A Coach for Your Garden

The right plant in the right place, sounds easy right?  But our gardens are dynamic and what used to be the right plant can change over time. Harold Johnson meets a garden coach and they talk about the things that real gardeners struggle with in their own landscapes.

 

 

 

Key Points

  • Monitor your garden and identify problems before they get out of control
  • Take the long view when selecting your plants —will it still be the right plant in that place in a few years?
  • Before you pick up your sprayer consider other options

Resources

  • Integrated pest management resources from the NC Cooperative Extension Service

 

 

TRANSCRIPT 

JOHNSON

This is Harold Johnson, your host of Getting Dirty with Master Gardeners. Lawn care and landscape companies, both large and small, abound these days. Services that they offer include mowing, edging, leaf removal, planting vast expanses of seasonal flowers, indiscriminately spraying for diseases and pests, wholesale pruning of shrubs, and always my favorite, crape “murder”! What if, as a gardener, you want to work side-by-side with and learn from an experienced knowledgeable gardener? What is the discriminate gardener to do? Who are you to consult for proper seasonal, hands-on pruning of your favorite camellia? Who will help you decide what disease has shown up on a favorite plant and if treating it is needed? “Oh my gosh, something is eating my _____ (you fill in the blank). What should I do?”

A resource available to the residents of North Carolina is the Master Gardener Programs and the Cooperative Extension Horticultural Agents. But what if you want someone to work side-by-side with you in your own garden? Unfortunately those two resources usually are not going to be available to come to your home and work with you. I met Eric Eibelheuser when he was employed by one of these many lawn care and landscaping companies. Eric taught many of the integrated pest management concepts to company employees, he showed them proper pruning techniques, taught them how to safely handle pesticides and herbicides and so on. After years of revolving door employees, Eric made the bold move of offering services to homeowners who wanted to work in and learn detailed care of their individual gardens.

As I talked with Eric and asked about the type of homeowner gardener who he appealed to and what services he provided, I learned that are more gardeners of that description than I thought. The recording begins Eric answers my questions to him about inappropriately sited plants in landscapes and gardens.

EIBELHEUSER

Right plant, right place. I don’t know where the design comes from for when they are doing a new home in these type neighborhoods, but surely there are better choices for easier maintenance.

 

JOHNSON

Do you sometimes have to talk people out of what had originally been suggested as a planting because it was inappropriate?

EIBELHEUSER

Yes, I think more that it’s you have to look at the maintenance side of it—you know, what plant is going to do well with moderate to minimal type maintenance. You get the wrong plants, large growing plants that you want for a screen buffer, you know, in a tight neighborhood where you’ve got zero lot line or tight quarters. There are things you can plant that are more easily maintainable.

JOHNSON

I know you also like to match plants to people by getting to know the people. If you have someone who doesn’t like to do a lot of yardwork, you steer them towards plants that are low maintenance.

EIBELHEUSER

Yes, and I have clients who I still work with them in their own yards. It’s kind of “sweat equity”, you know, they want to learn the proper techniques and that is satisfying.

JOHNSON

You work alongside someone and they are learning attributes of the plant, how to take care of it?

EIBELHEUSER

Pruning, fertilizing, general maintenance and things, I like that situation because I have a lot of clients who are retired or semi-retired and that gardened most of their lives and sometimes they need some help with the heavy work or they need small renovation or they want to beef up the garden some or whatever. I get in there, help them, coach them, teach them.

JOHNSON

Are you helping people learn that spray is not always the answer for insect and diseases?

EIBELHEUSER

Yes I take the integrated pest management approach, which is all the tools in the toolbox, I mean, first of all, you’ve got to scout to see what’s going on, so I may visit a job—I’ve got clients where I just stop by monthly and walk the landscape quickly and I know what I’m looking for, insects and diseases at certain times of the year on certain types of plants. I can quickly, in five to ten minutes, walk through a job and know if there are insects or disease there and active, determine if the populations are large enough to warrant spray, or sometimes there’s minimal damage and we’re just going to wait and see. Sometimes you have insect predators or good, beneficial insects present and you don’t want to spray so, again, maybe you come back in two or three weeks and see who is winning the battle, the beneficials or your other insects that are maybe doing damage to plants. Now, if it’s warranted, you have plant damage or particular types of plants that may be sensitive to damage, you spray. But I usually start with low impact soap oil. I’ve used Neem Oil now for about three years and if you keep up with it, and spray regularly, you can usually get pretty good control. Using Neem Oil as a fungicide, it’s got fungicidal properties, but I think the jury’s still out on that. I’m still working with it to see how much control I can get. It works good on mites, lace bugs, aphids, and white flies. It has very low residual, it’s not going to hurt anything. If you go in on a new job, and historically they have had insect problems and damage in the past and you’ve got large infestations of insects, then yeah, sometimes it warrants a spray. But even then I’m using like a synthetic pyrethroid material: bifenthrin, pyrethrin, or one of those things.

JOHNSON

You have to help some folks understand the difference between some damage that, “Oh, it’s not as pretty as it used to be, but it’s not hurting the plant; let’s put up with it.”

EIBELHEUSER

Yes, you encounter a lot of sooty mold that sticks to the plant so it doesn’t look good, but if you can get on a good control program, for whitefly or aphid, it usually takes about a year. If you’ve got broadleaf evergreens that are stained up or with sooty mold on them, for the old leaves to kick off, you keep the new leaves protected and insect free, within about a year, you’ve got your plant back.

JOHNSON

And you clean up underneath the plant so you’re not recycling.

EIBELHEUSER

It’s a smart, sensitive approach. I don’t want to create any controversy, but I do a lot of work in Raleigh and what is a little bit disturbing to me is all this mosquito spray that is going on. Are you aware of that?

JOHNSON

Yes, I am.

EIBELHEUSER

There are probably three or four companies out there and I’m not sure what they use. I think it’s probably pyrethrin, or I don’t know what it is, but it’s a blanket approach. I have sat in my truck and watched the guys apply it. They use a blower and they cover everything, every plant on the property and for me, I know what that does. You are killing beneficials, you are throwing things somewhat out of balance. I don’t know. I have had clients ask me about it. I don’t recommend it and I haven’t done the science on it, but from the fundamentals that I know, it’s going to disrupt some of the natural predatory insect things that are beneficial and helpful.

JOHNSON

And advise them to prevent places where mosquitoes breed—first choice.

EIBELHEUSER

That’s the first thing. Look around and see where you’ve got standing water.

JOHNSON

Or even lots of litter underneath harbors enough that mosquitoes breed there.

EIBELHEUSER

Again, it’s the smart approach. Go back to what you’ve learned, some of those fundamental things, and do what’s easy first. Don’t just react and think that there’s the only solution is having one of those services come in first and spray all the time.

JOHNSON

I know some of those things that you don’t do as part of your business. One, you’re not a mow, edge and blow kind of business.

EIBELHEUSER

No, I’m more a specialty horticulture. There are lots of specialty turf companies out there who can take care of your lawn. I’m more of a plant person.

JOHNSON

And I also know you are not one who is brought in to wholesale prune everything back to a nub.

EIBELHEUSER

No, but there again, it depends on client preference. I will advise people who need to swap out a plant that we’ve had to take back hard that’s going to continue to be knocking into the house or encroaching on walking spaces or whatever. But know you, I’ve probably used a power shearer twice this year in all the pruning work that I’ve done. I’d probably say 98% of it is handwork, even topiary work. I’ve got a few clients who are developing some topiary—animal figures and things like that—I’ll use a good Japanese small manual clipper shear, because you get more control with it. Many, many clients have natural style gardens and they design and install plants that they like and typically they are sited in the right place. My whole idea is when I get done with pruning it kind of looks like I wasn’t there. And I sort of follow the growth cycles: dormant pruning late February into early March, any of the dormant season plants that need to be pruned, Japanese Maples and other plants like that. Late dormant season is the time to get them into shape. Then typically wait until after the Spring fresh has hardened off, usually sometime late April into May, you may go back in and just tidy things up. You go in and use good technique, maybe you’re starting a job that’s a little bit overgrown; it takes some time and effort go in and do all the corrective type pruning, to set the plants up so that maintenance from that point on is not that difficult. You’ve opened up canopies of plants, you’ve thinned it out, you’ve removed dead wood, crossing rubbing branches. Usually after the first time, things get easier.

JOHNSON

I so often see junipers that are allowed to overgrow on the tops so that everything inside is brown, ugly, dead.

EIBELHEUSER

Yes, it is shaded out and withers away. Sometimes I encounter things that have gone too far, and there is only so much magic you can work when you’re working with plants. And at that point, I usually recommend renovation or transform an area into something different.

JOHNSON

Native plants, are you seeing more use of the natives versus the, I’ll call them, exotics?

EIBELHEUSER

I’ve seen a lot of articles written; there’s a lot of information out there, sort of a big native plant movement. I think the arboretum here in Chapel Hill, has, I think I’ve read somewhere where they’ve gone in and they were actually trying to take out anything that wasn’t native, so they were sort of purely native, which I think is good. Because you know you can go there and everything you look at is a native species.

JOHNSON

One of the most startling examples is the removal of the Chinese wisteria and replace it with Wisteria frutescens—native wisteria.

EIBELHEUSER

Yes, I have a lot of clients that are looking for native plants, easy to grow because they grow here naturally. You know, if you get the soil right, you get them sited right, lots of variety, lots and lots of different species to choose from, a lot of interest: flowers, berries, foliage, you name it. You can probably find a native plant for any purpose, any place in your landscape.

JOHNSON

In my yard alone, the Viburnum, not to mention the typical trees, Viburnum, Yaupon Holly, just good, wonderful native plants.

EIBELHEUSER

Bullet-proof, for the most part, is what I call it. Pretty easy to maintain and they are adapted to the climate in some of the little bit of extremes here or there that we have. You know this last winter and the last two winters we’ve gone down into the single digits and some plants just don’t make it. We’ve had problems with cold damage. When you are thinking about taking those plants out or replacing them, check out some natives, some great native vines. I know some of the jasmines and things like that have really been burned back severely.

JOHNSON

When planting flower beds, think about milkweed to keep the butterflies producing and happy.

EIBELHEUSER

Joe-pye weed, milkweed, asclepies—you see it growing on the side of the road, I mean, it’s beautiful. Why not use those plants? They feed native insects. Pollinator gardens are becoming more popular. There’s one over at Chatham Mills; that’s wonderful! She’s done a wonderful job over there and as a matter of fact, we were over there, probably a couple of months ago, on a weekend and she was out there working in the garden–but just a lot of information. You see the plants growing. She’s done a wonderful job with combining the plants for succession of bloom.

JOHNSON

I think that’s something that some folks forget about, that you do need to provide blooming plants for the fall, berries and seeds for the fall for the birds.

EIBELHEUSER

Yes, so I think she’s really done a great job over there as an example of what you can do. And it’s not a very big space. Some of it is a kind of a harsh environment. I mean, parking lot islands out in the middle of an asphalt parking lot with some beautiful native plants selected for that hot, dry, out in the baking sun, just do well.

JOHNSON

The botanical garden staff has projects underway to return more of those little islands to native plants, not just the bare shorn constantly mow it down…

EIBELHEUSER

Yeah, you look around and you can see places everywhere where you could use some low maintenance native plants. You just have to get them established. We need more of that, some pollinator gardens, especially with the bee decline and other pollinators decline in population. I think it’s more important. We have to provide some food and forage for them. I was at North Carolina State University Turf Field Day where they do the turf trials out there at the big facility where they do the turf research. They actually had a small talk. There were some students who were testing out seed, wildflower seed varieties for pollinators, and all they did was take an 8’ x 10’ plot and they tilled it up and they bought maybe 8-10 different varieties of pollinator wildflower mix. Some were 100% native, some were mixed species. And they did these plots, they were tracking what they looked like, and how well they performed with minimal maintenance, and they did a count of how many pollinating insects and the type of pollinating insects that were visiting the flowers in each plot. Students out there, research going on and hard science about what types of plants do well with minimal maintenance. I thought it was great, because you know, usually when you go to Turf Field Day, it’s all about grass, so it was good to see that they are thinking more than grass kinds of things.

JOHNSON

Most of the islands are made up of a grass that is not native to the area, so we are trying very hard to get something that we’ve tried to acclimate to our climate and soil condition.

EIBELHEUSER

And since I’m a plant person, in my own garden, I’ve taken a lot of turf out. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s got its purpose, but I’d much rather use the space on my property for plants, plant beds and things.

JOHNSON

Have you had some occasions when you have shown people how to make catch pond or some way to prevent water from just rushing off of their hard surfaces?

EIBELHEUSER

I haven’t built any rain gardens or any of that stuff to catch and filter runoff. That’s becoming more and more important the more hard-surface you get. And we’re pretty much out of the recession, now. Things have picked up. House starts are up and there are houses going up and more and more and more hard surface and runoff. And that’s just a smart way to manage water and to get it down into the ground where it belongs instead of being some point source type of pollution that runs and picks up everything off the street and fertilizer and oil and grime and dumps it right into the river, a direct line. There’s more interest in that. Maybe things will change and maybe there will be more requirements for those types of things as construction gets going. It’s just part of the right thing to do.

JOHNSON

We’ll have to continue this conversation at some other point, Eric. We’ve enjoyed hearing about your unique services.


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Categories: Garden Management, Gardeners, Plants, Podcast

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