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).


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


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


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.

Any year can be a bad year for Grape Rot…

…but this year may be worse than others so let’s recap:

There are actually two different fungal diseases that cause grape rot.  The first occurs while  the fruits are still green.  and first shows up as yellow to brown leaf spots that enlarge to about one quarter inch. Lesions appear on the shoot and the stem too. This disease is called Black Rot and it spreads to the green fruit which quickly dry and turn into “mummies”.  Often the entire cluster is affected so an alternate name for this disease is Bunch Rot.

Black Rot.  Courtesy of Purdue University

Black Rot. Courtesy of Purdue University

The other is Bitter Rot which shows up closer to harvest, when it is indeed “Bitter” for the grower who was looking forward to a bumper crop.  The ripening grapes eventually turn soft and brown but if eaten while they still look OK they have a bitter taste. The berries may die and remain on the stem where they eventually become mummies.

Bitter Rot.  Courtesy of University of Missouri

Bitter Rot. Courtesy of University of Missouri

The first defense against either rot is sanitation. This winter prune out any diseased parts of the vine, including mummies, of course, and clean up any leaves and berries on the ground. Disinfect your pruners between cuts.

Next year keep a close watch and cut off any leaves that show yellow spots. Again, disinfect those pruners between cuts.  Improving air circulation by pruning out excess growth can help too.

You can find fungicides for both these diseases in Garden Centers.  You may also find combinations of copper, sulfur and lime, such as Bordeaux mixture which are considered organic fungicides. Be sure to read the label for any product to make sure it meets your needs and plan to rotate between various sprays with different modes of action to avoid building up fungal resistance.

What’s Your (Garden Art) Style ???

Perhaps for the quiet, tranquil part of the garden

Perhaps for the quiet, tranquil part of the garden

Maybe your style is tastefully dignified; maybe it’s trash to treasures;  or maybe it’s kitschy outrageous.  Whatever it is, it’s okay!  It is okay because it’s certainly obvious that most of us are not totally satisfied with just garden plantings and nice design.   We put “stuff” in our gardens to add to our aesthetic experience.

I suppose the type of garden art that you have can be dependent upon several things…budget plays a big decision maker at my home;  architectural elements of your home will make a difference;  also, just your own personal likes and dislikes will determine which direction you want to pursue.

St.Louis 019

The Missouri Botanical Gardens have more than enough….I wish I had a garden pool to put these in!

This bronze fairy would bring magic to any garden.

This bronze fairy would bring magic to any garden.


Wind sculpture gives motion to the garden!


Beautiful large glass ornaments floating in your garden pool.







My personal favorite garden art is the trash to treasures mode.  Sometimes it’s a little quirky, not perfect, but pleasing to me.  (maybe just me…but that’s okay too.)  I have examples all over my place.  No fine art here!   Many things I have made, some I have repurposed, a couple I did some dumpster diving for.


Candle lantern made in pottery class…


A ladybug is always a beneficial "bowling ball"!

A ladybug is always a beneficial “bowling ball”!

The little wagon that belonged to a dear friend when he was a little boy....he didn't want it, but I sure did!

The little wagon that belonged to a dear friend when he was a little boy….he didn’t want it, but I sure did!


And then there are the kitschy outrageous folks that like what they like and that’s the end of it.   Again, that’s okay!


Maybe only to be used on our birthday… one for every year!


Our urban chickens know better than this!

Our urban chickens know better than this!

An alternative to rubber mulch for used car tires.

An alternative to rubber mulch for used car tires.


What’s Your Style ? ?





Sycamore Lace Bugs Cause Yellow Leaves

Sycamore Lace Bug

Sycamore Lace Bug

This week I have gotten three samples from the Plant Disease and Insect Clinic with sycamore lace bug, Corythucha ciliata. I had just taken some pictures of these beautiful critters last week when I was in Asheville. They really do a number on sycamore leaves and this time of year heavily infested sycamores look pretty bad. The other lace bugs that are important landscape pests are the azalea lace bug and hawthorn lace bug. Like these, the sycamore lace bug causes stippling damage by piercing the underside of leaves with its stylet and sucking out the fluids. Large yellow and gray areas develop on the top of the leaves. In some cases, most leaves on a tree can be entirely covered in stippling damage.

Sycamore lace bugs are a native insect. They overwinter as adults under bark or in other sheltered spots and become active soon after bud break. They lay eggs in leaves and complete their lifecycle in around 30 days. However, research from China, where this is an invasive pest, shows that at high temperatures this happens much faster, even twice as fast. This suggests that it could be more abundant in hot urban areas where sycamores are often planted in parking lots and along roads. My experience suggests this is true. Sycamores are wetland trees and probably are not very happy in hot, sunny, dry spots, but lace bugs clearly are.

Management of sycamore lace bugs will be similar as for other lace bugs, but you are typically dealing with large trees instead of small azalea bushes or cotoneaster. Thus systemic insecticides applied as a drench can be a good option. Applications of horticultural oil should also help keep abundance low just by killing adults and nymphs that are present.

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:   http://www.theinformedgardener.com, 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?