Many of us, scorched during summer, dream of planting a tree on our property. Winter’s a great time to make plans for that. Trees provide shade, control erosion, aid with stormwater run-off, host pollinators, provide free mulch, give us fruits and nuts, sequester the carbon overloading our planet, improve our air—and they’re majestic and beautiful.
But without proper planning, the tree you purchase may die or grow up to cause you headaches. The optimum time to actually plant your new tree would be either fall or late winter-early spring when active roots use the cool weather to take up water and nutrients and settle into the soil before summer’s heat stress.
The dead of winter is perfect for looking at the “skeleton” of your landscape, deciding where you want your new tree and what kind will best fit that site. Ask yourself these questions: What are the site attributes? Is it dry or damp? Is the soil sandy, loamy, or clay? A soil test can help determine what nutrients might be needed.
How much room does this site allow for a tree’s growth? Haven’t you seen an attractive sapling planted four feet from the corner of a new house, and five years later it’s fifteen feet tall with a canopy needing twice the room the site allows? That tree will end up badly pruned or cut down and thrown away. Research and forethought could have prevented this loss of time, effort, and money.
Speaking of space, don’t forget to look up! Consider your tree canopy’s mature width so it avoids entangling with power lines. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates utilities spend over 1 billion dollars annually trimming and removing obstructing trees.
What kind of maintenance suits you? Don’t aim for a “maintenance-free” tree unless you plan to turn your yard into a natural forest. Consider leaf dropping, fruit dropping, and the span of the surface roots. Maybe planning an island of natural mulch around your tree—or around a collection of trees—will avoid some of that raking and mowing.
Among trees that fit your site, which do you like best? This can be as fun as shopping for a new outfit. Use tree guidebooks or the database of trees at gardening.ces.ncsu.edu. The NC Forest Service and Arbor Day Foundation are also good resources. Visit a city or state park to observe the beautiful structure of our deciduous trees in winter.
Come to the Pitt County Arboretum where our Certified Plant Professional collection of trees and woody shrubs provide great tree ideas.
Eastern North Carolina is blessed with a climate that favors year-round gardening, but you need to know what to plant when. With spring rapidly approaching, now is the time to put in vegetables and herbs that prefer cooler temperatures. These are ones that will mature quickly before the summer heat and humidity cause them to bolt or go to seed.
Greens are definitely a cool season crop that grow easily this time of year so go ahead and plant seeds of leaf lettuces, head lettuce, arugula, mustard, spinach, and kale. Mesclun mixes offer the gardener several varieties in one package with a choice of spicy or mild selections.
Other plants that can be grown from seed in February are carrots, Swiss chard, snow peas, and radishes.
The herbs cilantro and parsley prefer cool weather and can be grown from seed or from transplants. Other transplants for this time of year include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and collard greens.
Growing your own transplants of these crops should be started six to eight weeks before transplanting them into the garden. If you missed that date, transplants are available from local nurseries and big box stores.
These greens, herbs, and vegetables can be planted directly in the ground or in containers if you have limited space. In the ground, you will need a site with good soil and good drainage.
For containers, use potting soil because garden soil will compact and drain poorly. Also, potting soil reduces the chance of weeds and soil-borne diseases.
For transplants, read the labels for planting information. For seeds, read the back of the seed packet for planting instructions, including when to sow, planting depth, seed and row spacing, days until plants emerge, and thinning recommendations.
If it doesn't rain, water seeds and transplants until established and then water as needed. While most vegetables need full sun, many greens can grow in high shade.
Vegetables planted from seed should be thinned when plants have one or two pairs of true leaves. Thinning allows the remaining plants to grow bigger.
All of these plants can be sown again in early fall for a second crop. Using a cold frame or a frost covering can extend their growing season through the coldest winter days.
Your greens and vegetables will never be fresher than those harvested from your own garden so start planting!
While we all love the blooms of camellias that brighten our winter landscape, there are a number of other plants that can also add color, texture, and variety to your winter garden. In eastern North Carolina, this is the perfect time to install these plants as they are dormant, and they will have plenty of time to put down strong roots before new growth begins and the heat and humidity of summer returns. The following plants can be seen at the Pitt County Arboretum and found at local nurseries.
Winterberry Holly, Ilex verticillata, is a knockout this time of year. A deciduous holly, the bare branches showcase its gorgeous red berries that start appearing in fall. If not eaten by the birds, berries can last into early spring. To produce berries, the female plant must be cross-pollinated with a male holly flowering at the same time. It grows in full sun or partial shade. Pictured in the Butterfly Garden at the Arboretum is the cultivar Ilex serrata x verticillata 'Sparkleberry'.
Leatherleaf Mahonia, Berberis bealei, lights up any winter garden with its bright yellow flower spikes atop coarse-textured, holly-like foliage. Later, bluish-purple grape-like fruits appear. An evergreen shrub preferring partial shade, it's slow growing to 10 feet high. It's in the Arboretum's walking garden in front of the Extension Office.
Fragrant Tea Olive, Osmanthus fragans, is another winter-flowering evergreen shrub with tiny fragrant white flowers that start blooming in early January. Deer resistant and drought tolerant, it prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade. Its dense, rounded growth form makes it an ideal specimen plant for open areas. Tea Olives are in the Arboretum's perennial border by the side parking lot entrance to the Extension Office.
Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, a lovely scented native vine with trumpet-shaped yellow flowers, starts blooming in early winter continuing until April depending on weather. It can be trained on arbors, trellises, or trees where it can grow to 20 feet high if not pruned. Growing in sun or shade, it prefers a moist, well-drained organically rich soil. It can be seen on the trellis in the Arboretum's Children's Garden and along the Tar River section of Greenville's greenway.
So what are you waiting for? Add more winter color to your landscape!
What says holiday cheer more than a beautiful blooming Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii or Schlumbergera truncata) in your living room with its gorgeous array of red, pink, yellow, orange, white, or purple blooms? Depending on the variety, your cactus could bloom at Thanksgiving or Christmas providing color throughout the holidays.
Available now at many local stores, it's a plant that will bring pleasure year after year with a little care after it stops flowering.
While blooming, place your plant in bright, indirect light with daytime temperatures of 70 F and evening temperatures of 60-65 F. Keep away from blasts of heat or cold.
Although called a cactus, the Christmas cactus does need water, but not too much. When the top couple inches feel dry is the time to water. Don't overwater as that can lead to stem and root rot. Too little water can cause wilting.
A native of South American rain forests, this cactus also needs humidity. Place it on a tray with pebbles and water just below the top of the pebbles. Continue this until the cactus stops blooming.
Don't fertilize your Christmas cactus while blooming as that can cause bud drop.
To keep this long-lived plant growing stop watering for six weeks after flowering. When new growth appears, resume watering and fertilizing. Use plant food formulated for succulents following label instructions or a half-rate of liquid houseplant fertilizer every other week.
This cactus likes to be pot-bound. Keep it in a small container as long as possible and only then transplant it to a slightly larger pot using a mix of half potting soil and half sand or perlite.
After frost danger is over, move your plant outside to an area with bright, indirect light. Too much sun can cause wilting or leaf burn.
To encourage budding in the fall, 16 hours of uninterrupted darkness, 8 hours of daylight, and cooler temperatures are required. To stimulate bud formation, don't fertilize or overwater at this time. Also don't move the plant as buds may fall off. Once buds form, the light/dark regiment ends. Continue watering but don't fertilize. Move indoors when temperatures below 50 F are predicted.
By following these simple guidelines, you will enjoy your Christmas cactus for years to come!
In sections on seasonal plantings for Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, Mrs. Obama synthesizes her hands-on experience and her goals. She wanted to start a learning garden, especially for the capital’s school children, and to promote healthy food choices and exercise. But the garden also successfully supplied fresh, healthful food for the First Family and numerous White House guests. “So often gardens start with so little,” Mrs. Obama writes. “But the impact that gardens have on our lives—and the life of our nation—is anything but small.
To learn just how big that national impact has been, enjoy Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). Wulf profiles Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison to describe how they planned and managed their own land, as well as how their passion for gardens and agriculture shaped their philosophy of America’s uniqueness.
The book is full of fascinating and unexpected scenes. Thomas Jefferson and James Adams dash around southern England touring ornamental gardens, discovering a surprising number of native American species being grown in these deluxe pleasure grounds. Delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia skip town on a hot Saturday, journeying to John Bartram’s famous garden and nursery where they’re inspired to reach a political consensus. James Madison and Dolley host a neighborly barbeque on the lawn of Madison’s Montpelier plantation where Madison enjoys “frolic and romping” under his prized trees.
Sound improbable? The 134 pages of meticulous notes at the end testify to the depth of Wulf’s research, even if you don’t read through them. But don’t miss the story of James Madison’s early plea for sustainability and research-based practices that safeguard our environment. As Wulf puts it,” He saw that even in its vastness, America’s fertile wilderness was not boundless, and could be depleted by overuse.”
Both American Grown and Founding Gardeners will refresh your patriotism and rally your gardening energies.
Either of these reads would make for an engaging and educational option to ‘overwinter’ with.
Imagine citizens paying taxes to have local sanitation departments haul away tons of valuable material. Then those folks rush to garden stores and pay good money to replace that same valuable material. Unfortunately, that’s many of us. Especially during fall, we rake up leaves and pine straw as yard waste while planning to buy bagged mulch at the store later.
Mulch is gardener’s gold. It insulates soils and plants from losing moisture and holds down the weeds that germinate to compete with our plants. As it decomposes, organic mulch builds soil fertility by creating a healthy environment for earthworms and beneficial microbes, while it improves soil texture for better air and water circulation to plant roots. And a fresh layer of mulch neatens the garden’s appearance. So, this fall, consider nature’s own products for great potential mulch. Look at any forest floor carpeted with decaying leaves, pine straw, and plant debris from last autumn. Trees thrive, saplings take root and grow, and delightful wildflowers peek out from a layer of humus.
Rather than collecting our fall leaves or pine straw for disposal at curbside, we can recycle them into garden mulch. Pine straw is an easy mulch solution. Raked into a tarp or garden cart, it can be spread on beds and borders. The network of thin needles allows for moisture and air circulation. And pine needles are relatively slow to break down, so they don’t appreciably increase soil’s acidity. Best of all, their coppery color looks cozy and autumnal.
Fallen leaves are another great mulch source. Rake leaves into rows, and then run a lawnmower with a bag over them, chopping them into small pieces. You can spread the chopped leaves directly around trees, shrubs, flower beds. Or if you already have a nice layer of mulch, use this winter to create leaf mold by composting a bin or pile of chopped leaves. Next spring or summer, the processed leaf mold can supplement your mulch.
Bagless mowing over fallen leaves on your lawn creates excellent mulch for your turf. Mow frequently, based on leaf fall rather than grass length. The thin layer of finely chopped and re-chopped leaves will filter down to the soil and decompose to nourish your lawn. Of course, in spreading any mulch be sure not to pile it around tree and shrub trunks, as this creates the potential for pests and diseases to develop. For more great ideas on the value of NOT blowing your autumn leaves into a pile for waste disposal, check out the Leave Leaves Alone! website. These Bedford, NY, residents and Master Gardeners have seen the environmental problems caused by leaf blowing and tell us “Nature is there to do most of the work for us. Fall leaves are a great natural resource that should be valued.”
So you’re preparing for winter: cutting back dead growth, raking up fallen leaves, cleaning garden tools. While these are valuable tasks for gardeners as daylight dwindles and crisper temperatures prevail, you don’t have to settle for practical garden maintenance. Create a “pocket garden” for color, texture, and satisfaction through the cold weather.
A “pocket garden” uses small-scale planting in a tucked away space. Think of classic 18th and 19th century dooryard gardens. These planting areas near a home’s entry typically faced south and benefited from the protection of brick walls and outbuildings. They focused on utilitarian plants: herbs for cooking and home remedies, flowers for dying or soap making. But dooryard gardens also dressed up an entrance with visual delights on cold windy days.
Your pocket garden might be in a container or one or two square feet of open ground. Pick a spot that gets a good dose of midday sun in winter. Near a building wall is best. Make it somewhere you pass frequently, or a spot right outside a much-used window. (What’s the point of an attractive pocket garden in a rarely seen corner?)
Then decide on a container or plant directly in the ground. Pitt County Master Gardener Volunteer Teresa Surratt recently prepared several large containers at the County Arboretum for winter. Here are a few of her plant suggestions.
Traditional pansies and violas are dependable winter bloomers. But you can try snapdragons, which are winter hardy in our zone if planted in a sunny protected area. For upright interest, you can rely on euphorbia martinii. Its dense clusters of chartreuse flowers with dark centers emerge in late winter or early spring. Dusty miller can provide beautiful gray-silver foliage through the winter. And Heuchera, with its deep red or lime green leaves, is another choice for center interest. For a trailing ground cover, two good choices are sedum (such as golden creeping stonecrop) or creeping jenny. Both maintain vibrant color through the cold season.
Teresa and her Master Gardener team also have two new winter container plants: wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) has small glossy dark green leaves and bright crimson berries, while wire plant (Muhlenbeckia complexa) has a dense network of small dark green leaves that make a pillowy effect.
Plan now to make a “pocket” of winter interest you’ll enjoy for many months.
HomeFest is an annual event in Greenville hosted by Greenville-Pitt County Home Builders. With builders, lenders, remodelers, landscapers, roofers and more available to visit it is a one-stop shop for all the resources you need during the home building/buying process.
Each year, our Extension Master Gardener volunteers with the generous donation of plants from Carolina Seasons Nursery setup a display and prepare to answer common questions from homeowners and professionals alike throughout the day.
This is a perfect opportunity for our Master Gardener program to reach out to the community and educate them on all that Extension has to offer when it comes to resources concerning gardening, landscaping, lawns and more.
If you missed this year's show be sure to join our e-newsletter list to stay up-to-date on all our upcoming events!
The time came last week for our Extension Master Gardener volunteers to begin potting plants for our May 16th sale! With the generosity and help of Carolina Seasons, a few of our EMGVs chose and potted up an exciting assortment of plants. Be sure to plan for our May 16, 2020 plant sale to see the results of their hard work!
A sunny but cold day brought Master Gardeners to Carolina Seasons Nursery to pot up and propagate a variety of plants. (Pictured left to right: Andrea Pike (Carolina Seasons), Mary Jo Larkin, Know Chadwick, Linda Tyndall, and June Graves.)
A big thanks to Carolina Seasons for sharing their expertise and greenhouse space to help Master Gardeners propagate! (Pictured left to right: Linda Tyndall, Knox Chadwick, Andrea Pike (Carolina Seasons), Mary Jo Larkin, Louise Hamilton, and June Graves.)
Who says playing in the dirt isn't fun?
(Pictured left to right: Knox Chadwick, Linda Tyndall, and June Graves)
Photos by: Vicki Kennedy
There is just something special about unbothered snowfall across the gardens. We hope you enjoy some views from the arboretum! :)