Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Haywood County Master Gardener Program

The Haywood County Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension is currently taking applications for the 2010 Master Gardener Training Program. Classes this year will be held on Tuesday mornings at the Extension office on Raccoon Road from 9am-12noon. Participants will learn about a variety of horticultural topics including vegetable gardening, soils & fertilizers, pest management, and others. If you are interested in the program, please contact the Extension office at (828)456-3575.
Master Gardener Volunteers are a vital part of the overall consumer horticulture programs of Extension. Volunteers help to answer questions that come into the Extension office, make presentations, work with school gardens, and do a number of other activities to promote horticulture throughout the county.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Heather Loves our Acidic Soils

Heather generally refers to a group of evergreen plants in the Ericaceae family, most often: Calluna (Scotch heather or ling), Erica (heath) and Daboecia (Irish Heath). While not native to North America, many heathers are well suited to our mountains of western North Carolina.

Many gardeners do not think about the versatility of heathers. They are evergreen, with delicate foliage, woody stems, and small long lasting flowers. Some individuals find these plants to be finicky, but once established they should be long-lived. All heathers do well in acidic soil amended with with organic matter.

Calluna vulgaris, is the true heather and perhaps the hardiest and most varied - from small tufts to spreading ‘carpeters’ and upright shrubs. Flowers in white and every shade of pink, mauve, lavender and red last for 6-8 weeks beginning late summer/early fall. Foliage is scaly, rather than needle-like and often changes to spectacular shades of yellow, orange, gold, bronze and red during the colder months. Callunas must have full sun, acid soil and good drainage. They must not be allowed to dry out their first year, but after that are drought tolerant. Hardy to zone 4 or 5.

Only a handful of the 800 species of Erica are commonly cultivated. The two easiest to grow also happen to be the two winter-bloomers:

Erica carnea or winter heath is a low, fast-growing and spreading plant with needle-like leaves and bell-shaped flowers. Its foliage is not as colorful as the Callunas’. Flowers in shades from white to pink, red, magenta, mauve appear in early to mid-winter and last well into spring. New spring growth often is a lovely contrasting color. Foliage is yellow green to very deep green. Tolerates more shade and more soil types than other heathers.

Erica x darleyensis is another very easy-to-grow species, quite similar to E. carnea, but taller and bushier. Most varieties have pink or cream tips in spring and bronze or dark green foliage. Buds form in late summer or very early fall, and some cultivars begin to bloom as early as late September, lasting into mid-spring. Flowers open pale and deepen as the season progresses. These plants should survive in zone 6 with some protection.

Heathers would be a good addition to any perennial border, rock garden, or as an accent plant with conifers. See website below for more information.

Parts taken from

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Value of a Leaf

Leaves are truly a valuable natural resource! They contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant extracts from the soil and air during the season. There are four basic ways in which leaves can be managed and used in the landscape.

Leaf Management - Mowing
A light covering of leaves can be mowed, simply leaving the shredded leaves in place on the lawn. This technique is most effective when a mulching mower is used.

Leaf Management - Mulching

Mulching is a simple and effective way to recycle leaves and improve your landscape. Mulches reduce evaporation from the soil surface, inhibit weed growth, moderates soil temperatures, keep soils from eroding and crusting, and prevent soil compaction. As organic mulches decompose, they release valuable nutrients for use by your landscape plants.

Leaf Management - Soil Improvement
Leaves may be collected and worked directly into garden and flower bed soils. A 6 to 8 inch layer of leaves tilled into a heavy, clay soil will improve aeration and drainage. The same amount tilled into a light, sandy soil, will improve water and nutrient holding capacity.

Leaf Management - Composting

Compost is a dark, crumbly and earth-smelling form of organic matter that has gone through a natural decomposition process.Compost can be used to enrich the soil by adding a natural source of nutrients, loosen tight, heavy soils, help sandy soils retain moisture and nutrients, add to potting soils for container grown plants, and mulch around landscape plants. If you have a garden, lawn, trees, shrubs, or even planter boxes or house plants, you have a use for compost.

Taken from Don't Bag It: Leaf Management Plan, Texas A&M University publication.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Keep our Groundwater Medication Free

I received an email regarding the environmental concern about flushing medicines down the toilet. This has been shown to be a big environmental problem. There are many local, state, and national organizations trying to get the word out so that people DO NOT put medicines in our water resources. The sewage treatment plants do not treat for these chemicals and they basically end up directly into our streams and groundwater, causing a lot of ecological problems.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind regarding proper disposal of medications.

1) DO NOT FLUSH unused medications and DO NOT POUR them down a sink or drain.

2) Be proactive and dispose of unused medication in household trash. When discarding unused medications, ensure you protect children and pets from potentially negative effects:
a) Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag. If medication is a solid pill, liquid capsule, etc.) crush it or add water to dissolve it.
b) Add kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds (or any material that mixes with the medication and makes it less appealing for pets and children to eat) to the plastic bag.
c) Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.
d) Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information (prescription
label) from all medication containers before recycling them or throwing them into the trash.

3) Check for approved State and local collection programs. Another option is to check for approved state and local collection alternatives such as community based household hazardous waste collection programs. In certain states, you may be able to take your unused medications to your community pharmacy or other location for

For more information, see this informative publication. Smart Disposal Publication

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Henderson County Master Gardener Training - 2010

Henderson County Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension is recruiting volunteers for assistance with home horticulture educational programs. We will have an informational meeting at the Extension office in Jackson Park that is open to the public on November 17th, 2009 at 9:30AM. If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener, be sure to attend this meeting.

Selected residents will enter a specially designed training program in horticulture and related subjects. Training's will be held on Wednesday mornings at 9:00AM from mid-January through mid-April 2010. Volunteers are expected to attend all training sessions and to pass a final exam. There is an $85.00 enrollment fee to cover cost of materials.

For more information call Diane at 697-4891.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Encourage Birds in Your Landscape

Birds have three main requirements in life; food, water, and shelter. These needs should be met through proper management of the backyard habitat.

The bird species in our area and their food requirements change with the seasons. A primary food source for migrant and residents birds in the spring is caterpillars and other insects. As we progress throughout the summer, breeding birds feed on insects and fruits as the become available. As migrant birds and their offspring fly south in the fall, they seek out fruits, which are high in energy and help to offset the energy lost during migration.

As you visit local garden centers this time of year for good deals, keep in mind that fall is a great time for planting. Reevaluate your landscape and make sure you include early and late fruiting plants that provide food such as blueberries, spicebush, or a variety of hollies.

If you can tolerate it, and your neighbors will allow, leave an area of your landscape unmanicured to promote additional fruit and seed production. Keep in mind that plant diversity, especially native plants, are as important as the fruit and seeds that produce. You want to plant variety of species that will serve as a home to leaf eating insects that birds devour.

Bird feeders may serve as a supplement to the natural foods in our backyard. Common seeds to consider buying include black oil sunflower, safflower, and white millet. Purchasing these seeds in bulk make prove to be a bit cheaper in the long run. If you decide to provide feeders, remember that you should continue to provide this food source throughout the year.

Normally water is not considered a limiting component of bird habitat in western North Carolina, however it may become scarce in years of drought. Birds normally obtain water from food sources, rain pools, or permanent sources. If you decide to provide a bird bath, remember to keep it shallow (2-3 inches deep). Place the bird bath within 10 feet of shrubby protection and close to the ground. Some birds will not use a bath that is high off the ground.

Dense vegetation will provide birds with a place to escape from harsh weather and predators. A variety of plant types should cover most of the needs for different bird species. Use grasses, shrubs, and trees to cover all your bases. Remember that evergreens are an important component to any wildlife habitat throughout the year.

Learn more about creating habitat for birds and other wildlife with native plants from NCSU’s website, Going Native: Urban Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants,

Photo taken by Fred Hurteau