Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Winterizing Warm-Season Turf

Here are three things that can be done to increase cold hardiness in warm-season turf (bermudagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, and zoysiagrass):
1. Keep leaves raked during the fall to increase photosynthesis and carbohydrate production.
2. Raise the mower deck by 1 inch going into the fall, to increase rooting depth.
3. Apply a fertilizer containing a large amount of potassium, such as 5-10-30. Potassium is the third number in the fertilizer analysis.

Potassium is used in many plant functions; one of them is increasing cold hardiness. Apply a high-potassium fertilizer containing little to no nitrogen at the rate of 1 pound of potassium per 1,000 square feet of lawn area in September. To find out how much of a given fertilizer you must apply per 1,000 square feet to provide 1 pound of potassium, divide the last number of the fertilizer analysis into 100. For example, if you’re using 5-10-30, 100 / 30 = 3.3; thus, it would take 3.3 pounds of 5-10-30 per 1,000 square feet to provide 1 pound of potassium.

However, if you’ve been fertilizing throughout the summer with fertilizers containing 8% potassium or higher, there’s really no need to add extra potassium.

- Shawn Banks, Johnston Co.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Food Production: Growing Radish

The genus for radish, Raphanus, is derived from the Greek word raphanos meaning “easily grown.” One of the easiest of all the vegetables to grow, radishes mature in as few as 30 days after planting.  

Most of us are familiar with the round red or red-and-white radish that is popular on salads. There are several other varieties of radish as well. Some types of  radishes have roots like carrots, and several varieties grow large and can be stored during the winter much like beets and turnips.

Some of the more popular varieties in the home vegetable garden include Cherry Belle, Cherry Beauty, Champion, Early Scarlet Globe, Red Boy, and Sparkler. A popular white carrot-root type is White Icicle. A fun variety to add to the children’s garden is Easter Egg, which produces a mixture of five or six different root colors. Larger radish varieties for storage include April Cross, Everest, Omny, Long Black Spanish, and Round Black Spanish.
Radishes should be planted in a well-prepared seedbed that is well drained but moist. Seeds should be planted about 2 to 4 inches apart. Keep radishes well watered. Plants stressed from heat or drought produce hot, tough, pithy roots. The best-quality radishes are produced when the growing temperatures are between 50°F and 65°F.

Seedlings can be started as early as February 15 with plantings every two weeks until May or June for spring crops. Begin again August 1 through September 15 for fall crops. Bury the seeds ½ -inch deep directly into the seedbed. Keep the soil moist until harvest. The small garden-variety radishes take as little as 28 days to reach maturity, while larger storage radishes may take up to 90 days to mature.

- Shawn Banks, Johnston Co.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pest Alert: Indian Wax Scale

Indian wax scale attacks several woody plant species in North Carolina, including Japanese holly, Euonymus, Pyracantha, and boxwood. Infestations can occur on foliage, stems, and branches. Heavy infestations can cause chlorotic spotting on leaves (which may shed prematurely), dieback of stems, and wilting. In addition, heavily infested plants will often be coated with black, sooty mold.

Effective control of scale insects relies on careful timing of insecticide applications. Female Florida wax scale adults overwinter to produce eggs in May. Crawlers begin hatching in early summer. This is when the insect is most vulnerable to pesticides. Once the crawlers insert their sucking mouthparts into the host plant, they do not change locations again.

To control wax scale, remove heavily infested twigs or branches. Once the crawlers begin emerging in early summer, apply horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps, or a contact or systemic insecticide. Because of their extended emergence period, which happens over two to three weeks, it is important to reapply oils throughout this time period.

John A. Weidhass, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,

- Susan Brown, New Hanover Co.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Smart Gardening: Kitchen Scraps for Gardening Success

Many people treat kitchen scraps as waste and throw them in the trash. However, most kitchen scraps can become gardeners’ gold —black gold, that is, or compost. If you add kitchen scraps to your compost pile each week, you’ll be providing the constant supply of nitrogen a compost pile needs to decompose quickly. Kitchen scraps also provide moisture to compost. Leftover fruits and vegetables or their peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea bags are all good choices for a compost pile. Do not add meats or greases to your compost. Many gardeners store their kitchen scraps next to the kitchen sink in a resealable plastic container, such as a coffee container. When the container gets full, or the next time you make a trip out to the compost pile, take the container to the pile and add the scraps to your compost. Some people store their kitchen scraps in a large resealable plastic bag in the freezer between trips to the compost pile.

Stackable compost bin.
Photo by Danny Lauderdale
Another approach is to add a vermicomposter (i.e., a worm composter) to your home d├ęcor. You can create your own indoor worm-powered composter in a 2’ × 3’ × 8” plastic bin with a lid  in your kitchen or an adjacent room. Add food scraps and moist, shredded newspaper bedding, and the little red wigglers will do the rest. A bin of this size will accommodate the food waste of a family of four to six people.
If you don’t have a compost pile, you can still take advantage of the soil-improving properties of kitchen scraps by practicing “lasagna gardening,” also called sheet composting. To start this process, select a vacant garden space and place your high-nitrogen kitchen scraps on the ground in a 1-inch layer. Then put a 1-inch layer of carbon-rich mulch, such as brown leaves or straw, on top of the scraps to prevent odors from attracting unwanted animals. Keep a supply of mulch close by your sheet-composting space. Each time you take kitchen scraps out, deposit them in a different location, cover them with mulch, and let the earthworms, pillbugs, insects, and microorganisms do their work to break the scraps down and improve the soil. When the next gardening season comes, plant right in the improved area or cultivate first to mix the broken-down material into the soil. Many people use this technique in small vegetable gardens.

- Danny Lauderdale, Pitt Co.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Deadheading is the practice of removing spent flowers or seed heads from flowering plants. While some plants are self-cleaning and shed old flowers quickly, many plants benefit from this maintenance chore. Deadheading can be beneficial in the following ways:
• Encourages the production of additional flowers
• Gives plants a neater appearance
• Eliminates an environment suitable for disease and insect pests
• Reduces the energy expended for seed production
• Conserves energy for new flower production or the subsequent season’s growth
Although this technique is most frequently identified with annual and perennial flowers, it can be used on bulbs and flowering shrubs as well. To deadhead a plant, remove the old blossom by cutting back to the base of the flowerscape on bulbs, or prune back to a healthy leaf or side branch below the blossom of other plants.
Plants that respond well to deadheading include roses, salvias, cosmos, geraniums, purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, marigolds, and gaura. Remember to avoid deadheading if you wish to collect seed from a particular plant or if you want a plant to freely self-sow. For plants such as cleome that self-seed prolifically around the garden, deadheading can help reduce unwanted seedlings.  

- Bob Filbrun, Edgecombe Co.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Pledge to conserve water by taking the 40 Gallon Challenge

Water conservation should be on the minds of all North Carolina residents. Educate yourself on how to use water more efficiently and take an active role by signing up for the 40 Gallon Challenge.

To be part of the Challenge, visit and choose your state and county from the drop-down menu. Once you have entered your location, you will receive a pledge card that outlines a series of water-saving techniques along with the amount of water you will save by implementing each practice. Pledging to save at least 40 gallons per day for 30 days adds up to 1,200 gallons saved each month. By following water-saving tips, participants not only conserve water resources but also save money on their water bills. Each practice put into action helps stretch local water supplies a little further into the future. Don’t wait!  Take action; pledge today.

- Karen Blaedow, Wayne Co.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Food Production: Growing Blackberries

Blackberry plant, Rubus spp.
Arthur E. Miller, USDA APHIS PPQ,
Blackberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow in home gardens. Each plant can produce about 20 pounds of fruit, beginning when they are only two to three years old.

Blackberries are classified according to three different growth habits: trailing, semitrailing, and erect. Erect and semitrailing varieties are more upright and should be spaced 3 to 4 feet apart, and trailing varieties require 6 to 8 feet between each plant. For all types of blackberries, the canes need to be supported by a trellis system or stakes.  

Early spring is the optimum time to plant blackberries. Select a site in full sun with well-drained, sandy loam soil, and give the plants plenty of room to grow. During the growing season, plants need about 1 inch of water per week; however, during fruit development each plant will need approximately 2 gallons of water per day. Mulching around the plants will reduce moisture loss and minimize weed growth.  

Similar to other fruiting plants, blackberries require proper nutrition to promote healthy growth. Select a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 and apply at a rate of 5 pounds per 100-foot row, or 3 ounces per plant.

Fruits that are dull black in color are ripe and at their peak sweetness, ready for harvest. However, if you need to hold the fruit before eating, pick blackberries with a shiny black appearance because they will last longer in the refrigerator.  

Fruit harvest is not the last chore when it comes to growing blackberries. After the season’s harvest is complete, prune all the old fruiting canes. Erect varieties will require an additional pruning during the winter to reduce the length of the lateral branches to approximately 12 to 16 inches. As new canes develop, be sure to provide support by tying them to a stake or support structure. Check with your local Extension agent for blackberry varieties recommended for your area.

- Della King, Sampson Co.