Putting Your Garden to Bed?

Fall Gardening

by Debbie Green

By autumn, even the most enthusiastic gardeners find their landscapes in decline. Looking out on weeds, tired annuals, insect-or disease-damaged plants, and piles of falling leaves, you may want only to put the garden to bed for the winter.

Instead, use cooling temperatures to get energized and improve your landscape!

Some Things Need to Go—Or Not!

Do clean out damaged or diseased plants, removing them completely if they are beyond help, along with any weeds that are going to seed. Bag these as trash to help reduce diseases, pests and weeds the following year.

Next, decide what plants need cutting back or tidying. Many perennials have new growth at the base that will carry them through winter and look fresh if you cut older foliage back. Some age gracefully, though, with attractive seed heads that feed the birds; such reseeding plants will fill out informal flowerbeds or meadow plantings. If you don’t want plants to reseed, gather interesting pods or ornamental grasses for indoor fall arrangements. Note some perennials, such as Chrysanthemums, survive best with their stems intact; leave marginally hardy plants alone until late winter.

In woodland gardens, leave those fallen leaves rather than raking them out; just pull away any large leaves smothering young plants. If you must rake, rather than bagging leaves, shred, and either compost them or reapply the shredded leaves to your garden beds.


What to Add?

If you have spring and summer-blooming plants that need dividing or relocating, or you want to add new trees, shrubs or perennials to your landscape, early fall is a good time to make changes. Establish new planting areas where you have too much lawn to mow, or on slopes where cheerful flowers will be a welcome alternative to weeds. Include some reseeding perennials such as Echinacea and Rudbeckia or ground-covering native plants, such “Green and Gold” (Chrysogonum virginianum).




Phone Helpline

Autumn leavesThe Extension Master Gardener Garden Helpline will close for the 2015 season starting today. EMG volunteers staff the Helpline three seasons of the year, answering thousands of gardening questions and will resume in March 2016. We enjoy talking with you by phone or in person, and we strive to provide you with up-to-date, research based information.

Gardening tasks never really end. We will regularly post seasonal and, we hope, interesting information to our blog and Facebook page. Make sure to sign up for both!

We look forward to seeing you in the spring in our new office!

We’re on the Move!


Buncombe County Cooperative Extension Center is moving to a new location. Starting October 19, 2015 our new address is 49 Mount Carmel Road, Asheville NC 28806, in Erwin Hills area off New Leicester Highway near Erwin High School and Erwin Middle School. Soil and Water Conservation District will be moving to the same location. We are sad to leave our neighbors downtown but are excited about a new space for a cool new demonstration garden. We expect to be settled in and ready to go in time for 2016 activities.
Our phone number is the same – 828-255-5522.

Come see us!

An illicit harvest…

By Glenn Palmer

image… is what you’ll probably be finding again at the at the Farmers’ Market this fall. I’m referring to those red or orange berries that you’ll see scattered over the floors of some of the buildings where those gorgeous wreaths are being sold. That’s Oriental bittersweet, one of our really bad guys when it comes to invasive, or backyard bullies.

Like kudzu, Oriental bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus was introduced from the Orient and found a place in our landscapes as an ornamental. It wasn’t long before this shade tolerant, climbing, twining woody vine had escaped to and, thanks to those berries, spread rapidly through our forests, particularly the sunny edges. Birds love the berries and poop! A new seedling results. Bad news.

So bad indeed, that Oriental bittersweet is classified in North Carolina as a Class A Noxious Weed, meaning that its “movement is prohibited throughout the state.” Trafficking in a Class A species is forbidden.

Believe it or not, an exception has been made for Oriental bittersweet. In the western part of the state it’s okay, even though illegal, to sell those wreaths. NCDA has determined that in our area ”The problem is beyond the scope of regulatory control.” They’ve given up!

imageAlthough NCDA has given up, some land owners or managers have not. The US Park Service in the Great Smoky Mountains spends thousands of dollars annually combatting nonnative invasive plants. And winning! In another example of site-specific determination, Lewis Blodgett, a volunteer at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, has singlehandedly after about a decade of work, been able to declare the Gardens free of a different invasive – garlic mustard. (Alliaria petiolate). It can be done!

Next week: How you too can combat a Backyard Bully on your own site and win.

But you don’t have to wait. If you have a Backyard Bully of your own give us a call or, better yet, bring in a sample, at least a good-sized branch or cutting with leaves attached, for identification and recommendations on control.

For more information about Oriental bittersweet, check out:

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:


http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/a-gardeners-guide-to-soil-testing.pdf, http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/growing-perennial-flowers/

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