Tomato Talk Rescheduled for March 5th

Let’s Talk Tomatoes!

Buncombe County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers (EMGs) will offer a free program called “Let’s Talk Tomatoes” on Thursday, March 5th at 10 a.m. at the Cooperative Extension Offices located at 94 Coxe Avenue. Join EMG tomato expert John Hew and find out what you need to know to get started growing tomatoes the right way this year. John will help gardeners select disease resistant varieties and discuss sources for seeds and plants. It’s not too early in the year to talk about starting tomato plants from seed!

imageThe talk will run about 1 hour and be followed by a Q&A session. A few lucky attendees will take home tomato plants! The talk is free, but pre-registration is requested by calling 828-255-5522.

Free parking is available in the lot across on the street on the corner of Coxe and Hilliard Avenues.

Additional lectures in the ‘Gardening in the Mountains’ series will cover a variety of garden topics. They will be held on the third Thursday of each month through October.

Looking for heirloom tomatoes? Grafting them can produce a better plant.

Grafting tomatoes is done for the same reasons that desirable apple varieties are grafted to a different rootstock: The result can be a disease resistant plant that produces tasty, old fashioned tomatoes. And this is something you can do at home. Or as a garden club project but you’ve got to start planning now.

For best results you’d want to start seeds for both rootstock and the scion which is an heirloom of your choice. The rootstock variety is chosen based on its resistance to a specific disease that you’ve had trouble with, fusarium wilt, for example.

There are a number of different methods available. The NCSU bulletin Grafting for Disease Resistance in Heirloom Tomatoes showing the 45 degree angle method is available online It explains that the stems of both plants must be the same size for grafting so the planting dates for the rootstock and the scion will be determined independently by the length of their germination period. You may have to experiment with seeds in a damp paper towels to determine how long that is for each.







Grafting is performed when the seedlings have two to four true leaves and the stems are about 1/8” diameter. Matching 45 degree cuts are made and a special plastic clip holds the graft together. The tender, newly grafted plants go into a warm, humid recovery chamber in complete darkness for two to four days so a callous can form over the graft. The Bulletin has the program for gradually introducing your blue ribbon babies to the real world.

Sounds easy but there are some key points: You need to get the right combination of rootstock and scion. Timing is critical as is sanitation during the grafting and recovery period. The stem of a newly grafted plant is very weak so it must be handled gently. And no overhead watering or strong breezes!

The reward should be tasty heirloom tomatoes that don’t succumb to the blights of August.

Need Trees?

imageThe Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District is holding their annual tree seedling sale on March 6 and 7 at Jesse Israel and Sons Nursery at the WNC Farmer’s Market. And you can’t beat the price! $1.00 for a one-foot hardwood seedling, $.25 for pines. First come, first served.

Here’s what will be available:

Eastern White Pine (Prunus serotina): These can grow to 100 feet so be careful where you put them. In fact for any of these species think about their mature size. Don’t plant under power lines, or where they may eventually start blocking a view or otherwise be unwelcome, like too close to a driveway or shading your vegetable garden.

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is a forest tree valued of it’s wood, prefers moist bottom land sites. Feeds wildlife.

Butternut (Juglans cineria) Another moisture-loving tree whose wood is valued.

Crabapple (Malus spp.) small tree 20-40 feet tall. Adaptable to many soils and sites. Fruit may be a bit messy for a patio.

Crape myrtle (Lagerstromia indica) A flowering tree with multiple large branches. Variable in size, averaging 20-25 feet.

Flowering Dogwood ( Cornus florida ) Small tree, 30-40’ ) Slow to moderate grower, berries may feed wildlife.

Persimmon (Diospyros viginiana) Moderate-sized tree; 20 Full sun, adaptable as to soil or moisture. Sometimes planted for its fruit.

River Birch (Betula nigra) A tree 40 to 50 feet; generally has a central leader It lacks the white trunk associated with other birches. Prefers moist site but will accept drier.

White Oak (Quercus alba ) A large, long-lived tree, this one is for your grandkids. Give it space or plan and plant so you can remove competition over time.

Mark your calendar: Friday, March 6, 10 – 5 or Saturday March 7, 9 – 5 or until out of stock.
Call the Soil and Water Conservation folks at (828) 250-4785 for more information.

For information about the many benefits of planting trees,

For information about specific trees,

Protect your plants this weekend!

imageHeads up for mountain gardeners: Row covers or other protection may be in order this weekend for your berry or other early (or late) vegetables.

Forecast for Buncombe County
Saturday Night – Partly cloudy and windy. Colder with lows around 5 above. Wind chill values as low as 15 below.

Sunday And Sunday Night – Mostly clear and blustery. Cold. Highs in the lower 20s. Lows 5 to 10 above. Wind chill values as low as 20 below.

Washingtons Birthday, aka Presidents Day – Mostly sunny. Not as cool with highs in the upper 30s. Wind chill values as low as 5 below in the morning.

Seeds for Spring Planting

imageWith seed catalogs arriving in the mail, it is not too early to start planning for spring plantings. The advantages of beginning plantings with seeds rather than plants from a garden center are multiple. There is the joy of seeing a plant mature from seed to maturity, the availability of plant varieties not available from the local nurseries, and the ability to get a head start on planting before that last frost.

Some seeds do better when directly sowed into the ground, while others prefer beginning in pots. Some need warm soil, others cool. Some are open pollinated seed that will reproduce itself next year from harvested seeds. Hybrids on the other hand, often produce seeds at the end of their growing season that are not vigorous or true to type. Be sure to note when looking for seeds the sunlight and moisture requirements the growing plants require.

A calendar and knowledge of the last frost date allow calculation on sowing and harvesting times. By starting cool weather plants indoors or in cold frames a few weeks before the last frost date, you can get a head start on spring. Beware of planting tomato seeds too early, as they require warm temperatures to grow and fruit. Seeds such as lettuces can be planted in consecutive weeks to extend the harvest season.


Seed catalogs offer a wealth of information on plant varieties and conditions. Some even suggest seeds that are easy to grow. The abundance of catalogs present a cornucopia of choice. Just beware of buying more seeds than there is time to plant or energy to care for. But that is always the risk when longing for spring. Enjoy!

Fine pruning of deciduous trees. And now’s the time…


Lopping, topping, pollarding, and coppicing are all forms of pruning that have one thing in common: The primary focus is on a short range change in the tree or shrub’s form.


On a shrub this is shearing, cutting all the branches to the same height, as in a hedge. On a tree though, it’s hard to identify any situation that wouldn’t be better served by fine pruning, like removing only the branches that are blocking a view.

Fine Pruning the cuts are made one at a time, each cut considering the long and short-range dendrological effects on the plant, the impact on the landscape, and on the gardener’s interests. Fine pruning is particularly important during the early development of any woody plant.

Fine Pruning


It’s wise to tackle the big problems first. In doing so you may also be eliminating multiple smaller ones.

So here we’d start with the multiple leaders or vertical branches that are crowding the interior in the diagram on the left. Off with them! Same with “water sprouts” on the trunk or branches and suckers that spring up at the base. Taking them off while they’re small can save major pruning later.

We’d look for branches that are crossing or rubbing, not only now, but those that seem to be heading for trouble in the future. Off, or cut back to a side branch headed in right direction. Broken branches provide entry points for disease and insects. Off with them too.

There’s one other possible target that I see in the unpruned tree on the left. Ground clearance. I would remove the lowest branch on the right to establish a more symmetrical appearance. This could also be important in a parking lot or to provide for mower access to the turf below. DON’T leave a stub. If the branch collar is left intact after pruning, the wound will seal more effectively and stem tissue probably will not decay.

Coppicing is an English term for a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge. After a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again.

Pollarding is a pruning system in which the upper branches of a tree are removed, promoting a dense head of foliage and branches. It has been common in Europe since medieval times and is practiced today in urban areas worldwide, primarily to maintain trees at a predetermined height.[1]

Traditionally, trees were pollarded for one of two reasons: for fodder to feed livestock, for fire and or perhaps as wattling to be used as a fence.

  • To remove large branches, three or four cuts will be necessary to avoid tearing the bark. Make the first cut on the underside of the branch about 18 inches from the trunk. Undercut one-third to one-half way through the branch. Make the second cut an inch further out on the branch; cut until the branch breaks free.
  • Before making the final cut severing a branch from the main stem, identify the branch collar. The branch collar grows from the stem tissue around the base of the branch. Make pruning cuts so that only branch tissue (wood on the branch side of the collar) is removed. Be careful to prune just beyond the branch collar, but
  • The third cut may be made by cutting down through the branch, severing it. If, during removal, there is a possibility of tearing the bark on the branch underside, make an undercut first and then saw through the branch.

What time of year do we want to do this fine pruning? Now! In late winter when the trees are fully dormant, but before they break dormancy. With all the leaves off, you can better see what needs to be done.

NOTE: Pruning fruit trees, shrubs or vines have some different objectives though many of the same considerations and techniques do apply.

What’s the Dirt?


Have you ever wondered what soil is and if that dirt in your yard is any good for gardening? Although Buncombe County has dozens of soil types, understanding soil basics isn’t that hard. All soils have the same ingredients: minerals, organic materials and the spaces between them, which are filled with air and water. Minerals—mostly weathered rock—make up the bulk of any soil. The smaller amount of organic matter comes from the decay of any living thing, plant or animal! In an ideal soil, half is solids, with equal amounts of air and water filling the space that’s left. This perfect soil provides support for plants’ roots, and the water and nutrients they need to grow.

Ideal Soil:soil piechart

Of course, it’s unlikely your patch of earth is faultless! The types of rock on a site, the land contours, and climate and biological processes combine to produce soil’s texture, mineral content and acidity (pH). For a plant, these soil characteristics may mean the difference between life and death.

Soil Image

Soil texture is related to the mix of sand, silt and clay particles and affects the ability of the soil to contain air and water. Buncombe County soil types tend to have more clay particles, making them finer-textured, able to hold too much water and susceptible to compacting.

On the plus side, minerals in clay particles are more chemically reactive than those in sand and silt, making them better able to hold nutrients. Buncombe County soils do tend to be acidic (low pH).This makes some of the nutrients, such as phosphorus,  unavailable, while releasing others that may be toxic to plants, such as aluminum.

Using plants that prefer the soil you have is an efficient and effective approach to gardening. You can improve your soil by increasing organic matter through mulching and adding lime to raise very low pH to more hospitable levels.

If you want to learn more about soils, a low-cost online course is available from NC Cooperative Extension at:

And 2015 is the International Year of Soils:

Soil Testing

Soil-image-300x206-100x100With the garden asleep for the winter, many gardeners anticipate new plants in the coming months.   But what about the garden soil? Is the soil pH acidic or basic, adequately fertile and with appropriate levels of essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, sulfur, manganese, copper and zinc? A soil test will answer these questions and help in deciding on plant choices, soil preparation and fertilization.

soil-sample1Soil test kits can be picked up at the county Cooperative Extension office. Using a clean stainless steel or chrome plated trowel, dig about 6 inches deep in 4 to 5 spots in the testing area. After collecting equal amounts in each spot, place the dry soil in a clean bowl or bucket. Be sure to combine well, fill the soil test box to the fill line and label. Take separate samples for different areas, such as lawn, blueberries, vegetables or flowerbeds. Complete the soil test form, place on top of soil test boxes in a cardboard box, and mail to the address listed on the form. It is helpful to keep a ‘cheatsheet’ at home to remind you where each sample came from.

After the lab has tested the soil samples, you will receive a test report with recommendations for fertilizer and pH amendment. During the winter it takes about 2 months to receive your test results and there is a charge of $4 per test kit box.

Knowing your garden’s soil type, pH, and base fertility will allow you to garden more knowledgably with better results. Now you have a reason to get back out in the garden this winter.

For more information: