Monday, February 23, 2015

Starting a New Garden - Questions about Bermudagrass & Horse Manure

Here's the "Question of the Day":


Dear Paul,

We plan to try our hand at gardening this year.  We have never done a garden before so this will be an adventure.  I tested the soil where the garden will be.  I picked a flat location, not too far from the house, that has a water supply and is next to our garden shed.  The only down side is that it may be great eating for the rabbits and deer, we will have to wait and see how that goes.  I checked out the NCDA&CS web site for all the applicable agronomy notes, etc but have a few questions specific to our situation.

We started a compost pile a few weeks ago near the garden shed.  I am using horse manure and kitchen scraps, mostly the manure.  Currently it is just a pile that is not in a container or covered.  I could put a lean-to on the side of the garden shed to cover it if you think that will make a big difference.  My question in regards to the compost pile is when should we incorporate it into the soil? That is, how decomposed should the compost be when we incorporate it into the soil?

The area where the garden will be located is all currently covered in bermudagrass, so that is something we will have to deal with.  I know it won't do any good to spray it with glyphosate until it is green again, but I didn't know if it would be too late to till, fertilize and plant by then.  If it is, we may need to spend this year killing the bermuda, working the soil and getting it ready for next year.

Thanks for your time,
Nancy & Sam


Dear Nancy & Sam,

How exciting! Wishing you great success with your endeavors, and please don't hesitate to call or e-mail anytime with questions.

Regarding your compost pile, you don't need to cover it. Rainfall will add needed moisture. Does the manure have some type of bedding material mixed in, such as wood chips? If not, you may want to add a carbon source such as shredded leaves.

The best and safest approach is to thoroughly compost the material before use. As an added precaution, I would add the finished compost to the garden sometime in the late fall or winter when all the crops have been removed. This approach will reduce the risk of contaminating the produce (e.g. e-coli) and also reduce the salt content of the manure which can "burn" plants.

Regarding the bermudagrass, that is going to be a challenge, but it's not insurmountable. One approach would be to let the bermuda green up and grow for a few weeks, then spray with glyphosate. Check the herbicide label for the waiting period (how long after application before you can plant), and once elapsed, till up and start sowing. This means you'd be starting your garden much later, but you could still have a very productive season. You will also get some regrowth of the bermudagrass, but that can be managed to some extent through directed sprays of glyphosate (Careful! Maybe hold a sheet of cardboard to shield the vegetable plants, or make a shield for the sprayer by duct-taping a 3-liter pop bottle with the bottom cut out to the wand). You can also use a selective grass control herbicide that contains sethoxydim and spray right over the top of many crops (but NOT corn!).

Another possibility would be to work solely on controlling the bermudagrass for this first season and wait until next year to plant the garden. With this approach, you could make two or three applications of glyphosate, or even lay down a thick layer of newspaper and cover with mulch.

It would also be wise to maintain a "bermudagrass-free" perimeter around the garden.

Hope this helps and keep me posted on your endeavors!

All the best,

Recommendations for the use of agricultural chemicals are included in this publication as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by North Carolina Cooperative Extension nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use agricultural chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage regulations and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact your county Cooperative Extension agent.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Is Ivy Harmful When it Climbs Trees?

Here's the client question of the day!

Dear Paul; I have an ivy vine that is crawling up several of my oak trees and one pine tree.   I consider the vine to be somewhat picturesque, it is about 25 feet up one of the oaks.  Is this harmful to the tree??   If so, do I just cut the vine at the base of the tree??  If the vine must be identified, can I snip a leaf and email a picture to you??



Dear Fred; I suspect the vine is English Ivy (Hedera helix), and yes I can confirm from a clipping or photo. It is problematic for a couple of reasons.

1. Since ivy is evergreen, the leaves will be covered in ice if we have freezing rain, which adds significant weight and can cause limbs to break.

2. When ivy starts climbing, it can reach the reproductive stage and produce berries. The berries are consumed by birds, which can spread ivy to new areas. Ivy is a non-native plant, and while it can serve a purpose in the landscape, it displaces native plants when it becomes established in natural areas.

Cutting the vine at the base is a good way to control it. The ivy may stay green in the canopy for a season or two as it burns up stored sugars, but eventually it will die.

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Can I Save the Old Pear Tree?

Just got this client question via e-mail:

Dear Paul, On my land near where the old farmhouse used to be is a living pear tree. It has to be over 100 years old. It used to have very large pears but no longer bears fruit. Some branches look like they have new growth. Is it possible to cut a branch and reroot it somehow? Stick it in water or soil and for roots to grow? Or would it have to be grafted to another pear tree? Is it possible an off-shoot of this tree would ever produce fruit? Sincerely, Fred

Here's my answer:

Dear Fred,

Here's the short version:
If you want pears, plant a new pear tree. Choose a cultivar/rootstock combination that is well suited for Piedmont North Carolina.

Here's the long version:
If the tree has some particular historical or sentimental value, then you could take a cutting and graft it onto appropriate rootstock to start a new tree. You could try it yourself, but grafting is pretty tricky and you might be better off if you could find a fruit tree nursery that could do the grafting. They could tell you when to take cuttings, how to store and ship, etc.

You could also skip the grafting and just root some cuttings, grow them out in pots for a season or two, then plant in the ground and see what happens. Only thing you have to lose is time and a few bucks for supplies.

You could also try to figure out why the tree is not bearing (likely due to shade or nutrient deficiency) and correct the problem to see if it would start bearing again.

Happy to provide more information on any or all of these options.

Take care!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

2015 Symposium: Going Wild in the Garden

Sponsored by the Kerr Lake Extension Master Gardener Volunteers

Saturday, March 28, 2015, 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m

Vance County Regional Farmers Market
210 Southpark Drive, Henderson, NC 27536

Optional Workshop : 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Program Schedule
8:30 Registration and coffee
9:00 Welcome
9:15 Attracting Wildlife with Native Plants:
Chris Moorman, NCSU Dept. of Forestry and Environmental Resources
10:15 Growing Miniature and Shrub Roses:
David Pike, Witherspoon Rose Culture
11:15 Native Plants-Right Plant for the Garden:
Lauri Lawson, Niche Gardens
12:00 Lunch and Herbs in the Landscape:
Keynote speaker John Wrenn, J&B Herb and Plant Farm
1:30-2:30 p.m. Optional Herbs in a Container Workshop (extra registration required; fee includes all materials)

Registration Costs and Notes
Morning session only (includes lunch): $15 on or before March 15; after March 15, $20.

Morning session with workshop: $40 on or before March 15; after March 15, $50.

For more information and downloadable registration forms, go to
or contact NCSU Cooperative Extension, Phone 252-438-8188 (Vance); 252-257-3640 (Warren)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

February 2015 Edition of Garden Path Newsletter

Check out the February 2015 issue of the Garden Path Newsletter, written and published by the Kerr Lake Extension Master Gardener Volunteers. As usual, this issue contains lots of timely tips. Be sure to read about the Plant of the Month (cast iron plant), new flower and vegetable varieties, good plants to attract birds, and more! Click the link to download: