Ground-covers for Your Slopes

One of the main reasons that I moved to western North Carolina is because of the beautiful hills and mountains. Being a native born flat-lander, I longed for this terrain. Now I deal with the 45-degree slope that my house sits upon.

Erosion can be a major problem with a hillside, particularly with new construction where all of the topsoil has been scraped away. A heavy rain will quickly create rivulets that carry away even more soil. Heavily mulching a hill helps, but plants are essential for holding the soil in place. But before selecting plants, have the soil tested to determine pH and nutrient needs, and then consider the amount of sun the hillside receives, the size of the area to be planted, and whether you desire evergreen or deciduous plants.

Just driving around the freeways in Asheville will show you grasses, trees, shrubs, and bulbs that look good and hold the soil. Perennials are also an option. But if you desire a groundcover, there are many choices.

Slope2For a large sunny hillside: cotoneaster (Cotoneaster salicifolius) tolerates drought and produces a berry that the robins like, junipers are needled evergreens that come in various colors, textures and heights, creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) flowers nicely in early spring and is evergreen, or creeping raspberry (Rubus rolfei) that will form a dense carpet. These will all cover a large area.

For a smaller sunny hillside: ice plants (delosperma cooperi) dianthus, sedums, creeping rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’) and Mondo Grass (Ophipogon japonicas) are options. Note that some prefer moist soil and others, drier, well-drained soil.

On shady hillsides, observe whether the hillside is partially or fully shaded and if there is competition from tree roots. For larger areas, pachysandra is a dense evergreen, carpet bugle (Ajuga reptans) flowers in the spring, green and gold (Chrysogonum virgianum) has yellow flowers in the spring, and lily-of-the-valley (Convallarimajalisa) which can spread aggressively but has fragrant, bell-shaped flowers are options.

There are many groundcovers to try. Do not use English Ivy as it is an invasive and a problem in our area.

When planting any ground-cover, prepare the soil first by removing annual and perennial weeds. Add organic matter such as compost into the soil to improve drainage. Planting in the fall allows the groundcover to establish stronger root systems before they are taxed by summer heat. Keep the plants watered. Even drought resistant plants need regular watering to get established.

Mulching around the plants will keep down weeds, help prevent erosion and retain moisture. After planting, it is essential to keep the area weed-free as weeds compete for nutrients and space. The first couple of years will require more weeding, but as the plants establish and spread, they will help prevent weeds from establishing. Ground-covers are not carefree, but once established, maintenance is minimum.


Lawn Care

Lushlawn2-200x266Lawn Care

Fall is the time to work on your lawn in WNC, because the fescues and bluegrasses that perform best here are cool-season grasses. This is the time to fertilize, reseed or do a complete renovation.


Where to Start?

A soil test is key! Our lawns often need lime to compensate for our very acid soils and, unlike many areas of NC, may need other nutrients, as well as nitrogen, to thrive.

grass seed-300x200

Aeration is also an important part of lawn maintenance because our predominately clay soils are often compacted. Using a core aerator will pull out small plugs of turf to help break up the soil without damaging the lawn. Cores will quickly break down and be reincorporated into the turf. Beware of aerating where you have an underground irrigation system; you may damage lines close to the surface.


Evaluate your lawn care practices. Too much watering or fertilizing may make your lawn susceptible to fungal diseases. Even a properly irrigated and fertilized lawn may fail because of improper mowing. If you maintain your lawn shorter than 2 ½ to 3 inches tall, or mow off more than a third of its height during any mowing, weeds are likely to reign. Eliminating established perennial weeds might require repeated pulling and digging. If you use an herbicide, choose one labeled for broadleaf weeds. Broad-spectrum products will kill your lawn, too.

Sounds Like a Lot of Work?

This is also the time of year to decide if you’re trying to grow turf in areas better devoted to other landscape choices. A sparse lawn may be due to too much shade or an area that is too hot and dry. Lawns don’t belong on steep slopes because of potential dangers of trying to mow.

Mulch is a good solution for many areas around trees and shrubs. Moss is one indicator of poor soils that may be a lovely lawn alternative, if encouraged. Consider developing flowerbeds or a vegetable garden; you have all winter to plan.



Cold Frames, Row Covers and Cool Season Vegetables

As the evenings cool and the chance of frost increases, having vegetables growing in cold frames or under row covers will prolong their productivity. A cold frame is essentially a bottomless box made of wood, brick, or concrete block sides with a removable or hinged top of glass or thick clear plastic sheeting. Some are elaborate while others are made from repurposed materials such as old windows and scrap wood. Row covers sit over a single vegetable row and are made with a hoop frame that is covered with clear polyethylene or spunbonded polyester or polypropylene. Medium weight plastics or polyester work best as anything thinner doesn’t offer frost protection, and anything heavier blocks too much sunlight.







The purpose of both cold frames and row covers is to warm the soil and trap warm air at night. Positioning a cold frame so that it faces south on a hillside will keep the soil warmer in the fall and warm quicker in the spring. Remember that if your land slopes, that cold air settles in the lowest areas on calm nights and can create frost pockets. Cold frames and row covers will also lessen the effect of chilling wind.

The tops of the crops should not touch the top of the cold frame or the plastic of the row cover. If they touch, the frost will damage those areas. Although it might be cold at night, the top of the cold frame and the plastic of the row cover should be removed on warm days; otherwise, your plants will overheat and die. A thermometer inside your frame or cover will help you stay aware of temperature changes.

If starting your vegetables from seed, some fall vegetable seed will not germinate if the soil is too warm and might do better started inside. With spring gardens, the converse is true, the soil is often too cool, and the seeds do better begun inside giving them a head start on the season. Remember to harden the seedlings off when transplanting them outside.

Enjoy this fall vegetable season in the garden and later, in your kitchen.

Season Extension: Introduction and Basic Principles:





Fall Planting of Trees, Shrubs, and Perennials

tree plantingThe bones of the landscape (the trees, shrubs, and perennials) are most tolerant of adverse growing conditions in fall and winter. The coming months are the best time of the year to put in new hardy material. Unlike the leaves, the roots of a plant will grow in winter; the energy a plant would use to produce leaves is transferred to the root system, and in the spring a healthier, more vigorous plant will emerge.

How to handle and transplant new stock into your landscape is determined by several factors.

  • How was the plant grown in the nursery? Ball & burlap? Container? Bare root?
  • What are the plants drainage requirements?
  • What type soil do you have and what is the draining characteristic? Have you had a soil test done?   Should you take steps to aid in changing the soil’s pH?
  • What’s the availability of water?
  • Are you purchasing the plant for the site? Or are you changing the site to fit the plant?

Ball and burlap (b&b in the trade) are field grown, dug, and root balls wrapped usually with burlap and shipped. B&B plants tend to lose a lot of their water absorbing root system when dug, and will require extra water and care for a long period after being transplanted.

ContainerThe biggest disadvantage of container grown plants may be over stimulated root development and may be root bound in the pot.

Bare root plants are usually the most economical, but should never be purchased unless absolutely dormant and replanted immediately.

When purchasing any plant material, protect the roots, stems, and foliage from wind in getting it home. Get them home in an enclosed vehicle or cover in transport with a tarp. Move the plant around by its container or root ball to prohibit damage to the trunk. If you are not able to get it into the ground quickly, protect it from the sun and wind. Heel in your plant with soil or mulch if a freeze is likely.

If you’re planting area has poor drainage, amend the soil, raise the bed, and/or shape the bed for better runoff. Poor drainage is a leading cause of plant failure. If your planting area is sandy and dry, amend the soil with organic matter that will improve the water holding capacity and mulch after planting.

B&BPlantingThe planting hole should be dug 2 to 3 times the size of the root ball and no deeper than the root ball itself. The root ball should sit on solid ground, not fill amendments. The original soil should be the supplemented with only 10-20% of added compost. What comes out should go back in. Watering a new transplant is the most important step, winter included. One inch a week is recommended.

NC State University offers help and resources to succeed with your transplants. These sites will give you much more information:,,

Fall Planting Class

Gardening in the Mountains: “Fall Planting – Trees and Shrubs” will be presented by Alison Arnold, Consumer Extension Agent for Buncombe County and Debbie Breck, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer on Thursday, September 17 at 10:00 am. The class is free.

Take advantage of cooler temperatures and moisture conditions during the fall and winter seasons to help establish newly planted trees and shrubs. Our speakers will provide information and answer questions about selecting and buying plants, and proper planting and mulching techniques for the home landscaper.

Registration is requested. Call (828) 255-5522.
Location: Buncombe County Center, 94 Coxe Ave., Asheville. Free parking in the lot across the street.

Mole Control: New tools in North Carolina!

Mole damageFor years the control of moles in our turf has been an area of confusion for homeowners. In North Carolina, the mole has not been considered a game animal suitable for hunting so there has been no open hunting season on them. Home -owners with mole-caused damage could apply for a permit to hunt moles, generally with a trap, or hire a licensed Pest Control Agent to do the job for them. Unfortunately, many choose to ignore the law entirely.

Due to some recent changes in North Carolina pesticide laws, it is now legal to use specific chemicals to control moles in turf, homes, golf courses, etc. However these chemicals cannot be used in pastures or within 100 feet of natural or man-made wetlands, or bodies of water. Elevations of 4,000 feet or higher are not permitted as well.

Currently manufacturers are submitting their products for registration. Some have already been approved and may be available in local garden centers or suppliers.

If you feel the need to use one of these chemicals, check with your local garden centers for applicable inventory. READ THE LABEL before you buy to make sure that it is one of those products approved for use in controlling moles in North Carolina by homeowners. (Some products have been approved only for use by licensed professionals or for the control of rats, not moles.) Look too for other warnings or restrictions on the label. Are you comfortable how the material is it to be applied? Look for other signals or cautions. For example, the new label may warn that the active ingredient is also toxic to canines so you’d obviously want to take special precautions around dogs.

kufs.ku.eduIt’s safe to say that even with these new products hunting moles will not be easy. As with a trap, you still must find an active molehill, runway or tunnel in which to place the poison or the smoke generator. Just any old runway won’t do.

In the final analysis, you may decide that the mole, and there probably is only one, is doing you a favor by aerating your lawn, and choose to let nature take its course.



MOLE PRODUCT ALERT Blog: July 2, 2015 by Dr. Rick Brandenburg, Entomologist. NCSU

MOLES Blog: July 7, 2015 by Cyndi Lauderdale, NCSU Extension Agent, Wilson County, NC

Orange-striped Oak Worm


Orange-striped Oak Worm

Orange-striped Oak Worm

Just when you think you’ve had enough with pests munching on your landscape …along comes one more!

I’m always surprised in August when I see the first Orange-striped Oak Worm. In my mind, they have become harbingers of cooler weather ahead.

Orange-striped Oak Worms have one generation per year. Adults (moths) emerge and lay clusters of yellow eggs on the bottom of oak leaves. Young caterpillars are yellow and feed gregariously, skeletonizing leaves, leaving most fine veins intact. As they grow, larvae become black with increasingly noticeable orange stripes. Large larvae can consume entire leaves, leaving only the mid-vein.

These caterpillars can partially or entirely defoliate trees, but often only one or two branches are affected. Later they’ll start crawling down trees to the ground looking for pupation sites in soil and leaf litter. By that time though, they are usually about done feeding for the year so treatment is not warranted.

NCSU’s Steve Franks, supplied this additional interesting tidbit about the Orange-striped Oak Worm:

“Mark Coffelt and Pete Schultz studied this critter at Virginia Tech in the 1990’s. They looked at the life cycle, damage, parasitoids, and developed a sampling plan, aesthetic injury level, and threshold for taking action to reduce further damage.

“The authors also used a survey with photographs of trees with 15, 25, 50, 75, or 100% defoliation. 70% of respondents were willing to accept some defoliation, and 42% responded that 25% defoliation was aesthetically acceptable. Moreover, Coffelt and Schultz found that 25% defoliation did not reduce root starch reserves which is a measure of tree vigor.”

Fellow gardeners reinforce my philosophy that one doesn’t have to reach for the sprayer every time a pest takes a bite out of one of our plants. Particularly if those plants are mature, well-established trees.

Kids can enter the Fair too!

imageThe North Carolina Mountain State Fair is September 11-20. There is much fun to experience with all of the shows, rides, exhibits and animals. In addition, there are the smells of many types of food and cotton candy.

There is something of interest for every age group from cooking, canning and quilting to art and photography. Each competition is divided by age groups to include children. Check out the section of your interest at for times to enter and everything you need to know to prepare your winning entry.

imageFor example, you may enter the two flower shows that are sponsored by Buncombe County Extension Master Gardeners. Ages 6 to 19 may pre-register by August 28, competing in their age group of 6-8, 9-13 or 14-19. Bring in flowers with clear glass containers to enter the first show on September 9 and the second show on the 15th. Judges award ribbons. First place is $10.00 for a blue ribbon, with red $6 and white $4. There is prize money of over $14,000 for this department!

Check out the educational display in the Expo building for more information about herbs, annuals and perennials. Take a look at the Fair through a child’s eyes. School age children are admitted free on the opening day of the Fair and can proudly show their entries to parents and grandparents. With two flower shows, the excitement of competition can happen twice during those ten days of the N.C. Mountain State Fair!

We hope to see you at the Fair!


Gardening in the Mountains: Cool Weather Crops

GITM -August - Cool Weather Crops

GITM -August – Cool Weather Crops

Gardening in the Mountains: “Cool Weather Crops” presented by EMGV Alan Wagner. Thursday, August 20, 10:00 am. Free

Love vegetables? Love to garden? Learn how to extend your gardening season with the right plants and the right strategies. Successfully grow crops in early spring, fall, and maybe even winter.


Registration requested. Call (828) 255-5522.

Location: Buncombe County Center, 94 Coxe Ave., Asheville.

Free parking in the lot across the street.