Hello Fall

Fall brings changes to our gardens.  Learn what you need to be doing with your lawn and ideas for planting trees.  A cautionary tale might prevent plant loss, meet a farmer, and Charles Murphy takes us on a visit to the Terrace Gardens at Duke Gardens.





You’re listening to Getting Dirty with Master Gardeners.  This program is created by NC State Extension Master Gardeners Volunteers.  I’m your host, Harold Johnson, and I’m a Master Gardener in Durham County.  The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association is holding their conference on Sustainable Agriculture this year in Durham, NC on November 6-8.  For more information check our website getting dirtyradioshow.org.   Lise Jenkins continues her series on slow flowers as she talks to flower farmer Leah Cook.  An experienced farmer, Leah shares her insights on how our local market has changed over the years.


My name is Leah Cook and Mark Thomas and I own and run Wild Hare Farm in Cedar Grove.  So I’m the owner, co-owner, and manager of a primarily cut-flower farm.The farm in total is about 30 acres.  We have about two acres in cultivation and we have eight unheated hoop houses and two heated greenhouses that all go towards production.


Leah graduated from NC State University with a degree in horticulture and has been a part of the local farm scene ever since.  I asked her about the increasing interest things that are locally grown.


I can tell you since I’ve started farming, not only have we seen the increasing awareness of local food rise sharply, I’d say in the last three to four years, in particularly in the last two years, the awareness for local flowers has just gone through the roof.  Again, if people are looking for numbers I’d point them to the Association of Speciality Cut Flower Growers based in Oberland, OH.  It’s an international organization and it serves growers of all stripes and sizes.  Fantastic education and networking.  Being a long-time member of ASCFG I’ve really seen membership in that organization skyrocket last couple of years.  In this area there does seem to be a lot of young folks who are interested in cut flower production.  Where the breakdown occurs between I’m going to add cut flowers to my vegetable production vs I’m going to farm strictly cut flowers, I’m not quite sure .But there’s a lot of interest in this area and a lot of young folks who are getting into flower farming in one way or another.


I asked Leah about the challenges younger people face when they get into flower farming.


Well, outside of the cost of land and getting into farming, a flower grower will face the same sorts of obstacles anyone who’s in agriculture will —the price of land, infrastructure, equipment, all of that.  These things can be quite onerous.  Big obstacles.  I think what can separate flower farming from row crop production is it can be done so intensively.  You can really get away with less space and still be quite productive.  So those big obstacles aside, I’d say flower producers face similar obstacles, again, as anyone in agriculture.  Weather, primarily being the big issue.  The market —do you have a market?  are you in an overly saturated area, or are you in an underserved area?  Are you in an area where folks care?  Are they looking for local flowers? Do you have somebody, a florist, an event planner or designer who might be looking for local?  Or a well-served farmers market?


What can I, as an individual, do to promote the idea of buying local flowers?


I think just starting with an awareness that there are a lot of great flower farms, a lot of great growers in this area.  Just starting with that awareness is fantastic.  For example, go to a farmers’ market check it out. I have a great customer; he shops regularly. I’ve never seen his gardens but it sounds like he’s got really nice gardens at home. We were talking about peonies and he doesn’t want to cut any of his peonies so he’ll buy from me.  So I think if you were a gardener out there listening and you think, wow, I don’t want to go through and cut a lot of stuff and bring it in the house, well, venture to a farmers market. Go introduce yourself and see what’s in season.  See what’s on the stands at the market and maybe bring home a bouquet of local flowers, if not for yourself then for a neighbor, for your mother, for your graduate.  All that’s occurring this weekend.  You can really strike up some fantastic relationships.


I asked Leah what she likes best about farming.


Going to market.  I really like it. Its just so fun.  I enjoy selling in general.  I love to go to market, it’s early.  It’s a long day, it’s a hard day.  But it’s really gratifying to see the culmination of, well its more than a week’s work, but lets just call it a week’s work.  It can be a whole season’s worth of work …come to fruition on Saturday morning. To have your table set up and to have people, they are so excited about the first sunflowers of the season.  Or Mother’s Day bunches, or getting just the right bouquet for their graduate.  Or commenting how beautiful the flowers were from last week and how much they enjoyed them, to selling to a florist and hearing: you know those salmon tulips were just the thing.  Its a lot of fun and its very gratifying.  So working with our customers and they come in all stripes is probably my favorite thing.


You can find Leah and other great local farmers at the Carboro Farmers Market on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings.  I’m Lise Jenkins and I’m an NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer and I’m in Durham county.


We are about to change over from managing warm season lawns to cool season lawns.  Charles Murphy, our Enthusiastic Gardener, is here with some insights for lawn care in the coming months.


Hi, I’m Charles Murphy and I’m an NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer and I’m in Durham county.  Well, its lawn decision time again

This year I had one of the best lawns I’ve had in years, thanks to a combination of hard work, cooperative weather and some professional help for the big work. My tall fescue blend was a beautiful, lush deep green carpet, growing so exuberantly that it required two mowings a week for most of April and May. Now, however, it’s August, and my lawn has reverted to its customary midsummer brown color, splotched with even lighter patches of obviously dead grass. Without crabgrass I would have hardly anything green left. To be honest, this is largely the result of a decision to not water grass, saving watering for flower and vegetable beds. Having been down this road many times in the past, I could have written the script for late July, and onward, back in April. Prolonged high temperatures and our usual pattern of only scattered thunderstorms providing little in the way of useful rainfall took their all too predictable toll on my cool season lawn mix.

So now it’s decision time again. Do I choose the rehabilitate route, hoping for a better late fall lawn and early spring one, or do I make the move to a warm season grass, such as one of the hybrid Bermuda strains, or perhaps a Zoysia variety? Homeowners in our area face this decision practically every year, so let’s take a little time to explore the options and the upside and downside of each.

Lawn grasses are divided into two large classes: cool season grasses, which do best in moderate to cool temperatures with approximately one inch of rainfall/week; and warm season grasses, which are at their best in warm to hot weather, and which are usually more drought-tolerant than the cool season ones. Cool season grasses, mostly the fescue blends, stay green throughout the winter, but will go dormant, or even die, in our Piedmont summers unless heavily watered. Warm season grasses are brown in winter when they are dormant, but stay green throughout the hot summer months. Cool season grasses don’t spread, so they require periodic reseeding to fill in thin or bare areas; most of the warm season grasses spread by both above ground runners and underground roots, and will gradually fill in bare places in the turf on their own. With proper conditions and care, both types will make a thick, healthy turf that not only looks inviting, but discourages weed growth in the lawn.

In our decision-making, let’s take a few steps that would be common to either choice. First, take a soil sample for analysis if one hasn’t been done in the past two years. It takes about two weeks to get results back from the state lab, but since we can reseed a cool season lawn into early October in our area, it’s not too late. Second, assess your full-sun area. Both types of grasses require 6+ hours of direct sunlight/day for best results. (While there are some shade-tolerant varieties of fescues, “tolerance” doesn’t mean thriving.) Third, consider water requirements; we average 40-45 inches of rainfall/year in the Piedmont, but it’s not evenly distributed at ¾ inch/week, so extra water will be required at times.

If you plan to rehab/overseed, try to get rid of weeds in the lawn, either by hand-weeding or careful application of an herbicide. Consider adding a thin layer of topsoil and/or compost, (this is optional) plus fertilizer (1lb. nitrogen/ 1000 square feet), then core areate. Note: lime should not be added just because, “everyone else does it”, but should depend on results of the soil test analysis. A pH of 6.7 – 6.8 is OK for our usual lawn grasses. Lower than 6.5 would benefit from lime application, but remember that lime works into the soil slowly, and doesn’t assure immediate results. Areation helps to incorporate the additives into the top inches of the lawn, and allows air and moisture to penetrate into the root zone. Reseeding fescue can then be done according to product directions. Follow with regular watering to keep the seedbed moist; 2-3 times/day until germination, then twice/day for at least 7-10 days afterward. Further watering depends on rainfall, but should be at least once/day until seedlings are 3-4 inches tall. It’s important that new seed be in contact with soil in order to ensure germination and survival. Once new grass begins to grow vigorously, mow frequently enough to keep the overall depth of grass at 3 – 3.5 inches; mow regularly, and don’t cut the grass too close. After new grass is well-established, mow as needed to maintain uniform height. Fescue lawns should be fertilized in late summer, or at reseeding; in late fall (Thanksgiving); and late winter (late February). Fertilizing during summer months is unnecessary, and may lead to leaf growth at the expense of root development.

If the lawn is in such bad condition that just overseeding is not likely to produce good results, more drastic measures are in order. First, use an herbicide on the entire lawn area according to package directions. Wait 10 – 14 days (begin this in late August at the latest), then re-spray any weeds, or other green vegetation again. 8-10 days after the second spraying consider adding a thin layer of topsoil plus a layer of compost, fertilizer and core aerating. Then reseed over the entire lawn with a tall fescue blend according to package directions. Be careful to distribute the seed as evenly as possible, but keep in mind that extra heavy seeding isn’t necessary. Then, water regularly; three times/day for the first week, or until new grass begins to appear over the entire area, two times/day for at least one week, then once/day until new grass is obviously well-established. After that, water as necessary to as average 1”/week. When new grass is 3-4”tall, mow to a height of 3-3.5 “. Remember, fescue grasses do best when cut tall. Too close cutting forces the new grass to put more energy into growing new leaves than into growing new roots. Frequent mowing may be necessary, but better to cut tall twice/week than short once/week.

If a switch to warm-season grass is planned, treat the lawn as for cool-season grass, but seed with annual rye grass instead of a fescue blend . This will maintain a green lawn through winter, but won’t interfere with establishment of new grass later. In mid to late May, prepare the seedbed by adding a layer of topsoil, then seeding (if possible) or laying sod. Laying sod is the most reliable and quickest way to establish a warn-season grass, but is labor intensive and expensive. As with any new lawn, water frequently, and deeply, until new grass is established. Warm-season grasses should usually be fertilized at seeding, then in late May or early June, and again in July. Later fertilizing will result in new growth that may result in frost damage in mid-autumn. These grasses will go dormant and turn brown naturally in winter; they will green up again in April-May. They should be mowed closer than fescue lawns – no more than 1.5 inches tall, this encourages spreading– and watered as necessary to maintain a green appearance.

In the mid-south piedmont we live in a transition zone where growing a lush, green lawn is always a process that requires constant attention and, often, lots of labor and water. If we continue to experience hot, dry summers, then warm-season grasses are probably the best choice in the long run. If the climate changes to give us cooler and wetter summers, then cool season grasses will be the default choice for most home gardeners. Which path you choose depends on individual preferences as much as any other factor. But, the question always remains: how much lawn do I need, and is it worth the cost? There are alternatives that are well worth exploring, for example switching to a different season grass, expanding flower beds to reduce grass area, and/or introducing ground covers that require little maintenance once established, don’t neglect them.


Kit Flynn can’t find her plants.  She confesses how she lost them and how you can avoid this fate.  Dan Mason brings us Kit’s Garden Story.


I’m Dan Mason and I’m hear today to read Kit Flynn’s story, What is That Plant? Where is That Plant?  Mishaps in the Garden.

I lose plants—and I always have. It’s my fault, of course, because I’m a lazy plant labeler but since I have become a passionate devotee of sustainable roses, the need to label my plants has reached a crisis. Any rosarian worth their salt knows exactly which varieties dwell in their garden—it’s a badge of honor; while I’m not a rosarian, I like to feel as though I could pass their inspection. Consequently, it’s imperative to know the names of my roses.

I also lose plants: When UPS delivers a plant order, I quickly put the plants in the ground by the scientific method known as, “If there is a space, fill it.” I envy gardeners who have a plan, those who have actually sketched out such a plan, and those gardeners who know exactly where a certain plant should go. Instead I divide my plants between those that require sun and those that require shade and fill up my empty spaces. And this is where I lose them because I forget where I have planted them—I never said I was a smart gardener.

In the midst of winter gloom, I am inclined to place my plant orders without much thought put into it. The good thing is that I religiously keep the invoices so I can look back to see exactly what I have ordered. Looking over my latest list I wonder where I planted Spiranthes cernua ‘Chadd’s Ford’, Clematis ‘Sapphire Indigo’, and Silene virginica ‘Jackson Valentine’. How on earth can one possibly lose a clematis? To give me credit, this clematis only reaches a height of 18 inches so it isn’t readily apparent. I have no idea if these three plants are dead or alive because for the life of me I cannot remember where I situated them.

I did have a pleasant surprise recently: Twenty-five nameless bulbs suddenly appeared around the garden—and I had no idea what they were. In fact, I hadn’t known they even existed. The mystery deepened when two expert gardeners, gardeners far more knowledgeable than I am, couldn’t identify them either. Fortunately I had a list of the bulbs I had ordered and by process of elimination, I figured out that they were Galtonia candicans, a bulb with which I had no previous experience.

This spring I planted what I thought was a charming arrangement of Heuchera and Rohdea japonica—only to have an indignant hosta and fern reappear to claim their turf. Plant on top of a dormant hosta and that hosta will resurface to disrupt the harmony you, the gardener, have painstakingly created.

Now there is a solution to all these garden predicaments: The diligent gardener knows to label their plants. If nothing else, a label saying, “Hosta” would have prevented me from planting the heuchera and rohdea on top of it. A label would have informed me that I had planted galtonia while a label would have identified the missing (or dead) clematis and silene. You’ll always be able to identify the beauty queens in the garden; it’s their attendants that need the labeling.

I have used every type of labeling system under the sun and most of them don’t work. A Sharpie will stain your clothes forever but its message on a metal label bleaches out from the sun. There are special garden markers but a lot of them are messy with tips too thick. I’ve had ink spill out of them and their points are so wide that it’s impossible to get the name to fit on the metal marker. The special garden labelers zip out cool looking names on tape but the tape is unreadable after one season. At one point I bought 500 plastic knives thinking I could put the taped names on the handle, only to have the sun turn the handles so brittle that they broke in half.

I have now settled on metal labels that are perpendicular to the ground. I have two markers, which while not perfect—none gives you the control of the marvelous Sharpie—they do manage to convey the name of the plant.

The next problem to solve is to intelligently situate the label. Plants grow, especially during their third growing season. Plant Phlox paniculata ‘John Fanick’ or ‘Robert Poore’ and chances are you’ll end up with a buried label. That dainty petite crinum you planted is now five feet tall and equally as wide. That label is long gone. The terrible fact about plant labeling is that you’ll have to retag plants—typically this is not a one shot deal.

Planting is a lot more fun than labeling but look at it this way: Labeling is a way of protecting your plants. It will prevent you from planting over dormant plants and it might even help you to find plants. Perhaps if I had labeled my clematis, I’d still have it for I would have watered it and nurtured it. So label your plants: As Martha would say, “It’s a good thing.”

I’m Dan Mason and I’m an NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer and I live in Durham county.


Avian flu is a lethal virus that can kill your backyard chickens.  North Carolina has begun a campaign to register flocks so information can be shared with owners about disease outbreaks in their area.  Lise Jenkins brings us steps you can take to protect your birds.


Transcript to be included.


The Terrace Garden is one of the oldest sections of Duke Gardens.  Charles Murphy tours the terraces with its curator Mike Owens and finds out there’s always something new to enjoy at Duke Gardens.


Transcript to be included.


A pecan tree is an investment that can pay off big rewards if you make the right choices from the start.  Amy Hill is here with steps you can take to get started right so you’ll have sweet rewards into the future.


I’m Amy Hill and I’m an NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Durham county, NC

You say pe-can, I say pe-kahn, but there’s no calling off the perpetual appeal of this iconic southern tree.  Its elegant architecture in the spring, its cool shade in the summer, and the scrumptious flavor of the pecan nut in the fall and winter offer something for everyone.

If you’re considering adding a new pecan tree to your landscape, it helps to know that many of the traditional pecan varieties are considered to be alternate or cyclic producers, which means the tree will produce well one year and not as well the next. One of the popular varieties, called Stuart, is considered an alternate producer. Stuart variety trees are often found around old homesteads.

If you already have a mature pecan tree in your landscape but haven’t seen much nut production over several years, it may not have a pollinator nearby.

Pecan trees are monoecious, which means the same tree contains both male and female flower structures. That means a single tree can self-pollinate. But male pecan flowers usually release their pollen before the female flowers are mature. This timing encourages windborne cross-pollination, resulting in long-term hybrid vigor. That’s great for the long-term survival of the species, but not so helpful for nut production in the home landscape.

Planting more than one variety and more than one type improves pollination rates and yields. Pecan trees are separated into two pollination groups: Type 1 and Type 2. Each type releases its pollen at different times, so for maximum nut production, a homeowner should plant both types of trees, or at least have one of a different type in close proximity, like a neighbor’s yard. In fact, research shows that ideal production happens when you have at least three varieties of pecan trees in a landscape, including at least one Type 1 and one Type 2 tree. The female flowers of the Type 1 are open at the same time the male flowers of the Type 2 are open.

Right now is an ideal time to plant trees, because in our area, root growth will continue even as the above-ground portions of the tree are dormant. Your extension agent or master gardener volunteer can recommend a good pollinator for your tree, or you can peruse one of the pollinator variety charts found online.

And don’t wait until the nuts fall in the autumn to begin to care for your trees. They need some attention all year round in order to perform their best.

In the fall, as you’re picking up your pecans, pick up fallen limbs, leaves, and twigs to curb pecan scab and twig girdlers the following year. Pecan scab is a serious fungal disease that attacks both the foliage and the flesh covering the nut, called the shuck. Pecan scab occurs early in the season and appears as small, olive-color to black circular spots on the leaves. Lesions on the nut shucks appear as sunken black spots and, in severe cases, may turn the entire shuck black.

Pecan weevils can also be extremely damaging to your nut harvest. Understanding this insect’s lifecycle is critical to providing sustainable pest management. The weevil overwinters in the ground and emerges in summer months as an adult. Adult weevils then mate, and the females will impregnate a young developing pecan with an egg. Once hatched, the larvae feed on the nuts and cause them to drop prematurely. On the ground, the larvae chew an escape hole in the nutshell and burrow in the ground to overwinter for next year’s crop. Integrated pest management includes picking up and destroying fallen nuts as soon as possible, typically starting in August.

Finally, fall is also the best time to conduct soil tests to ensure good tree nutrition. Sample the area as you would for a vegetable or flower garden. Instructions can be found on our website.


The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association is holding their conference on Sustainable Agriculture this year in Durham, NC on November 6-8.  For more information check our website gettingdirtyradioshow.org.

You’ve been listing to Getting Dirty with NC State Extension Master Gardeners. You may find this and past episodes on our website:  gettingdirtyradioshow.org. We’re on FaceBook. You can find us by searching for Getting Dirty with Master Gardeners Radio Show. You can also find regular updates from us on our Twitter feed.  Find us on Twitter at @MGVRadioShow. Until next time, why not go out and get dirty in your garden?

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