It’s time to attack Poison Ivy!


Poison Ivy

Along with many other weeds, Poison Ivy has really taken off this year, and many gardeners are faced with “Now what do we do?” The major point now is not to let any of it go to seed, and beyond that here’s a list of options:

Goats: Not practical in every situation but can be effective.

Weeding or hand pulling of the whole plant, including the roots: Effective but again not practical for many of us.

Flame: Works for many weeds but NOT FOR POISON IVY! Breathing the smoke is extremely hazardous!

Foliar spray of a chemical herbicide: From midsummer into fall, before the leaves turn color: Glyphosate, triclopyr, dicamba and 2-4,D are the most commonly available in garden centers. These are the active ingredients listed in small print on the front of the container. Read and follow the label directions. Add a sticker or surfactant if called for to help the chemical adhere to those shiny leaves.

Cut stump treatment: For major vines that are climbing trees, cut the vine and immediately treat the stump with a concentrated herbicide. Use a spray, brush, sponge or wick. The best time for this approach is late winter into summer when the plant is actively growing, not now. In many cases, and depending on how long the problem has been growing, the control project will be more than just a one-shot deal. For example, the NCSU bulletin on poison ivy suggests severing the vine that has grown up a tree as step one, followed by poisoning the stump and perhaps mowing the shrubby part to the ground so the live plants may be more easily treated with an herbicide.

Bottom line: The sooner a problem plant is recognized the easier it will be to handle.

Again: Don’t let any of these bullies go to seed. “One year seeding means eight years of weeding!”

Poison Ivy in Autumn

Poison Ivy Stem on Tree Trunk

Should I Use Rubber Mulch?

This past week’s garden tasks have included the prep and thought of getting mulch spread.   Lots of mulch.   We have a pretty good size property and if the whole landscape were to get mulched at one time, it would take 25-30 yds of mulch.

Oh, my back aches!

Oh, my back aches!

My back just isn’t up to the task!   The most I have spread in any one purchase has been 10 yards…usually smaller loads, a little at a time.

If I were smart, maybe I should consider using more permanent mulch….once it’s down, maybe I’d have the job done for about 10 years!   By that time, I’d be too old to worry about mulch.

It seems that most all of the organic forms of mulch are only going to last a couple of years without having to be freshened it up.  So, I’ve done a little research on more permanent mulch…RUBBER MULCH.   Rubber mulch comes up on every internet search for permanence…Let me tell you a little about rubber mulches.   They are all made of scrapped car tires.   Of course, all of the positive things about rubber mulch are published by the folks that are trying to sell me on their product.

Rubber mulch professes to:

  • have no odor, looks like shredded wood
  • comes in numerous natural (or unnatural, i.e. Blue) earth tone colors


  • be safe for plants and pets
  • controls weeds
  • not house or feed insects
  • allow penetration of water and fertilizers
  • be economical due to the permanence (definitely not due to initial cost)
  • be good for the environment, because no trees are cut down from using it
  • be good for the environment (270 million scrap car tires yearly that won’t go to the landfill)

With all of that being said, I should use rubber mulch, right?    Well, after thinking again (and reading several articles),

I’ve concluded that Rubber mulch:

  • does smell at higher temperatures
  • really doesn’t look like real wood up close
  • research (primarily done by Washington State University) shows that the chemicals that synthetic rubber are made of are toxic.  Aluminum, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, sulfur, and zinc have all been identified in laboratory and field leachates.  The chemicals leach into the ground, thus, the groundwater, etc., plus will actually kill the plantings.   More info on this is available from the following article:, written by Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University.
  • studies have shown that mulch made from wood chips, have done a better job of weed control than rubber mulch.  Also, sawdust was found to be a better mulch for Christmas tree production in terms of weed control, microbial biomass, and soil chemistry.
  • isn’t really permanent…oxidation actually begins to turn them cloudy, white.   The manufacturers say to buy product with UV protection….MORE CHEMICALS, duh?
  • is very flammable and is hard to extinguish.  (Ever had a kid’s bottle rocket land in your yard? or had hot charcoal to get spilled beside the patio?)
Rubber mulch, shown flaming, produced the highest flames and temperatures of the eight mulches tested.. Courtesy of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Rubber mulch, shown flaming, produced the highest flames and temperatures of the eight mulches tested.. Courtesy of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Should I use rubber mulch?   I think I’ll go the organic route.   What about you?

Japanese Beetle Alert!

Japanese Beetle adults are emerging!  They’ll only be around for about three weeks so now is the time to take action!

Japanese Beetles, courtesy of University of Illinois

Japanese Beetles, courtesy of University of Illinois

I’ve just made two trips through our small garden and captured eleven. Eight of these were in mating pairs so I claim ten points per pair, every point meaning, what? Maybe about a dozen offspring? Forty three points! Not bad for starters.

Where do I look?   I’ve found that Sundrops*  make a good trap crop for theses critters as they don’t bother anything else in our garden.



This is a large plant and the beetles seem to prefer the upper leaves, which makes for easy pickings.   You may find other plants which offer the same type of attraction to Japanese Beetles or, to other pests.

What do I do with the little buggers?    I carry a small pail of soapy water….

* I found the original plant in a nursery dump without label. Based on flower, leaf and habit I believe it it to be 0enethera biennis. It reseeds very easily and each spring I weed out the excess, leaving only a few plants in key, easy-to-reach locations.




Getting Rid of Ants in Your Garden?

Want to banish ants from your landscape? Think again! Although ants deservedly get a bad rap for invading our homes, when they stay outdoors, they are more often beneficial to our gardens. If you have wooded areas on your property, you may be delighted by the appearance of Trilliums or other beautiful flowers brought there by ants.

Because they’re so small, you may not have noticed that there are many varieties of ants. In our North Carolina mountains, almost 100 different ant species are afoot. Identifying the ants you see in your yard is the first step in deciding how to react. Most of our WNC ants are from the two most common ant subfamilies: Formicinae and Myrmicinae. An important hint about the role many ants play in our gardens is that Myrmicinae are ants that eat starches, which often come from appendages to the plant seeds that they harvest and store. Myrmecochory refers to seed dispersal by ants. Although ants taking your plant seeds may sound like a bad idea, researchers have found that as many as 50% of the non-woody plants in our eastern deciduous forests may depend on ants for spreading their seeds. Many of our favorite wildflowers depend on such seed dispersal, and it isn’t just spreading the seeds around that the ants contribute. By taking them back to their nests, ants protect the seeds from being eaten by predators or destroyed by fire. Finally, ant nests have richer soil than surrounding areas, providing better conditions for the seeds to sprout and prosper.

Of course, not all ants are our friends; for information about common ants to discourage or avoid, see this page for ant identification and treatment:

Ant identification can be an interesting summer family project, but be extremely careful that children not handle ants or investigate ant nests without supervision as some species bite. Here in the mountains we do not typically encounter fire ants, which are particularly dangerous, but they have invaded many other areas of North Carolina.


The ant species that is most involved in seed dispersal, Aphaenogaster rudis.


Should I remove a shrub that looks dead, a victim of the winter of 2013-14 ?

For months now we’ve been saying “Don’t be in a hurry to declare any of your woody plants dead.  Nature has a way of healing many problems. Wait awhile.”

I think the time has come to modify that recommendation in some situations.

One is where the plant is showing new growth in some areas, but many branches do not. You scratch the surface with your thumbnail and no green cambium is visible. Twigs snap easily.

Step back and take a good look at that tree or shrub.  Imagine what it will look like if the “dead” wood is removed.  Will the shape of the remaining structure be acceptable?  Is there a likelihood that the “live” branches will fill in and eventually heal the negative effect on your landscape?

If the answer is a very positive “Yes!”,  I’d say go ahead and remove the bad wood. Give the new growth space to develop.   Keep your fingers crossed.


If “No”,  it may be time to remove the plant.

The other situation where I’d say “Take it out!” is where the plant never should have been put there in the first place.  It’s right next to a heat pump or an air conditioning condenser where it gets blasts of hot air year round.  Or it blocks the view as you back your car into the street.  Or it’s underneath the living room window and you’ve had to cut it back every other year.


Take it out!  Remove it and if you feel a need to replace it choose something more appropriate for that site. But choose one which will survive on the nutrients, moisture, pH and sun provided by the desired placement.

NOTE:  Landscaping around a heat pump or air conditioning condenser might be used to provide summer shade from a deciduous tree or to conceal the machinery.  In any case allow at least five feet for air circulation around the unit for air flow and service access.



“Rabbits, Coons and Big Black Bears; Wildlife in the Domestic Garden”

Having a successful garden, whether vegetable or ornamental is not always easy.   Definitely enjoyable, but none the less, having a successful garden is difficult.   There are multitudes of things that can go wrong, so we don’t need additional problems caused from the wildlife in our habitat.  Respect our wildlife friends and learn to adapt to living with them.    The animals are learning to thrive in their adaption to human occupation of their environment as we must learn to adapt to their occupation.  


      Small animals (rabbits, raccoons, groundhogs, etc.) enjoy munching on garden veggies.   There seem to be a great number of remedies to repel the little critters.     Having your own defensive army of dogs and cats seems to be high on that list, but who wants the dogs running and digging in the vegetable garden or cats depositing baby rabbits on the front porch.

     Apparently, the small critters turn and run from smelly things.   Used kitty litter, moth balls,  dried sulfur, dried blood, blood meal, human hair, and strong smelling soap all are included in the lists of critter repellants.   All of these listed items may be repellents, but the only truly effective way to limit the gardens exposure is to fence it in.    Chicken wire fencing 30” tall is enough to keep the rabbits at bay.   Raccoons and groundhogs are harder to deter, and will require higher, heavier duty construction, and it may have to be electrified to have success.  All can and will dig under wire, so in addition to above ground, we need about 8 inches below ground too.  Remember also that trapping and transporting them is only relocating the problem to someone else.  


     The big black bears require a different approach and gardening amongst them is best addressed by humans adapting to their presence. Bears are omnivorous…your fruits and berries and bee hives are their smorgasbord.    Having any of these is an invitation for the bears to visit, but there are many things we can do to limit additional invitations.  For instance:

  • Secure garbage in shed or garage until absolutely necessary to put on street.  Leftover human food should be limited in trash…and freezing the leftovers will help eliminate the smell.   Apply ammonia to garbage to repel the bears.
  • Remove leftover pet food and store inside.    
  • Clean grill and grease catcher after each use.
  • Suspend bird feeders 10 feet high and 6 feet away from trees or eliminate completely in warm weather.   Feed the birds in the winter while the bears are hibernating (Nov-March).
  • Sprinkle lime on compost.
  • Remove any food from your car.
  • Harvest fruit and veggies as soon as ripe.   Remove fallen fruit from the ground.
  • Remove citronella candles from outside sitting areas.
  • Place electric fencing around bee hives and orchards.


      Many of us have elected to live in the mountains and with the wildlife that is abundant in those mountains.    Adaptation is our key to successful gardening, living and loving our environment and habitat.   Enjoy!

Two Insects to Watch for on your Rhododendrons

Probably the first insect of the season to show up on your Rhodos will be the Black Vine Weevil…so-called because grape vines are among the various plants on which it’s found.   The adult is a small, 3/8″, black beetle that emerges in late spring.  They feed at night, chewing on the edges of the leaves and dropping to hide in the litter below during the day. 

courtesy of the University of Maine

courtesy of the University of Maine

the CULPRIT...courtesy of the University of Maine

the CULPRIT…courtesy of the University of Maine

You want to distinguish between damage that occurred last year and that caused by the current generation.  If you’re into nocturnal adventure, in late May start scouting for them with a flashlight after dark.   Look for those notches  particularly,  on the lower leaves.. Or, you could lay sheets of cardboard beneath the shrubs and check under the sheets for the beetles’ presence during the day. 

Unfortunately the Vine Weevil larva, small white grubs with brown heads, will soon be feeding on the plants’ roots, limiting their ability to take up moisture or nutrients. Your Rhodos may be getting a double whammy and that would show up as chlorotic, yellowing, leaves.

If you do identify the Black Vine Beetle as the culprit, Beauveria bassiana, a naturally-occurring fungus that causes a disease in the insect, is registered for its control. Read the label to see how to apply.

The presence of the Rhododendron Borer will be signaled by the wilting, curling and eventual dying of the leaves, so by that time you see it, it’s too late to mount an effective attack. The objective is to catch the culprit before they can do significant damage and that means checking below the branches looking for frass or sawdust expelled by the insect as it bores his, or hers, entry hole.  The frass signals that the Borer is inside the stem above that point working its way downward. Identify the branch by locating the small, ¼ inch entry hole.

courtesy of University of Maryland

courtesy of University of Maryland

Now how far down has the critter gotten?  We can determine by cutting off successively lower parts of that branch until we find a section with no hole bored in the center.  The borer hasn’t gotten that far so now remove all of that branch down to where it joins the next stem.  Make a clean cut so that it will heal quickly. Dispose of the pieces removed.  Bury them, trash them, somehow get them out of the garden.

Rhodo Borer2


Join Us At Our Spring Plant Sale


In partnership with Blue Ridge Rose Society 

The Buncombe County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers (EMGs) will team up with the Blue Ridge Rose Society to sell plants and roses to the public on Saturday, May 10. Most of the plants for sale will be those from the personal gardens of the members of these groups.

Date:  Saturday, May 10      10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

PlaceParking lot of the Red Cross Building at 100 Edgewood Road, off of Merrimon, behind Atlanta Bread Company

Learn about the plants best suited to your garden.  Ask questions of Master Gardeners and rose experts. Also for sale will be gently-used gardening books as well as ‘A Gardening Guide for Our Mountains.’

Questions?  Call the NC Cooperative Extension offices at 828-255-5522.

The Mission of the Extension Master Gardener volunteers of Buncombe County is to provide education and current research-based urban horticultural information through North Carolina Cooperative Extension programs and activities, while striving to improve and preserve our natural environment.

Co-sponsored by the NC Agricultural Foundation (a 501(c) 3 non-profit) through the NC Extension Foundation. Tax ID #566049304.

Harbingers of Spring

One of the signs of Spring on our Master Gardener hot line is the question “What are those lovely purple-flowered trees we see along the highways?”

The dangling flowers of  Paulownia grow from an upward-growing stem and collectively form a panicle

The dangling flowers of Paulownia grow from an upward-growing stem and collectively form a panicle

There are really two possibilities, the most likely being the Princess Tree, Paulownia tomentosa.  This tree can quickly grow to as much as 60 feet and is not at all demanding as to moisture or soil. That’s why we typically see it in locations where the soil has been disturbed and little else is growing.

Paulownia flowers are borne on erect panicles that grow upward. Each of those flowers produces a capsule that contains literally dozens of light, winged seeds that are widely disbursed by the wind. That explains how they reach high on the cliffs in the rocky gorge of  I-40 west toward Tennessee, for example.

Not only does the question arise on the Master Gardener helpline!.   Apparently it is a frequently asked question of the staff of the NC Welcome Center along I-40.   Prominently displayed on the doors of the welcome center are signs that tell what they are and that they are not native to NC.

The flowers of the other possibility hang downward in showy clusters and that’s an oriental Wisteria, Wisteria sinensis.  This is a vine but when it climbs and envelops a tree it can easily be confused with Paulownia, being about the same shade of violet or purple.   Your answer then is to check the arrangement of the flowers.  Growing upward equals Paulownia, hanging down, Wisteria.

Wisteria forest photo courtesy of
Wisteria forest photo courtesy of

Paulownia, by the way, is the “Miracle Tree” you see advertised for its flowering beauty, rapid growth and tough constitution.  However it really doesn’t make a good landscape tree as It has weak branches and  produces a lot of litter as leaves and seedpods scatter later on. Both, Paulownia tomentosa and Wisteria sinensis, are listed by several states and the US Forest Service as being invasive, definitely not the kind of plants you want to bring home to meet the family.

Are Wild Ramps Festivals an endangered species?

Ramps, Allium tricoccum, also known as wild leeks, are native to the eastern North American mountains. They’re perennials, what we call spring ephemerals, plants that must spring to life and complete their reproductive cycle in the brief period between soil warm-up in the spring and the closing of the tree canopy overhead a few weeks later.

As one of the first plants to emerge in the spring, they’ve traditionally been welcomed, even celebrated with Ramps Festivals, after the long winter with no fresh vegetables. (By the way, the Waynesville, NC Ramps Festival is May 4 at the American Legion Field NC Post #47, from 11 am until 4 pm.)

Hunting and gathering ramps from the wild is indeed a big deal, one that deserves celebration.

Unfortunately, like a lot of other things, we tend to overdo the ramp harvesting. In many areas wild ramp populations are diminishing.  Because under the right conditions ramps grow shoulder to shoulder, intensive harvesting, taking an entire colony of the plants, is seriously damaging the wild population.

NCSU”s Dr. Jeanine Davis has been developing methods at the Horticultural Education and Research Station whereby ramps could be grown commercially and finding that there are a number of challenges.  Ramp seeds are particular about their warm-cold, stratification cycle before they break dormancy and can take six to 18 months to germinate. Once growing, the plants are exacting about their soil and nutrients, mulch and moisture and of course the correct amount and timing of sun and shade is critical too. So we’re not there yet. We’re still dependent on the wild population of ramps to stoke those Festivals.

And that brings me to my message:  “Be gentle in harvesting those bulbs.  Leave plenty to reproduce for future generations, generations of ramps and generations of humans too.”  Those Festivals are indeed an endangered species.

If you are of a mind to go ramps-hunting, be aware of locations where you should not plan to do your ramps harvesting.  National Parks and Parkways are set aside to preserve the scenery so the natural and historic objects, from the smallest flower to the largest trees are protected.  Digging or removing plants from the wrong places could be damaging to your financial well-being.

You can find Dr .Davis’ report Cultivating Ramps: Wild Leeks of Appalachia at: