Bringing Houseplants Outside

imageLast fall, as the evening temperatures dipped below 50F, I brought my houseplants inside off of my deck and porch. They have sat in a south-facing window for about six months now. Low humidity, less light than needed, and sporadic watering have taken their toll. They need to go back outside soon.

So when can they be safely moved out of the house? The 50F temperature that dictated the move inside in the fall works for bringing them out this spring. When the evening temperatures stay above 50F, the plants can safely go out. That is typically the month of May in Buncombe County.

There is a caveat. The plants can experience shock and even death if not first being acclimated to their new location. This acclimation, also called hardening off, allows plants to adjust to changes in temperature, light and wind. I open the windows a few weeks before the plants go out, making the temperature adjustment easier.

Both temperature and light need to be gradually adjusted. Even if your houseplants wintered in a sunny window, light intensity is greater outside. First place the plants under a tree or on a shaded porch so the change will not be too great. Then move to a brighter location for a few hours a day. Then they can be moved to a sunny location. Just make sure that the plant needs bright sunlight. If they are shade lovers and placed in bright sunlight, no amount of adjustment will keep that plant from being burned. Shade lovers should remain in the shade.

Rootbound plants can be repotted at this time. Remove the plant from the pot, and if the roots are circling around the root ball, repotting is indicated. Select a new pot that is slightly larger and use fresh potting mix. This change will encourage root growth. Water the new transplants thoroughly.

When watering, always completely soak your plant, as the roots are normally in the bottom two-thirds of the pot. Check to see if watering is needed by putting a finger about ½ inch into the soil. If the soil is dry, water. Pots become lighter as the soil dries, so lifting the pot when newly watered will feel heavier than a dry pot.

Since the plants will now be actively growing, fertilizer is needed. Many houseplant fertilizers have a formulation of 20-20-20. Fertilizing in spring and summer is needed about once a month, but first read the fertilizer label. Too much fertilizer can cause a decrease in growth, burned or dried leaf margins, browned roots, loss of lower leaves, and even death of the plant.

Warmer weather is coming, and both you and your houseplants can enjoy the summer outdoors.

Join the 10% Campaign


WNC offers many opportunities to purchase food from local producers. Some tailgate markets are open year-round and seasonal tailgate markets have reopened. Many WNC restaurants offer local foods.

The Center for Environmental Farming Systems develops and promotes just and equitable food and farming systems that conserve natural resources, strengthen communities, improve health outcomes, and provide economic opportunities in North Carolina and beyond. Since 2010, the 10% Campaign has worked to build North Carolina’s local farm economy.

Here’s how it works:

  • Pledge to spend 10 percent of your existing food dollars locally.
  • Receive a weekly email with a few simple questions.
  • The 10% Campaign will track your progress, and you’ll see our progress statewide.

This is a terrific way to support the local economy, community, and environment while eating well. For more information

The Basics of Vegetable Gardening in Containers

Yes, you can grow veggies in small places, on patios, on terraces, even on balconies in containers. There are multiple reasons to do so, but I see it as a convenience. One can place a container almost anywhere, and assuming there’s enough light, almost any veggie can be grown in it. The only negative about container veggies is that they will require more frequent watering than in-ground vegetables.Container-box-planting-

There are some fairly specific “rules” to follow when growing vegetables in containers.

The container, whether it is plastic, wood, or terra-cotta, must have good drainage. If purchased pots are being used, try to get ones with drainage holes around the sides rather than in the middle. If you create containers from 5 gallon buckets, drill the holes on the side of the bucket rather than in the bottom. Vegetable roots will drown in standing water.

Growing medium for your vegetables can be a packaged ready-made, soilless mix, a packaged potting soil, or your own mixture of equal amounts of peat moss, soil, vermiculite (or perlite) and manure. Whichever one you choose, fertilizer will be needed throughout the growing season. Slow-release fertilizer should be added as you prepare the mix. Through the growing season, water-soluble fertilizer may be the easiest way to provide the nutrients your veggies need to produce fruit.BarrelVeggie

Sow seeds in your container as you would into the ground. Transplants are done the same way. Tall vegetables and vining ones are going to need stakes or trellises. Growing vegetables in a large enough container is important. Roots need space. Five gallon buckets or equivalent size containers are ideal for larger veggies.

Most important, container vegetables must not be allowed to dry out. Consistent moisture is the key to success. Let your finger be the judge of moisture. During warm and windy days, watering twice may be necessary. If containers are allowed to dry out completely, feeder roots are damaged and fruit production is minimized. Using mulch on top of your container will aid in moisture retention; soilless mixes dry out faster than soil mixes. Moisture beads can be added to the mix before planting. Soil dries out faster in terra-cotta pots.DeckVeggies

After production has ceased, plant material and growing medium should be disposed of to prevent spread of disease. Containers should be disinfected with a 10% chlorine bleach solution before using for your next crop.

Online informational brochures are available for selecting products and plants for container vegetables. There is information on what size containers to use for each individual type vegetable, plant varieties to use for best results, and recipes for growing mediums, etc. These are provided by universities who have done research on what works best. Links for some are:





Rain Barrels for Sale

imageBuncombe County Cooperative Extension sells 80-gallon rain barrels. The rain barrels are made in North Carolina and can be seen online at  We are able to offer them at a reduced price of $110 plus $7.70 tax, payable by check or cash. Rain barrels are available at the Extension office, 94 Coxe Avenue, Asheville.

For more information about rainwater harvesting and use of rain barrels, go to

WNC Farmers Market Activities & Compost Demos

‘Ask-a-Gardener’ Plant ClinicsEngland 2 116

Plant clinics will be held on April 11 and 25, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and again on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month through the growing season. Look for the master gardeners in the breezeway area between the two retail buildings located on the south side as one enters the Farmers Market. Plant clinics are designed to help gardeners identify plant problems and pests. Area residents are encouraged to bring in plant samples for evaluation.

Curious about composting? image

At the same dates & times stop by Jesse Israel’s Garden Center to watch a composting demo. Master gardeners will explain how to get started. Several compost systems are displayed including a worm composting bin. Volunteers will be ready to provide advice and printed material  on composting strategies. Free samples of “black gold” will be available.

Master Gardeners will also be available for the Farmers Market 2-day event “Growing in the Mountains” on April 24 & 25 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

April Showers Bring…Stormwater!

Torrential downpours all too often dash gardeners’ hopes for gentle rains to bring us May flowers. Stormwater runoff from heavy rains may drown tiny plants and cause erosion. Fortunately, with some planning you can maximize the benefits of rainwater in your landscape and minimize potential damage.image

What is Stormwater Runoff?
Ideally, even heavy rains will soak into the ground and perk up our plantings on the way to replenishing groundwater. Because we have so many paved areas around our homes—roads, sidewalks, driveways—and other impervious surfaces, such as our homes’ roofs and compacted ground, much of the water from storms just runs off. Where it goes depends on the route to the nearest creek or other body of water.

Why is Stormwater Runoff a Problem?
Runoff not only takes away water we’d like to keep for our landscapes, it often carries away landscaping materials such as fertilizers, mulches, pesticides and soils, causing unsightly erosion and polluting our waterways. In extreme cases, mud and rocks slide, too, sometimes carrying away trees or even homes.

Stormwater Management
The basic principles of stormwater management are to “Slow it Down, Spread it Out, Soak it in.” Look at your property when it is raining. You’ll often see that much of the water on the ground is coming not only from the sky, but also from roads and other properties. You may notice water pooling in low areas or flowing hard from downspouts or steep slopes. Approaches to managing stormwater can range from reducing impervious surfaces in your yard to slow down and spread out runoff, while adding more plantings to soak up that rain, to consulting professionals about features such as rain gardens, retention ponds or better drainage solutions.

Stormwater and You:

Stormwater Management for Homeowners:

Irrigation: Water-Wise Gardening Class

imageGardening in the Mountains

Thursday April 16th, 10:00-11:30 

Join Extension Master Gardener James Wade as he presents:   Irrigation: Water Wise Gardening

Water is becoming a more valuable resource, but it falls from the sky at no charge! Often rainfall comes at the wrong time or in limited amounts. Gardeners can use a variety of techniques to capture, store and efficiently use water. This presentation is a basic introduction to eight fundamental properties of water-wise gardening and provides an introduction to water capture and effective irrigation including rain gardens and rain barrels.

80-gallon rain barrels will be available for sale. More information about that will be posted soon!

This class is free, but registration is requested. Call (828) 255-5522
Location: Buncombe County Cooperative Extension Office, 94 Coxe Ave, Asheville
Free parking in the lot across the street.

April Garden Chores

By April we are really ready to start getting in the garden. Nurseries will soon be well stocked and ready for your business. While plants do sell best when they’re in bloom, when it comes to annual flowers it’s better to look for those that are compact and have only a few, if any, flowers on them. Let the tall, lanky ones with lots of flowers go. For the best selection you might consider buying early and holding the plants for a few weeks. If needed move them to larger pots and move tender plants inside only if a freeze threatens.

Does anyone in the neighborhood have an old-time lawn roller? With all the mole depredation of our lawns, a light pass with a roller before you mow might save some of the higher mole tunnels from being scalped. Some riding mowers have a roller attachment that could do the same thing.

Most woody weeds are better controlled with late summer or fall applications of glyphosate (Roundup). However, research has shown that for English ivy a spring application when the ivy has 2 to 4 new leaves provides better long term control than summer or fall treatments. 

Refresh mulches to prevent summer annual weeds from germinating. But, not too much!  Woody landscape beds should have no more than 4 inches of mulch, including the old and the new. So, when you add new mulch to existing beds, only replenish what has been lost since last year. And don’t pile much against the trunks as the retained moisture can cause crown rot . You want to be able to see the root flare, the point near ground level where the trucks curves outward.

strawberriesgrowingStrawberries can be planted now for next year’s crop but remove any flowers that develop. Check the established bed for weeds and add mulch if needed. If you haven’t finished pruning in the home orchard, better to do it now than let a whole year go by.

This was written by Extension Master Gardener Glenn Palmer in 2008 and originally published in the Asheville Citizen Times.

Protect plants this weekend!

Predicted lows for the next few nights will damage new spring growth, especially flower buds. Cover things you want to protect. The idea is to hold in daytime heat remaining in the soil. Sheets and blankets make good row cover. Flower pots and buckets can be used to cover individual plants. If you decide to not cover daffodils, go ahead and cut them for inside vases. Be sure to remove covers in the morning so plants don’t bake when the sun comes out.

Heads Up! Keep your eyes open for winter damage.


winter-gardenAs you make your early garden rounds this spring, keep in mind that our plants, particularly the woody ones, have experienced two very atypical growing seasons. First, a long, moist summer that produced copious amounts of large needles and leaves, along with a bountiful harvest of cones, nuts and fruits. That was followed by an on-again, off-again fall that ended in February with several icy, deep freezes.

Although sap does contain an “antifreeze,” many plants weren’t prepared. Expect to see some damage as a result, along with potential harm from salt.

winter-injuryEvergreens will show the results of desiccation, much like a drought: brown tips and edges, particularly on the windward side. Sub-lethal damage may also cause pigments to change. Green leaves become yellowish, reddish, or purple. Not good, but Mother Nature can handle it.

A later freeze can be even worse. Trees, like peaches, or even some apples, will have met their chilling requirement and decided that spring has arrived. They put out buds and then, suddenly, the buds are lost.

Ice_DamageIce or snow load may have broken branches. Prune them back until there’s a side branch positioned in your preferred direction. Keep your eyes open for later adventitious buds and sprouts from the damaged branch. Remove all of those that don’t contribute to the shape you’re seeking. If you let them grow, they’ll create a tangled mess in the future.

With your herbaceous plants—those perennial flowers—hopefully they were mulched heavily enough to be insulated from temperature swings. If they’re “hardy”, once frozen, they’ve stayed frozen. It’s the chronic freezing/thawing that creates issues.

Keep in mind that different species, or different varieties of the same species, may react differently. A good example is the Japanese maple.

Also, location can create micro climates: north side of a house can be quite different from southern exposure..

One last note: A deformity may not show up until after several years of growth. You might add a “heads-up” note to your garden journal’s spring pages as a reminder.

P.S. All of that vegetative growth has now dried and is ripe for combustion. Put a high priority on getting that cleaned up. Pay particular attention to the spaces under wooden decks, porches and stairways where it could serve as kindling for a house fire.