Protect plants this weekend!

Predicted lows for the next few nights will damage new spring growth, especially flower buds. Cover things you want to protect. The idea is to hold in daytime heat remaining in the soil. Sheets and blankets make good row cover. Flower pots and buckets can be used to cover individual plants. If you decide to not cover daffodils, go ahead and cut them for inside vases. Be sure to remove covers in the morning so plants don’t bake when the sun comes out.

Heads Up! Keep your eyes open for winter damage.

Image

winter-gardenAs you make your early garden rounds this spring, keep in mind that our plants, particularly the woody ones, have experienced two very atypical growing seasons. First, a long, moist summer that produced copious amounts of large needles and leaves, along with a bountiful harvest of cones, nuts and fruits. That was followed by an on-again, off-again fall that ended in February with several icy, deep freezes.

Although sap does contain an “antifreeze,” many plants weren’t prepared. Expect to see some damage as a result, along with potential harm from salt.

winter-injuryEvergreens will show the results of desiccation, much like a drought: brown tips and edges, particularly on the windward side. Sub-lethal damage may also cause pigments to change. Green leaves become yellowish, reddish, or purple. Not good, but Mother Nature can handle it.

A later freeze can be even worse. Trees, like peaches, or even some apples, will have met their chilling requirement and decided that spring has arrived. They put out buds and then, suddenly, the buds are lost.

Ice_DamageIce or snow load may have broken branches. Prune them back until there’s a side branch positioned in your preferred direction. Keep your eyes open for later adventitious buds and sprouts from the damaged branch. Remove all of those that don’t contribute to the shape you’re seeking. If you let them grow, they’ll create a tangled mess in the future.

With your herbaceous plants—those perennial flowers—hopefully they were mulched heavily enough to be insulated from temperature swings. If they’re “hardy”, once frozen, they’ve stayed frozen. It’s the chronic freezing/thawing that creates issues.

Keep in mind that different species, or different varieties of the same species, may react differently. A good example is the Japanese maple.

Also, location can create micro climates: north side of a house can be quite different from southern exposure..

One last note: A deformity may not show up until after several years of growth. You might add a “heads-up” note to your garden journal’s spring pages as a reminder.

P.S. All of that vegetative growth has now dried and is ripe for combustion. Put a high priority on getting that cleaned up. Pay particular attention to the spaces under wooden decks, porches and stairways where it could serve as kindling for a house fire.

 

Prune Hydrangeas at the wrong time and you snip off the season’s blooms.

Late winter is pruning time for many trees and shrubs, but the majority of questions we receive relate to hydrangeas.

When to prune depends on the type of hydrangea you have. Here are some guidelines:

Bigleaf and Lacecap Hydrangeas; Hydrangea macrophylla: This common hydrangea usually has pink or blue flowers, the blue shades a result of more acid soils. For a mature plant, remove the dead wood in late winter by cutting those stems to the ground. This will allow access to more air and light. Any other pruning should be completed after the flowers fade—not earlier than July; no later than the first week in August. Later pruning will destroy flower buds developing into the next blossoms.

hydrangea_macrophylla

Smooth Hydrangea; H. arborescens Annabelle: Because of its untidy growth pattern most gardeners annually prune the entire plant to 6-12” from the ground. This should be done in late winter as the flowers appear on the current year’s growth.

Hydrangea-arborescens

Hydrangea-arborescens

Peegee Hydrangea; H. paniculata Grandiflora: Develops into a large shrub producing many smaller blooms. In early March, severe pruning, cutting back to only two buds at the base of each stem, will produce a smaller shrub with larger flowers on current year’s growth.

Hydrangea-paniculata-Limelight

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oakleaf Hydrangea; H.quercifolia: Native and generally left to grow its natural form. Blooms for a long period on last year’s growth. Any pruning should be done as soon as the flowers begin to fade.

Hydrangea-quercifolia-Snowflake

Hydrangea-quercifolia-Snowflake

For most woody plants, follow this rule: “If the plant blooms early in the season on last year’s growth, prune after it blooms—not now!” (Forsythia, for example.)

If the plant blooms later on growth that occurs this year, do only limited cutting now. Wait until after the blooms have faded before major pruning.

 

Garden Tour – Save the date!

image

Pruning Spring Blooming Shrubs

Flower clusters of Vanhoutte spirea. Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Flower clusters of Vanhoutte spirea.
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

The spring blooming shrubs are full of buds and will soon be bursting with color (and none too soon, I might add). I’m speaking of the earliest of the spring bloomer . . . forsythia, fothergilla, spirea, mock orange, lilacs, weigelia, azaleas, and rhododendrons. It seems that I notice more need for pruning when the shrubs are in full bloom, maybe because the branches are highlighted with color at this time.

Rhododendron catawbiense 'Roseum Elegans' flowers. Joey Williamson, ©2011 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Rhododendron catawbiense ‘Roseum Elegans’ flowers.
Joey Williamson, ©2011 HGIC, Clemson Extension

When to Prune and How to Prune can be daunting tasks unless you think your way through the life cycles of the shrub. Taking the task one step at a time makes the job much easier.

All of the aforementioned early bloomers develop their buds on last summer’s growth, considered to be old growth. Knowing that the buds are developed in the summer and fall, we also know that If the shrub is pruned in late fall or winter, the buds will be removed and thus, no spring bloom. The spring bloomers should be pruned immediately after blooms have faded and dropped off; and absolutely no later than the first of July.

Knowing the time of year to prune will result in having blooms for the following year. Next, the decision needs to be made about what to eliminate – another daunting thought! Again, take it one step at a time.   NC State University has very good articles on basic details on pruning trees and shrubs: http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/pruning-trees-and-shrubs.pdf If you need more assistance for specific plants, the following is a great guideline for individual shrubs: http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/how-to-prune-specific-plants.pdf.

It really isn’t as difficult when the process of pruning is taken a step at a time. Just do it!

EMGs Help With Grapevine

imageFrancine Delaney New School for Children’s Facility Manager Frank Griffen recently uncovered Concord grape vines on the school grounds. Buncombe County Master Gardeners Alan Wagner and Renee Lampila volunteered to demonstrate pruning and care of the vines to the school and members of the Asheville Fruit and Nut Club.

Check out the video link below!

IMG_0149

Pruning – Understanding the Basics

Gardening in the Mountains

Buncombe County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers (EMGs) will offer a free program called “Pruning – Understanding the Basics” on Thursday, March 19 at 10 a.m. at the Cooperative Extension Offices located at 94 Coxe Avenue.

Pruning - Understanding the Basics

Join Consumer Horticulture Agent, Alison Arnold to learn more about when and how to prune garden shrubs and trees. Alison will help answer questions many gardeners have about pruning and provide a simple approach to pruning regardless of the time of year and the specific plant to be pruned. Learning the basics helps grow good gardeners and healthy, structurally sound 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.

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 http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/grafting-for-disease-resistance-in-heirloom-tomatoes.pdf. 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.

image

image

 

 

 

 

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.