Control Summer Weeds Now

From Dr Joe Neal, NCSU Weed Specialist –

Summer annual weeds, like crabgrass and spurge, are best controlled in the next few weeks.. For maximum effectiveness, mulches or preemergence herbicides need to be applied before weed seeds germinate.

Top dressjng landscapes with a fresh layer of mulch before spring is another alternative This will prevent most summer annual weeds from becoming a problem. A preemergence herbicide may also be applied before or after mulching.

imageRead the label before buying and again before applying any herbicide. You should know the the identity of the weed.


Kids Post: Planning a Kid-Friendly Garden

One of the most exciting parts of gardening is choosing what to grow. Most kids have limited tastes, so having some input is a good way to expand their palates. Seed catalogs provide great pictures and information for exploring possible choices. If you don’t have any catalogs, take a trip to the large Farmers Market. ​​​Allowing young gardeners to plant some of their own favorites is good for keeping their interest in the garden.

Peas can be planted in early March and produce food by May. At our house they seldom make it to the pan and are consumed as they are picked. Note to self: plant more peas. Carrots and cherry tomatoes are also a big hit. ​​No room for tomatoes? Grow them in a 5 gallon bucket with a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Lettuce can be grown in a plastic shoe box – don’t forget about drainage. I have a small herb garden mixed in my flower bed, with a lettuce border.​​​​​​​​​​​

Certain veggies can be started inside in small pots, empty yogurt containers or even egg cartons. Peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and eggplant are easy to start in the house. All you need is potting soil, water and a sunny window. Keep the containers watered.

Bean plant, 3 weeks

Bean plant, 3 weeks

In WNC our last frost date is usually May 10th. Read the seed package and count backwards to arrive at a planting time for your indoor starts.​​​​​​​ At the county Extension office we also carry information on growing vegetables, but just don’t limit your garden to veggies. Flowers also play a big part in a successful garden, drawing in bees and butterflies to help with pollination. Some flowers even repel “bad bugs”. ​​​​​​​​

A $2.00 packet of seeds can go a long way to stretch a budget but the real reward is time spent in the garden with children.

By Nancy Good, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer


Plants with Winter Interest

In just a few months, we’ll be flocking to the nurseries and garden centers hunting for the perfect plant. We’ll look at flowering color and form, leaf texture and color, and hopefully consider sunlight and moisture requirements.

When searching for that perfect shrub or tree, remember where we live. Our deciduous trees and shrubs are without their leaves almost half of the year. To make the garden more interesting in those months, think about the plant structure, color and texture of the bark, and berries that will be a focal point in a dormant garden.

Now is a time to visit nurseries to see the plants without their foliage. Of course, their stock of plants is less during the non-growing season. There are many beautiful winter interest plants. Here are a few of my favorites.

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) has twisting contorted branches giving it a sculptural effect in the garden. Plant it where it can be admired and grow into a small tree or large shrub. It prefers full sun to a little shade. It also has yellow catkins that hang from the branches in late winter. Its summer leaves are coarse and dark green.

Red Stemmed Dogwood

Another plant is magnificent when planted as a mass. The red or yellow stemmed dogwood (cornus alba and cornus sericea) have brightly colored stems true to their name. In the summer they are just shrubby plants that reach 5 to 9 feet tall, but in the winter, the brightly colored stems stand out in a gray landscape. When planted in a group of one color, the effect is intensified.


Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) a 6 to 15 foot tall shrub native to the eastern US, has bright red berries that hang on throughout the winter. That is if the bears or robins don’t eat them. A single male plant is needed among the females. Sun to part-shade and adaptability to many types of soil, including wet areas, make it suitable for many gardens.

There are also many different conifers that give interest and color in the winter garden. When winter is finally over and the urge to dig and plant returns, don’t forget those lovely plants with winter interest. You’ll be glad next winter.

By Lorraine Cipriano, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Pruning Shrubs and Small Trees

Gardening in the Mountains Class:
Pruning Shrubs and Small Trees

February 18, 2016
11:30 am – 1:00 pm

North Carolina Cooperative Extension
49 Mt Carmel Road, Asheville, NC

Presenter: Alan Wagner, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

pruning_tools_sqaurePruning in the landscape is different than pruning tomatoes or doing bonsai pruning. However, it still requires the uses of time-tested techniques, good tools, and knowledge of the right time to prune a particular plant. And it requires practice.
Join Alan Wagner as he demonstrates the tools and techniques of pruning shrubs and small trees.

The talk is free but pre-registration is requested by calling 828-255-5522.

Winter Garden Chores

It’s January and we’ve had our first taste of winter weather. Have you laid your garden to rest? There are still things that can be done, both inside and out.

Sharpen and oil tools, also checking them to see how well they function. Previously used empty pots need to be scrubbed with a stiff brush and clean water. Then sanitize the pots using a solution of 1 part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water. Submerge and soak the pots for 10 to 15 minutes. Then remove and rinse the pots. Dry for 24 hours before reusing them. Why all this bother? Dirty pots can host bacteria, fungus or mold from previous plants and soil that can infect new plants.

Outside, continue to weed if the soil isn’t too wet. To check for wetness, dig a 6 inch hole and gather some of that soil into a ball. If the ball remains intact when you release pressure, the soil is too wet to be worked. Give it another couple of days and try again. Trees and shrubs can be planted if the ground isn’t frozen. Water them well afterwards. Check your lawn for broadleaf weeds, pulling them or, if the weather is warm enough for the weeds to be actively growing, spot treat with a broadleaf herbicide.

Because the weather has been so warm this year, wait until February to prune trees and shrubs. Don’t prune spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, camellia, azalea, rhododendron and some hydrangea until after they flower. Otherwise, you are cutting off this year’s buds. Perennials are dormant and can be cut back. I leave some, like coneflowers and black eyed susans, for the birds to forage for seed.

Look at seed and plant catalogs and plan next season’s garden. You can prepare the vegetable garden if the ground isn’t frozen or too wet. Remember that working wet soil results in compacted soil. Be patient.

Inside, check houseplants for insects that might have been brought in after spending the summer outdoors. Treat as needed.

But most importantly, spend time walking in your garden. The bare bones of the garden shine in the winter. Give yourself time to think. What did well last year? What did poorly and why? What was missing? What would add interest, beauty or taste good? Enjoy this time reflecting and preparing for the spring. It will come sooner than you think.

Written by Lorraine Cipriano, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

A prudent gardener regards the first snow as a harbinger…

Ice_Damage…of what lies ahead. Regardless, the calendar says that by now we should have located our snow removal gear and made sure that it’s in good repair, ready for action. If you’re mechanized make sure you’ve got the right oil in the engine and a full tank of gas.

How about your supply of sand or ice melter? In an emergency you can use a pelletized fertilizer but the runoff may put more nutrients in places you don’t need them. And refresh your memory by reading the directions on the ice melter you have. Generally they are salts and may damage concrete.

Think back over winters past. What problems did you have? And what should you do differently? Was your plow or shoveling pattern really the best? Did you find yourself walking over the same territory again and again? Or did you have to pick up and carry too much? Where did you pile the snow? Was it all in one pile that turned to ice and took months to melt when spring finally arrived?

Did any of your woody plants have problems with snow or ice? Should your plan include gently brushing or shaking any particular shrubs to dislodge snow while it’s still fluffy?

Do you, should you, make special arrangements for your pets? Are you feeding wildlife? While you’re at it, where’s your own Arctic weather outfit?

But my bottom line is the recommendation that if snow is in the forecast you should plan to get up early. Get outside before breakfast and get the snow removed before people drive or walk on it, compacting it, turning it to dangerous ice and making it much more difficult to remove.

Written by Glenn Palmer, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Kids Post: Growing a Sweet Potato Vine

Welcome to Kids Post, the newest item on the Buncombe County Master Gardener blog! Our hope is to help you interest children in the wonders of gardening. This year we will be showing you easy, inexpensive activities to do with a child. You won’t necessarily need a lot of space, think shoebox salads. How about letting the children chose vegetables they want to grow, maybe a pizza garden or taco garden? We will help you teach kids how and why gardening is an important job. We hope to educate and have some fun with kid-friendly crafts and plantings for the garden.



Whose mother or grandmother did not have a sweet potato vine on the window over the kitchen sink? This easy, quick and fun idea is a good way to introduce gardening and how plants grow. ​​​​You will need a raw sweet potato, a glass or plastic jar a little bigger than the potato, 5 or 6 toothpicks, water and a sunny window. Stick the toothpicks around the middle of the potatoes to hold the top of the potato out of the water.​​ Fill the jar half way with water and place your potato in the jar or glass so the bottom of the potato is covered in water.​​​​​​​​​​​​ Move to a sunny windowsill where you can watch it sprout. Add water every few days to keep the bottom underwater.​​​​​​​​​​​​ The potato will soon sprout thin white roots, then green stems with leaves will grow out of the top. If you want to plant it outside in the spring, pick a sunny spot. It will also grow in a 5 gallon bucket filled with potting soil. Remember to drill a few holes for drainage in the bucket.

Have fun!

A Project to Replace Recreational Pruning

Now that cold weather has eliminated recreational pruning for 2016 here’s an outdoor landscape challenge for you, one that also involves your trees and shrubs: Survey your property to see how those plants add to or reduce the security of your home. Then make plans to rectify the situation. A few alterations to your landscaping can be enough to put off potential offenders.

Start by standing back and imagining you are a professional burglar. To avoid getting caught, intruders look for property they can get into and out of quickly. Their ideal target is a house surrounded by large hedges and shrubs, hampering visibility from the street and neighbor’s houses. Too often we use boundary plantings that serve as walls for privacy – evergreen walls!


Shrubs close to a house or along walkways are other potential shields and should be low, not more than four feet tall and set back.

Trees that could be climbed and allow access to open second story windows are tempting. Trellises might be used as ladders too. And those trees might  be limiting coverage from your exterior lighting more than you want. Check that out, and while you’re at it, are there other places where lighting, perhaps motion-controlled, would be appropriate?

You might plan to place spiny (thorny) plants along fences, under windows and to block pathways being used as shortcuts. Such plants will discourage even the most nimble intruder. Protecting with spiny plants is as effective as the use of barbed wire and a lot more attractive.

This could become a community project, bringing neighbors together on nice, non-football, weekends. And that would bring up questions like “Are our fire hydrants easily visible?” Or has someone try to hide that ugly thing? Also ensure street signs and house numbers are clearly visible so visitors and the fire or police departments can easily find you in all seasons.

Written by Glenn Palmer, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Coming Change in Weather!

winter-gardenFor those of you tempted by our weather over the last few months, here’s a bullet from the National Weather Service:

“By January 12-14 a strong Eastern US storm is expected to pull extremely cold, well below normal temperatures into the region with below normal temperatures expected to last through the remander of the month.”

You might want to hold off on those plans for an early start to the growing season!

Hints for Kitchen Gardening in an Erratic Spring

imageGiven our on again – off again weather patterns recently here are a few tips on how you might get your early vegetables to the table nearly on schedule:

First, use early varieties if they’re available. Read the catalog description carefully. An example: “Arugula: Quick to bolt in summer, best growth in fall” sounds like a fast grower and arugula likes cool weather. I’d go for it.

One I don’t really care for but since Maggie does: “Famous for exceptional cold tolerance, kale’s sweet flavor is enhanced by frost and cold weather. The frilly hybrids are best for full-size production whereas the open-pollinated varieties are also excellent for baby leaf.” The open-pollinated baby leaves would probably be ready sooner so I’ll pass on the “frilly hybrids”.

We’ve had great luck with chard. “Lightly savoyed, green or bronze leaves with stems of gold, pink, orange, purple, red, and white with bright and pastel variations. Consistent growth rate and strong bolt resistance across all colors makes this a superior mix. Direct seed or transplant to allow separating out the individual colors. Suitable for production year round, but somewhat less frost hardy than normal for chard.” Maybe we should skip the gaudy variety and go for the standard but more hardy green. We can buy plants of the rainbow variety later.

Peas! My favorite, and can be planted as early as the ground can be worked. Here’s “An earlier, somewhat shorter-vined version of Sugar Snap with the important addition of resistance to powdery mildew. The vines average 5′ or more and need trellising. Early yields are heavier than Sugar Snap but the harvest period is shorter. High resistance to pea leaf roll virus and powdery mildew.” Peas don’t transplant well so it’s a gamble. Maybe use a somewhat larger starting pot to avoid bothering the roots.

Secondly, grow larger transplants. That means starting seedlings indoors under lights three weeks earlier than normal by sowing seed directly into 4” plastic containers with potting soil and a smidgen of fertilizer. Sprinkle a few seeds and then thin the seedlings so you can skip a transplant step, putting out plants that are further along. And make multiple plantings for seedlings, two weeks apart, as insurance.

Or, keep checking with your favorite supplier to get their seedlings just as soon as they’re available.

Once you have your seeds ordered there are some other things you can do to extend the growing season in your kitchen garden. And even though it’s too late for this season you might take a look at your homestead and determine if you’re using the best site. Best in that it takes advantage of the sun and the slope if you have options.

For the exposure now is the time to start mapping the potential sites to see which offer the best use of sunny areas. Make a sketch of your property and during the course of the day draw lines to indicate the division between shade and sun each hour. Ideally that spot will have a slope so that cold air flows downhill; it takes advantage of the angle the sun’s rays hit the ground and the rows run east to west.
When you find that perfect spot you may have to adjust your priorities – veggies versus ornamental plants. And decide if a structure, from cold frame to greenhouse could be installed. Even just a raised bed would offer significant advantages.

Row covers, tunnels or hoop houses using plastic or spun bond material can provide temporary greenhouses but require vigilance on sunny days to avoid overheating and baking the plants
Hot caps constructed of plastic or cardboard provide shelter and heat retention for individual plants. Like a greenhouse though, they may have to be “opened”- removed on warm days.

Get to work! And Happy Gardening in 2016.
Bon appetite!

By Glenn Palmer, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer