, hanging by a thread of silk.

While worms are small and exposed, less toxic insecticides containing Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.), spinosad, or azadirachtin can be effectively used to control bagworms. If you use products containing bifenthrin, be cautious. Even though it kills bagworms, it will also kill beneficial insects. For more information on bagworms, contact your Cooperative Extension agent or visit the following website:

- Danelle McKnight, Montgomery Co.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Blossom End Rot

Have black, leathery spots ever developed on the blossom ends of your tomatoes or squash? If so, your plants probably had blossom end rot, a common disorder.

Blossom end rot is a localized calcium deficiency and will not spread from one plant to another. It is most often seen on tomatoes and squash but also affects peppers, eggplant, melons, cucumbers, and zucchini.

Calcium moves into a plant with water taken up from the soil. Blossom end rot can be a result of calcium-deficient soils, but that is not always the case. The disorder can also be caused by inadequate soil moisture or overfertilization and is sometimes associated with low pH. All of these conditions interfere with calcium uptake by plants.

Irrigating during periods of dry weather may help reduce the incidence of blossom end rot. During the growing season, plants require 1 to 1½ inches of water per week. A 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch, such as straw or pine needles, will help keep soil moisture consistent.  

When soil is limed to make it less acidic, the lime supplies calcium. Strive for a soil pH between 6 and 6.5. To determine the pH of your soil, submit a soil sample to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Another common cause of blossom end rot is overfertilization. High nitrogen promotes rapid growth, and plants that are growing quickly cannot move enough calcium to the fruit. To avoid overfertilizing, follow soil test report recommendations or use slow-release fertilizers.

Root damage can also increase the incidence of blossom end rot. Damage can result from high soil temperatures, extended periods of wet soil, and hoeing too close to the plant roots.

Blossom end rot is a common disorder, but it can be avoided. For more information, visit

- Amanda Taylor, Iredell County 

Blossom end rot on watermelon. Photo courtesy of Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood. org
Blossom end rot on tomato, photo by M.E. Bartolo,

Monday, August 6, 2012

Successful Container Gardening

Do you lack yard space or garden implements? Don’t let that stop you from having a great herb or vegetable garden. Container gardening uses resources you probably already have, such as leftover pots, potting soil, a porch, and a windowsill. It’s a fun hobby for youth or adults, and what better reward is there than homegrown culinary herbs and vegetables?

While most vegetables do best in full sun, some can tolerate shade for three to five hours per day. Container garden candidates for shady sites in spring include spinach, lettuce, kale, mustard greens, and carrots. Don’t forget snap peas and lima beans in those sunny locations. For spring herbs, try seeding cilantro or transplanting basil, mint, oregano, or marjoram. The latter three prefer full sun, while cilantro and basil will tolerate partially shaded conditions.

To start a container garden, select containers eight to ten inches deep. Clean each container with a 5 percent bleach solution (12 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water) before filling with a good-quality potting soil. Due to their larger size, peas and beans will need two-gallon containers, while lettuce, carrots, and herbs will do well in two-quart containers. Space peas, beans, and carrot seeds two to three inches apart. Herbs and lettuce will do well four to five inches apart. Once seeds emerge, apply a slow-release fertilizer or water each week with liquid fertilizer.  

Containers that are porous, dark, or small will lose moisture more quickly than others. Check moisture every few days by gently scraping the top two to three inches of soil. If the soil is moist, there is no need to water. Like landscape plants, container plants will benefit from mulch to retain soil moisture. Apply mulch to the surface of the potting soil, but avoid piling it around the base of stems.   

- Aimee Rankin, Anson Co.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tips and Tasks: Summer

Make a habit of walking your garden at least once a week to scout for problems. The sooner you find them, the easier they are to fix.  


  • Enjoy the harvest. Check with your Extension office for guidelines on how to safely preserve food for later.
  • Continue planting summer crops such as beans, melons, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, okra, peas, squash, and tomatoes.
  • As spring plantings fade, remove declining plants and clean up debris. 
  • Remember that July and August is the time for planting the fall garden.  


  • Watch for lace bug on azaleas, rhododendrons, cotoneaster, and pyracantha. 
  • Hand-pick or treat bagworms early in the summer before they do extensive damage. 
  • Use water wisely. Established trees and shrubs should not need regular irrigation.


  • Keep bermuda and zoysia lawns mowed at 1 inch to keep them thick enough to suppress weeds. Mow often enough to remove no more than 1/3 to 1/2 of the height.
  • Fertilize bermuda and zoysia a couple of times during the summer. Do not fertilize fescue before Labor Day.
  • Practice "grasscycling". Let the clippings fall to provide organic matter for your soil, recycle nutrients, and reduce water needs.

- Al Cooke, Chatham Co.