Compostable material makes up 28% of the solid waste generated in the United States. Gardeners should consider the benefits, to both their garden and waste management, in creating a compost pile! Many organic materials such as grass clippings, branches and twigs, and eggshells may be composted into a nutrient rich humus-like substance that may be incorporated into the natural soil.
Compost that is incorporated into the soil increases organic matter, root growth, moisture, and aeration. It can also be applied to the surface of soil to control weeds, reduce erosion, and stabilize the temperature of soil. In this controlled process, compost allows the decomposition and transformation of biodegradable material. There are two main types of composting - Hot (fast) composting and Cold (slow) composting.
Hot composting requires a balance of organic materials, moisture, and oxygen to support microorganisms. This pile will reach temperatures of 140° to 150°F! This works to kill weed seeds and pathogens. In general, a ratio of 2 to 1 mix of “browns” (carbonaceous materials) and “greens” (nitrogenous materials) will provide the best results. This pile should be turned weekly and will take several months before producing the ideal compost to add to soil. This type of composting requires more time and energy, but yields quicker results.
Cold composting is a much slower process. Generally, compostable scraps are added to a one-time or continuous pile and watered. The scraps are not turned and are allowed to decompose on their own over time. In about a year, rich compost will be available. This type of composting is better for the more casual experience and does not require much time or effort.
No matter what kind of composting you decide to try, remember that decomposition is affected by the surface of materials, moisture, and the ventilation of the pile. Smaller particles break down faster, but rigid particles provide structure and add to ventilation. Approximately 40% to 60% moisture is needed to decompose, meaning that the pile should feel like a wrung-out sponge. Too much or too little moisture will slow decomposition. Piles with proper ventilation produce little or no odor. If hot composting, turning the pile will aid in ventilation. If cold composting, be sure to place your pile in an area or bin that will allow air flow. Happy composting!
Written by: Katie Winslow - Extension Intern
As we approach summer, it is important to remember that your lawn needs 1 inch of water every week. If rainfall does not provide this, you will need to add water or supplement water during dry spells. Sandy soil can require up to ½ inch of water every third day.
Centipedegrass should be mowed to 1 inch and should not be taller than 1 ½ inch. In mid June, fertilize with ½ pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. High potassium fertilizers like 5-5-15 or 8-8-24 work best. It is recommended to have your soil tested every 3 years to provide the most up to date information on soil composition and needed supplements, such as phosphorus.
June through August is the perfect time to apply postemergence herbicides as needed to control weeds such as knotweed, spurge, and lespedeza. Centipedegrass can be sensitive to certain herbicides though, like 2, 4-D, and MSMA, so be careful and follow label directions closely. If the lawn is suffering from drought stress or weeds are not actively growing, do not apply herbicides. Check for and control any white grubs and nematode damage. Soil testing is recommended for those suspecting nematode damage.
From September through November, raise the mowing height to 1 ½ inches several weeks before the first expected hard frost. For Pitt county, the average first frost date is November 4th. Fertilize with 1 pound of potassium per 1,000 square feet 4 to 6 weeks before the first frost using 1.6 pounds of muriate of potash or 2 pounds of potassium sulfate. Continue to water the lawn until it browns. This means that the lawn has gone dormant and only requires water to keep the soil from becoming powder-dry.
December through February requires little care of your lawn. Do not fertilize centipedegrass at this time. It can be helpful to remove lawn debris as it builds up, but never burn off centipedegrass to remove excessive debris. Broadleaf herbicides can be applied at this time as necessary to control chickweed and henbit. Herbicides like atrazine or simazine can be used to control annual bluegrass and winter broadleaf weeds.
Other things to look out for in your centipedegrass lawns are ground pearls, appearing as circular dead areas with only weeds growing in the center, and fairy rings, appearing as circular green or dead areas that continue to enlarge for several years. Mismanagement of herbicides can cause similar issues and may require a consultation with your Cooperative Extension agent.
Remember that it can take up to 3 years to establish a new lawn! Centipedegrass is well growing turf but it does not tolerate traffic, compaction, high-phosphorus soils, low-potassium soils, high pH, excessive thatch, drought, or heavy shade. If this grass continues to die in a certain location, that area may be better fit for a different species.
Written by: Katie Winslow - Extension Intern
As spring begins to slowly bloom all around us, the white flowers of the Bradford pear become a common sight. For years, the Bradford pear has been seen as an iconic Southern tree (mostly because they were planted everywhere). They’ve become a popular choice in landscaping because of their rapid growth and abundant blooming, however, not all that blooms is beautiful (to paraphrase). These well-known trees branch from a single point and bear extremely weak wood, making them especially vulnerable in storms. The stinky scent of their flowers and dense growth that often shades out other plantings is yet another reason to look elsewhere for a source of beautiful spring blooms.
The Bradford pear is a cultivar of the Callery pear, Pyrus calleryana, introduced from China. It generally cross-pollinates with other Callery pear varieties as it cannot reproduce with itself or other ‘Bradford’ trees. These hybrid trees are invasive and can spread rapidly when fruit is eaten by birds and spread to other habitats. Because they are some of the earliest trees to leaf out and flower in the spring they can often outcompete native plants. Some quick identification hints include scalloped leaves that are dark green, shiny and ovate, white flowers in very early spring, and its pyramidal growth habit.
So, we’ve told you what NOT to plant...now what? Here are a couple of native trees and shrubs that provide beautiful blooms, but are not invasive to our natural areas:
American Plum, Prunus Americana, is a small, deciduous, single trunk tree or multi-stemmed shrub. As a tree, it typically grows 10-12 feet tall with a broad, spreading crown. As a shrub, it suckers freely and can form dense growth. As it blooms and early spring and also features white flowers, it makes an excellent alternative to the Bradford pear. Furthermore, it provides habitat for wildlife and attracts many different pollinators.
Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, is a small, deciduous, flowering tree that may grow 15 to 25 feet tall. The tree is best known for its abundant, showy white (occasionally pink) flowers that emerge in early spring. This tree also produces a cluster of red drupes that mature in the fall. The Dogwood flower is the state flower of North Carolina so you can easily find the tree planted throughout the state. It also makes for a wonderful habitat for wildlife and attracts many different pollinators.
While, of course, the choice is yours, we hope that you give an extra thought to these suggestions before planting Bradford pears. Help us to preserve and protect our natural areas and habitats by choosing native plants!
Written by: Hannah S. Smith - Horticulture Extension Agent
1. Mixed Border: Syringa 'Penda'/ Bloomerang Reblooming Lilac
2. Perennial border: Heuchera 'Tapestry" & 'Pretty Pistachio'/ Coral Bells
3. Behind AG Center: Acer palmatum "Twombly's Red Sentinel' / Japanese Maple
4. Small Fruits: Punica granatum/ Pomegranate
5. Walking Garden, row 3: Mahonia bealei/ Leatherleaf Mahonia
6. Walking Garden, row 2: Metasequoia glyptostroboides/ Dawn Redwood
7. Walking Garden, row 1: Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' / Japanese Maple
8. Walking Garden, row 1: Prunus serrulata 'Kwanzan' / Kwanzan Cherry
9. Walking Garden, row 5: Viburnum 'Pragensa'/ Prague Viburnum
10. Walking Garden, row 2: Kerria japonica 'Plentiflora'
Each week, Extension Master Gardener volunteers choose a selection of what's blooming from throughout the Arboretum gardens. Come take a walk and see if you can find these beautiful for yourself!
Written by: Hannah S. Smith, Horticulture Extension Agent
Although our grass is not actively growing in winter and early spring, the weeds certainly are! They seem to pop up everywhere in the lawn causing headaches for grass lovers.
Weeds are defined as plants growing where you don't want them. Most of the same weed species will return in the same areas every year. Weeds compete with the grass for light, water, nutrients, and space.
This time of year, you are likely to see a variety of broadleaf weeds, including Henbit [Lamium amplexicaule], Hairy buttercup [Ranunculus sardous], Dandelion [Taraxacum officinale], Purple deadnettle [Lamium purpureum], Wild garlic [Allium ursinum], and Wild violets [Viola papilionacea].
Weeds can reproduce not only through seeds but also through root and stem fragments, underground rhizomes, and tubers. Anyone who has tried to eliminate wild garlic knows how tough that is to do.
Weeds love to move into barren dry soil, compacted soil, or perpetually damp areas. So, the best defense is a dense healthy turf whose shade will prevent weed seeds from germinating and slow water evaporation.
Proper mowing heights, applying fertilizer at the right time, sufficient water, thatch control, and weed and insect control are all critical to maintaining a healthy turf.
Weeds that appear now are best controlled in November or December with a treatment of a preemergent herbicide containing mesotrione, MOA 27 (4 SC) or sulfentrazone + prodiaminel, MOA 14 + 3 (4 SC).
If you missed that window, a number of postemergent herbicides can be used now, including those containing quinclorac, MOA (27 +4); 2,4-D amine, MOA 4 (4 SL); mecoprop, MOA 4; or dicamba MOA 4 (4 SL).
Before selecting a herbicide to use, it's important to identify both the weeds to be controlled and your grass type. Also, always be sure to carefully read all of the instructions on the herbicide packaging to ensure the safe application of the product. These include calculating the square footage, measuring the herbicide amount accordingly, and correctly calibrating the spreader.
An excellent resource is TurfFiles from NC State University: \https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/weeds-in-turf/
This website describes various weeds that occur at different times of the year and includes pictures for identification. It describes cultural and chemical controls listing the pre- and postemergent herbicides that can be used along with explanations on their usage.
Lawn maintenance calendars can be requested from the Pitt County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers.
Written by: Joanne Kollar, Extension Master Gardener volunteer
Throughout the year, Pitt County Extension Master Gardener volunteers hold workdays in all gardens of the Arboretum. These monthly days where our volunteers gather together are not only ideal for regular maintenance but for fellowship and learning as well.
2020 was a difficult year for us all, as our Extension Master Gardener volunteers had to leave the gardens they love and tend to so well due to restrictions put in place at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Written by: Hannah S. Smith, Extension Agent-Horticulture
With the approach of spring, gardeners are eager to head outside to get a head start on the multitude of spring chores awaiting them. One of those may include pruning your woody shrubs.
Although pruning is not necessary every spring, it's the time of year when bare limbs allow you to see the shape of the plant so that you can determine if winter cold, insects, or disease have caused damage, or the natural growth of the plant needs to be managed, or the ornamental appeal of the shrub could be enhanced. If any of these are true, then it is time to prune.
But a word of caution: be careful to prune at the right time. Otherwise, you will lose or reduce that year's blossoms.
Shrubs flowering before May should be pruned as soon as possible after blooming. Pruning in late summer, fall, winter, or early spring removes the flower buds formed last summer. These shrubs include forsythia (Forsythia spp.), hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens, Hydrangea paniculata), mock orange (Pittosporum tobira), flowering quince (Chaenomeles spp.), spirea (Spiraea spp.), and viburnum (Viburnum spp.).
Summer- and fall-flowering shrubs should be pruned before new growth begins in the spring as the buds form on that new wood. These include abelia (Abelia spp.), beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides), bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macropylla), nandina (Nandina domestica), and Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus). All of these bloom on new growth in the current season.
Evergreen shrubs usually only need minimal pruning in early spring. These include boxwood (Buxus simpervirens), Japanese aucuba (Aucuba japonica), camellia (Camellia spp.), Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata cultivars), and azaleas (Rhododendron spp.).
Sometimes, overgrown shrubs need more than a few selected cuts. In this case, renewal pruning, which removes the oldest branches of a shrub by cutting them to the ground leaving younger branches, is required. Although this reduces flowering in the next season, the plant will be healthier in the long run. Shrubs responding well to such pruning include azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), forsythia (Forsythia spp.), hollies (Ilex spp.), mock orange (Pittosporum tobira), spirea (Spirea spp.), and weigela (Weigela florida).
There is no need to treat pruning cuts with sealers as they may slow healing. Avoid pruning after July 4 as the new growth may not mature before cold weather sets in and the plant could be damaged. The exception is dead, diseased, damaged, or crossing limbs, which can be removed at any time.
Written by: Joanne Kollar, Extension Master Gardener volunteer
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.
Written by: Vicki Kennedy, Extension Master Gardener volunteer