Whence cometh our Christmas trees for Yule?

imageHave you ever seen the acres of nicely shaped Christmas trees on a farm and wondered how the farmers do that?

Although there are several tree species grown for this purpose, in western North Carolina the most popular is the Fraser fir, followed by Colorado blue spruce, white pine, and sometimes Scotch pine. Each has special cultural needs and shearing techniques so let me generalize on what goes into preparing a 6-8’ tree for sale.

Seeds are generally collected from the wild. They’re cleaned, chilled, and sown into well prepared beds where they receive lots of TLC in the form of irrigation, weeding, being covered with a shade cloth, pest control and more. Even so, germination is low, perhaps only 10%.

Two to three years later they are large enough to be moved into line-out beds for another two years until finally being transplanted into the growing field. A typical density will be 1500 or more trees per acre.

Then starts the pruning and shearing that gives the Christmas tree its symmetrical and balanced shape. Timing and frequency depend on the species but most will receive one or more visits each year.image

The actual shearing can be done with hand pruners and machetes, but many growers will use some sort of motorized device, perhaps something like a weed-eater with a sharp blade.

In addition to shaping, the trees must be fertilized, weeds controlled, pests spotted and controlled, and often irrigated.

Finally, after at least eight to ten years and dozens of visits by the grower, the tree is ready for harvest. The consumer sees it, whether pre-cut, or balled and burlapped, or perhaps harvested by the family itself from a tree farm, as an important part of a holiday tradition. To the farmer that tree represents the maturing of a sizeable investment in capital and labor.

Microclimates and Creating Them

A microclimate is the climate of a small (or sometimes fairly large) area that is different from the area around it. It may be warmer or colder, wetter or drier, or more or less prone to frosts. Microclimates are created by the environment, but we can help nature along by some of the things we do and where we do them.

As gardeners, one of the first things we learn is that some plants just won’t live in certain climates. Thus, the USDA developed a cold hardiness zone map (http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/) to help us know what will survive and thrive in certain areas, and that map is a truly good guideline to set parameters for us to follow. We can stretch the limits of the cold hardiness zones by using, to our advantage, the microclimates that are naturally occurring and also creating new ones ourselves.

Micro MicroNaturally occurring microclimates are usually not changeable, so we learn to work with them. Examples are lakes and streams (ever heard of lake effect weather?), slopes and their directions, boulders, elevation, and wind velocity, just to name a few. Lakes and streams are naturally at lower elevations and are wetter; therefore, the area around them will be cooler and more prone to frost, thus a microclimate. Remember, cooler air slides downhill. South facing slopes will get more sun in the winter and a microclimate is created. Large boulders (also brick, stone walls, etc.) absorb the sun’s heat in the daytime and radiate that heat out as temperatures drop, so again, a warmer microclimate is produced. Higher elevations not only mean lower ambient temperatures but also heavier wind. Wind will dry out vegetation, especially evergreens and woody plants.

Painting this south-facing privacy fence white might have toasted the vegetation in front of it.Micro2

Creating our own microclimates will involve planning and analyzing the landscape around us. Planting questionable hardiness vegetation should be done after careful thought of the environment. Remember that the unobstructed south side of your home will naturally get more sun and less wind, so less hardy plants will be more likely to survive than on the north side. If that south side of the house is stone and/or brick, that vegetation will be even more likely to survive. As hardscaping is planned, keep in mind that a light-colored object, i.e. fencing, will reflect more heat than a darker object. Obstructions, like fencing, will also form microclimates behind them. Remember cooler air slides downhill and will puddle behind the fence on a downhill slope.

For further thoughts and ideas on microclimates, visit Cornell University’s http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/weather/microcli.html .

November Garden Tasks to Save Time and Money

November 1st brought first frost, first freeze, and first snow, all in one morning! Winter is on the horizon, but there are still some essential gardening tasks to be done.

Soil tests save time and money! Your lawn and gardens will grow better, and you will not waste money on unneeded fertilizer. Free soil tests are available for samples received in Raleigh by November 25th. After that, they will be $4 per sample. Soil test boxes and instructions are available at the Extension office. For more information about soil testing, go to http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/a-gardeners-guide-to-soil-testing.pdf

Regardless of soil test results, now is the time to fertilize your lawn with one pound of slow-release nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Lime may be applied if a soil test indicated pH below 6.0. Keep leaves off your lawn, and save those leaves for composting.

Autumn leaves

Any remaining diseased foliage should be removed and bagged for the landfill. Perennials can be divided and dead foliage removed. Remember that wildlife needs shelter for the winter. Often this is dead foliage and fallen evergreen branches, so consider leaving non-diseased foliage in place until spring. The birds, bees, and other small critters will appreciate it.

Clean and oil your garden tools and equipment so they will work better and last longer.

For the best return on your investment, now is the time to plant trees, shrubs, ground covers, and spring-flowering bulbs. Roots will grow through the winter, and plants will do better when summer heat returns.

Safety Recall: Fiskars 32″ Titanium Bypass Lopper, Model 6954

This information is provided as a public service because of its safety implications.

Fiskar

Sold at Home Depot from May 2011 through June 2014 for about $40.00.  The lopper handles can break when attempting to cut branches, posing a risk of serious injury and laceration. Model 6954 is located on handle label as shown in the image below. No other titanium loppers or models are affected by this recall.

If you have this lopper, stop using the lopper immediately.

Fiskar would like to send you a prepaid shipping box to return your 32” Titanium Bypass Lopper Model #6954 to them for a free replacement. Please visit the following website to provide your information in the form below, or contact them at (877) 495-6645 (anytime).

http://www2.fiskars.com/Customer-Service/Product-Notifications

No endorsement of the product nor the manufacturer by NCSU Cooperative Extension Services is intended nor should be implied.

Fall Cleanup: Now is the time…

The frost will soon be on the pumpkin, which is a reminder that it’s part of your fall cleanup to get the garden hose disconnected from the spigot where it’s been all summer. “But,” you say, “I have one of those frost-free types so can’t I leave it attached?” The answer is “No!”

The difference between the frost-free and standard spigot is that the frost-free valve stem is longer. The handle is outside, but the actual valve seat that opens and closes, turning the water on and off, is inside the perimeter of the building, a site that presumably will remain above freezing. When the valve is closed the water in the tube drains to the outside so there’s nothing in the valve left to freeze. Voila, frost free.

But, if the hose is still attached, the water in the tube has no place to go. If it gets cold enough the water trapped in the tube will freeze, and when water freezes it expands. Now it’s voila, you’ve got a broken water line inside the house.

So now’s the time to disconnect all water hoses. Drain them. If you had any leakers take time to repair them. Coil ‘em neatly and store them under cover where the sun doesn’t reach. They’ll be ready to go to work in the spring.

Frost Free and Standard

 

What’s the Difference Between First Frost and First Freeze?

During the hot, muggy days of August when the relative humidity is 100% by ten AM, digging fence post holes can get hot. The air is saturated with moisture, so cooling from the evaporation of our perspiration doesn’t take place. The air can’t absorb any more H20. Regardless of how much we sweat we feel the heat. We take more water breaks.

As the air temperature goes down with the coming of dusk, the air can’t hold as much moisture, so the excess moisture condenses. In the morning we see it as fog or dew. There’s fog along creeks because it’s generally cooler there but the humidity is often higher.

Frost2Now it’s October. The temperature is lower but there’s still humidity so the same thing happens, but if the thermometer drops far enough we see frozen dew. We call that “frost”. There are two things to remember about temperature. One is that we generally read it several feet above the ground. Because cold air is heavier it sinks so our garden may be freezing at ground level while the thermometer is still ”officially” reading higher than 32 degrees. Secondly, not all surfaces in an area will have the same temperature. A metal car roof radiates heat rapidly so it’s temperature drops more rapidly than the surface of a black-topped parking lot that has absorbed lots of calories from the sun during the day. Frost could form on the car top before the blacktop. Or before your plants. By the way, an object radiating heat from two exposed surfaces, like a bridge deck or a leaf, cool more rapidly than just one surface. That’s the reason we should heed those “Bridge freezes before highway” warnings in winter. So, we can see frozen dew while the “official” temperature is still above freezing. That’s frost.

Frost1To us gardeners, the “first frost” indicates that temperatures have gotten low enough to damage some of our less-hardy plants. With the “first freeze” the plants at ground level get below freezing and stay there for awhile, like maybe a “hard freeze” at 28 degrees for several hours. That signals that the growing season is over. But the first frost was a long time back. Of course in the mountains all weather is local, depending on elevation, north vs, south facing, near a stone wall, etc. So keep your own records and compare with the “official” forecasts.

Reprinted from Citizen-Times “Ask a Gardener” by Glenn Palmer 10/23/2006

Spring Bulbs Fundraiser

Tulips1Time is running out!

Have you bought your spring bulbs for 2015? There is a way to financially support Buncombe County Master Gardener educational programs AND order great Spring-flowering bulbs, gardening books, tools, soil supplements, (and even gift certificates for such delights).

Daffodils1

Brent and Becky’s bulbs in Gloucester, VA has a fundraising program called “Bloomin’ Buck$” that is designed to earn participating non-profit 501©(3) organizations cash from orders that specify one of the organizations by name.

Participation in this program is very simple. Before mid-November, all you have to do is one of the following:

imageGo to www.bloominbucks.com and select Buncombe County Master Gardeners as the organization to benefit from your online order.
Or, mention Buncombe County Extension Master Gardeners when placing phone orders through Brent and Becky’s toll-free line: 877-661-2852.
Or order direct from the 2014 Fall catalog which you can get from www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com. Catalogs are also available at the Extension Office. On your mail order form and below the Total Due line write in “Buncombe County Master Gardeners”. If you have any questions, call Kathleen Griffin at 258-2105.

Stink Bug Alert :​​ They’re Back!!!

Despite rumors that the Polar Vortex chill early this year eliminated the stink bugs, I’m here to tell you that, in Buncombe County at least, that is not true! After spending the summer feeding on a variety of plants in our landscape including butterfly bush (Buddleia), pawlonia, hibiscus, zinnia, and sunflower, plus a few fruit trees (ornamental or otherwise) the Asian Stink Bug is shifting its priorities and seeking a cozy site to sit out the winter. And our houses can fill that bill nicely if we let ‘em in.

stink bug

Asian Marmorated Stink Bug

Adults are a little larger than ½ inch. The overall coloring varies from brown to gray. The distinguishing markings are those black and white bands along the outer edges of the thorax.

Although there are other stink bugs, these are the only ones that aggregate on or in houses in large numbers. And they do stink. Squish them with your fingers and an unpleasant odor will be with you for a while.

If you go on-line searching for “stink bug control” you’ll find quite a few offerings of killers and repellants, using lights, and buckets of soapy water into which to toss them after hand-picking. Some may work to some extent but, and this will sound familiar to folks who have been hosting the annual invasions of oriental ladybugs for the last two decades, the most effective way to keep stink bugs out of the house is to stop up, cover over, seal, caulk, or otherwise eliminate any aperture in your home’s outside surface. And you’ll probably reduce your heating bill too.

Learn from the Experts!

Maximize Your Garden ~ Minimize Your Work

LazyManDog-page-0

Join us for the 2014 Extension Master Gardener Western Regional Symposium on October 9th at the Double Tree Biltmore Hotel in Asheville.

REGISTRATION FORM

Our featured speaker is the fabulous Bryce Lane, who will open the symposium with “Two Steps to Garden Success” and close with “New Approaches to Gardening in a Changing Climate.”

Breakout sessions to choose from include:   “More Planning, Less Work”,  “Rock at Pruning!”,  “Why Fight Nature? Plant What Grows Here!”, and “Tough Love in the Perennial Border”.   The lunch program is on Companion Planting.

The symposium fee is $55. The fee includes a continental breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon dessert.  There is plenty of free parking.

Attendance is limited so register now. Click here to register.

For the Master Gardeners, attendance for the full day is valid for 5 hours of continuing education.

The registration deadline has been extended to September 29th.

Please make sure it will be received by that date!

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

 

 

 

Now is the time to rehab that neglected lawn…

image… and one of the first questions is “Seed or sod?”
Sod is high quality grass that’s field grown for about a year and harvested by a machine that slices a section of turf with very little soil attached. It’s typically sold in rolls that about equal a square yard and weigh 25 pounds or more depending on the moisture content, the first roll that you lay, that is. They seem to get heavier as the day progresses.

Preparation of the soil for sod or seed is pretty much the same. Make soil test, control weeds, till soil, add lime and, for sod, a high phosphorus, slow release fertilizer. (That’s to get the roots growing. You’ll add nitrogen later.)

The sod is laid with the edges tightly together, staggering the joints at the ends of the rolls so they don’t line up, something like laying bricks. On a hillside lay sod across the slope and use wire staples similar to croquet wickets to hold the sod in place. As you work, use a heavy knife or sharp spade to cut curves or around objects like fire plugs. Rolling isn’t necessary except in sandy soils.

Water the sod immediately after it’s laid and keep it moist until it’s established. Because the sod shades the soil you may be using less water than for seeded areas.

As noted, sod can be used on slopes where seed would wash off or erosion occur, can be laid almost any time of year and should accept normal traffic in a matter of weeks.

In my experience if you’re able to lift the sod and willing to spend the time sod is a practical do-it-yourself project. Alternatively, you may find that having it installed professionally is less expensive than you think.