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:, 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!