Tarheel Gardening — Wordless Wednesday


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February Inspiration

Lengthened daylight hours and shortened shadows are noticeable as February approaches. A winter-weary mood is elevated as light lifts the spirit. Holding onto the winter can bring great joy when we’re reminded, every season has its reason.

February, cold and cruel to some, is hope to others. After all, February touches March, the month of spring. February is a bridge month, crossing over from winter into spring. Instead of rushing forth into a new season, take one more look around at the joy and the life only February can bring.

In my garden, Helen’s Haven, the bluebirds begin building nests, bees seek the nectar of inconspicuous flowers on the maple tree, and the seed selection from a covey of catalogues is finished, allowing me to dream of harvesting summer’s bounty.

As I warmed my car for my morning commute, I noticed the Japanese maple in the vegetable garden as if seeing it for the first time. The lines of the limbs were sinuous, revealed only when bare; the silhouette against the house was intriguing. Come summer, the limbs will be covered with burgundy leaves, becoming a mere mound of its sturdy self. Driving away, a flash of red caught my eye while a male cardinal chirped the air.

Gardening with Confidence Prunus mumeThe ground is covered with the petals of thePrunus mume, flowering apricot ‘Bridal Vail’, giving a glimpse of what snow-cover looks like should the white stuff come and stay in my Raleigh Garden.

Most of my Mahonia’s are yellowing up with some varieties so scented they attract wildlife from afar. The bees will be delighted soon as another nectar source queues up to serve them on a warm winter’s day.

One look at Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’ and you’ll make way for this in your garden. Tens of thousands of blooms give way to ten-thousand more tiny blue flowers lying brightly on the ground. Robins scratch around looking for a snack, not the least bit bothered that I’m walking by.

Daffodils, timed right with certain selections, such as February’s Gold, will brighten your winter heart and home. In other areas of my garden, I can see green pushing through the meadow with a promise of masses of narcissus greeting me as I enter my driveway.

Gardening with Confidence Helleborus ×hybridusHelleborus ×hybridus, particularly my various Pine Knot Selects, are blooming their fool heads off making me want for more. You can really never have enough. Daphne does her job too by adding scent in the air, while the Iberis (Candytuff) add white along the boxwood edge. And as if in a moment of disbelief, the aconite and iris bloom side by side, making it look like I might know what I’m doing, when it was really just a lucky accident.

Spring will be here soon enough, mating-songs will fill the air, more birds will begin looking for materials to feather their nest. Sprouts will show promise of a summer sizzle. Yes, everything has its season; I shall savor winter, and the gifts she brings and remind myself, without winter, spring would never be.


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Tarheel Gardener — Wordless Wednesday

Bluebirds Gardening in North Carolina

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Monthly NC Garden Chores–February

Before the gardening season kicks into full gear, evaluate your landscape with regard to sustainability. Are you doing all that you can to reduce water, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer use? Are you  composting? Are you harvesting rainwater ? Are you planting the right plant in the right place? Do you mulch? Let this be the year you consider a more ecofriendly approach.
traditional landscape by Gardening with Confidence®
Pinch annuals. Pinch spent blooms off pansies to maintain their peak flowering performance through spring.
Cut back perennials. February is a good time to cut back liriope. The key is not to trim it too late, or you’ll risk cutting new growth. The plant will not recover from the damage, and it can look tattered.The solid green variety spreads. If your original design had a pattern, and if you want to keep that pattern (usually an alternating X pattern), dig out the liriope that has spread, after the cutback, bringing back your original design.
traditional landscape by Gardening with Confidence®
Plant peonies. You can still plant peonies. Fall would have been ideal, but they can be planted now as well. Make sure the top of the crown is just above the soil line. Peonies need cold weather to set the buds. Fertilize now before the spring growth, so that nutrients will be readily available when the plant needs it.
traditional landscape by Gardening with Confidence®
Enjoy bulbs. Fertilize your tulips and daffodils as the foliage begins to rise. A general 10-10-10 fertilizer will work fine, but there are also products made especially for flowering bulbs, such as Holland brand products.Other bulbs, such as paperwhite narcissus and hyacinths, are easy to force and can be enjoyed indoors while waiting for spring.
traditional landscape by Gardening with Confidence®
Tame vines. If your vines have gotten out of hand, late winter is a good time to tame them. Cut back wisteria, Virginia creeper, ivy and Japanese honeysuckle.
Plant trees. As long as the ground isn’t frozen, it is still a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Prepare the planting hole with ample mulch. Also cover the root ball with mulch, being careful to not bring the mulch right up to the trunk.
traditional landscape by Gardening with Confidence®
Fertilize. February is the time to fertilize your flowering ornamentals. My beds get most of their nutrients from decaying composted leaf mulch, but oftentimes after a soil test, I will use an organic fertilizer.
traditional landscape by Gardening with Confidence®
Prepare new gardening beds. A warm winter day is perfect for preparing a new or existing garden bed. For a new site, mark the area of the new bed and dress it with several layers of newspaper. Add organic matter, such as composted leaf mulch, as the final top dressing.For existing beds, work the ground with a garden fork to loosen the soil and mix in the organic matter. In doing so, you will improve soil fertility and drainage.
traditional landscape by Gardening with Confidence®
Add lime to your fig tree. Our area tends to be acidic, and figs prefer a much sweeter soil. Get a soil test to determine how much lime to apply. It’s not unusual to need to add about 2 cups of dolomitic lime.
traditional landscape by Gardening with Confidence®
Manage pests. Camellia blooms should be picked up from under the bush. This will help prevent the spread of disease.


By: Helen Yoest

The TarHeelGardening blog is published and edited by Helen Yoest. For more information on Tarheel Gardening, please visit our website at Tarheel Gardening – your online resource for North Carolina gardening enthusiasts.

Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association (NCNLA)

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Monthly NC garden chores — November

Fall is a fantastic time to be in the garden. Soon enough there will be a killing frost; once that happens, it’s time to tuck your garden into bed for the winter. Our first frost date is unpredictable in terms of regions and microclimates. The first frost date for Raleigh, North Carolina, as calculated by NC State University, is November 5. I live about 4 miles away from NC State, and my garden’s average frost date is October 31. If you are cutting it close with chores, watch your local weather carefully to get them done before the first killing frost hits.

OK  City 089Lawns
Later this month when mowing has come to a stop, service your mower before putting it away. Drain the gas tank (or in my case, I give the lawn one last cut to run out the gas and tidy up), or use a gasoline stabilizer. Untreated gasoline can become thick and gummy. Remove the spark plug, and add a few drops of oil to help lubricate the cylinder. Replace spark plug now or in the spring.

DaviesRaleighYoest (13)Rose disease prevention 
To help prevent diseases of your roses, rake up any leaves from the beds. Removing some of the mulch exposed to the leaves is good idea as well. These leaves and exposed mulch can harbor blackspot spores that can over-winter in the leaves. Top-dress the garden with fresh mini-chip mulch.

A good time to transplant roses
It is not time to plant bare-root roses or container roses, but it is a good time to transplant them. If you have a rose that has outgrown its spot, needs better light, or you just want it in an area to more readily see to enjoy, November is a good month to move roses.

Watch for cool season mites on junipers, conifers, azaleas, hollies, and camellias. Infested leaves turn gray or brown and may fall prematurely.  Heavily infested shrubs and conifers may die. Use the white paper test–place a piece of white paper under the stem and shake the plant. Mites are smaller than a period in a sentence.

Perennial cut-backs
Perennials can be cut back after frost; however many perennials give the garden an interesting look in the winter and still provide cover and food for wildlife. Consider waiting until spring to cut back perennials.

Dividing perennials  
Most spring and summer perennials can still divided through early winter.  Water in well before and after dividing.

Tulip bulbs Gardening with Confidence ®Bulb time
November is the best time to plant most spring flowering bulbs. When planting, mix in some lime and a balanced fertilizer, like 10-10-10 or a special bulb mixture (9-9-6) at planting time.

Planting trees and shrubs
Woody plants like trees, shrubs, and fruit trees grow roots best in cool soils. Plant these now to give roots a chance to develop and withstand the heat of next summer. 

Delay pruning trees and shrubs
Delay pruning until late winter, except for minor shaping and to remove dead and diseased wood.

Camellias are a beautiful plant all year long, but fall and winter begins their flowering seasons, blooming at a time when little else is in showy.

Mulch your camellia plants well with a material that will allow air to flow, such as pine needles or pine bark. Avoid flat leaves as they tend to mat, get soggy, and prevent air from reaching the top of the root area. The mulch will serve as a blanket, regulating the soil temperature, to maintain temperatures above 25ºF.

Camellias should be protected from cold, desiccating winds if, possible. Plant in an area with a natural wind-break on the north and west side of young plants.

If your plants are in containers, group them together in a protected area and mulch deeply around the container. For additional insulation, throw pine needles over the top of any plants which may remain unprotected in cold weather.

Camellia plants become dormant after 3 or 4 days when temperatures reach below 40º F. Let them sleep. While they are dormant, the roots are still growing and the buds further develop into blooms.

Fall Camellias
Camellia sasanquas begin to bloom in September in the Raleigh area, and with different varieties, can bloom through Christmas.  C. sasanquas are available in white, pink, and red flowers and can be single, double, or semi-double in form.

Camellia sinensis var. sinensisCamellia sinensis is another fall blooming camellia. The leaves of C. sinensis is where tea is produced. Blooms are either white or pink with solid green or variegated foliage.



More Maintenance

Fall Color
Roadsides and back gardens alike can come alive each fall with red and yellow foliage. It’s not just something you see up north; the southern garden can be filled with rich reds and yummy yellows.

Good sources of yellow in the November garden are sweet gum, hickory, redbud, and Ginkgo.

For fiery reds consider Red maple, serviceberry, dogwood, both sweet and black gum trees, sourwood, and persimmon.

Fall blooming plants with sweet scent
Fragrance from my Osmanthus (both, O. heterophyllus and O. fragrans) can be identified from the curb of the front garden even though the scent is is originating from the back. It’s amazing how much smell can come from the smallest flower.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is also a good source of fragrance in the fall garden.

Fall leaf clean-up
Blow your leaves into the natural areas of your garden to decompose or provide mulch for plants through the winter.  Instead of using a blower to move fallen leaves to the street for pick-up, put those leaves to work for you as mulch in the garden. The birds will thank you as they forage for insects.

Cover crops
The site of bare soil does not soothe my soul. I like a finished look. Crazy, I know, but it is part of my makeup. For most places in the garden, this is not a problem since the early spring application of mulch still remains in the garden. But the vegetable garden is another matter. With the summer abundance gone, less vegetation is in view leaving me more soil to contend with; there is typically more earth than I want to see. That’s where a cover crop comes in. Not only am I adding Nitrogen to the soil by growing a cover crop.

This year, I sowed 3.5 ounces of rye grass seed per 1,000 square feet. The cover crop will grown all winter. I happen to like the look of the grass when it’s flattened by the elements later in the year; no need for me to mow. If you, however, prefer your grass (rye or otherwise) to be tidy, you can mow the rye. Be sure to leave the grass on the ground, adding nutrients back into the soil.

In addition of adding nutrients to the soil, cover crop will also prevent soil erosion and compaction. Wheat, barley, and red clover also make a good cover crop.

There is still time left in the year to divide and transplant irises and daylilies.  Water well before and after dividing.

Don’t cut back chrysanthemum, ferns, and salvias, until new growth appears in the spring. The current year’s growth aids in insulation from the cold.

You can add color to your garden all winter long with pansies, violas, snapdragons, and ornamental vegetables such as kale.

Did you know the Carolinas are part of the Atlantic Flyway, the migratory path for waterfowl and other birds? Show some Southern hospitality by putting out bird feeders and birdbaths full of fresh water.

Fall migratory birds begin to wing their way back down south. In doing so, they need to pack on as much fat as possible. In addition to adding feeders to provide supplemental feed for the birds, consider creating a garden bird friendly.

Here are some things you can do to provide for the wildlife as they make their way further south:

Wait to tidy up the garden. Leave seed heads for the birds to enjoy, and resist pruning shrubs with persistent fruit. If you must prune, consider making an arrangement in a natural bouquet. Put into a hand-tie arrangement, leaving outside for the birds to enjoy. Secure to a fence post or other post like a birdhouse or feeder, put the arrangement so the birds can make lunch easy.

Clean nesting boxes with soap and water. They will be ready for spring, but in the meantime, the boxes are available for winter roosting habitats. These habitats will be a welcome site on a very cold night. Warmth burns fewer calories.

Forcing bulbsForcing bulbs
Aside from not liking the term “forcing,” I enjoy getting bulbs to bloom indoors to jump-start spring. I don’t do this on a massive level, but I like a few to have around, brightening a January day. Even if they are already blooming outside, I like having the flowers inside as well.

Since a true bulb contains all it needs to bloom the first year, no additional nutrients are needed. This is why you see hyacinths blooming in those cute, specially designed glass containers. However, without added nutrients, the bulb will not return again. So after it blooms, you should place it in the compost pile.

Bulbs will need excellent drainage; you can use gravel or sand as a planting medium instead of potting soil. Choose a well-drained container, and fill it with planting medium (within two inches from the rim for larger bulbs and closer to the rim for smaller bulbs.)

Arrange bulbs on the planting medium with the pointed end up. It’s better to crowd them so they are almost touching. We want to make a statement, so let’s make it! Once positioned, the tops of the bulbs should all be level, about half an inch from the surface. Backfill with more planting medium so the bulb tips are just barely poking out.

Place pots in a chilling area, ideally in a low-light or darkened area. This period will be dependent on the bulb—you will need anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks of chilling. Keep the bulbs evenly moist but not in standing water. Good drainage is important.

Once they sprout, gradually give the bulbs warmer temperatures and light. Place them where you can enjoy them the most.

Popular choices for Christmas blooms are paperweights, narcissus, hyacinths, and amaryllis.
By: Helen Yoest

The TarHeelGardening blog is published and edited by Helen Yoest. For more information on Tarheel Gardening, please visit our website at Tarheel Gardening – your online resource for North Carolina gardening enthusiasts.

Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association (NCNLA)

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Tarheel Gardener — Wordless Wednesday

If you don't have enough flowers for the hummingbirds migrating back home, supplement with sugar water. One part sugar to four parts fresh water.

If you don’t have enough flowers for the hummingbirds migrating back home, supplement with sugar water. One part sugar to four parts fresh water.

By: Helen Yoest

The TarHeelGardening blog is published and edited by Helen Yoest. For more information on Tarheel Gardening, please visit our website at Tarheel Gardening – your online resource for North Carolina gardening enthusiasts.

Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association (NCNLA)

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Burrrrr, do you remember the winter wind? The season awaits when we’ll once again be zipping our jackets against the cold to keep our bodies warm. Your house feels the same chill you do. Have you ever noticed how much warmer you are when sitting next to a barrier that blocks wind? The same warmth generated by blocking the wind can also happen with your home. As you break the wind that chills you to the bone, your house can also stay warmer with a windbreaker.

Typically for North Carolinians, the winter wind comes from the north and northwest. Winter winds take heat away from the home by forcing cold air into your house through small cracks in the windows, doors, foundation, as well as small unseen gaps in the walls. Reducing the wind’s force on your home will reduce heat loss.

Planting a windbreaker or barrier with a series trees and shrubs located near the home will minimize the wind’s chilling effect. Windbreaks deflect and redirect wind flow lessening wind chill and the need to turn up the heat.

According to the Agriculture Program at Texas A&M, heat savings of as much as 23 percent has been achieved when comparing on homes landscaped with windbreaks than homes without.

Landscape windbreaks typically found in the country consist of evergreen trees and shrubs lined up in straight row or in a somewhat linear pattern. To spice up a home landscape, windbreaks are planted in a more informal arrangement, consisting of mainly dense evergreen trees and shrubs with plants having foliage that extends to the ground.

Ideally, the windbreak allows some air flow. A total block can create a strong vacuum on the leeward side (direction downwind.) Ideally, foliage density on the windward side of the break should be about 60 percent. Also, using species of varying heights and staggered rows will created a diverse arrangement for purpose and aesthetics, offering a natural look.

When planting a windbreak or barrier, they are generally aligned east and west, along the north side of the house. Also consider the ultimate spread of tree or shrub branches, and plant far enough away to prevent their contact with the house. With regards to a planting distance from the house, a general rule of the road is to plant the windbreak away from the house 3 to 5 times the height of the mature trees and shrubs.

A few good choices for windbreaks are Chamaecyparis, Eastern red cedar, oriental arborvitae, rhododendron, as well as yaupon hollies and  yews.

A windbreak of trees and shrubs should be planted longer than the length of the house by more than 10 – 20 feet on both sides. This helps diminish the effects of turbulent winds swirling in around the ends. The wind break can also serve as a privacy hedge.

Button up this fall, both you and your home. It may take a few years for the trees and shrubs to mature enough to offer and heat savings; but if you don’t start today, you don’t benefit tomorrow.

By: Helen Yoest
The TarHeelGardening blog is published and edited by Helen Yoest. For more information on Tarheel Gardening, please visit our website at Tarheel Gardening - your online resource for North Carolina gardening enthusiasts.

Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association (NCNLA)

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Monthly NC garden chores — October

Fall for me brings the beginning of the new gardening year, and October is fall’s most festive month. October gardening in North Carolina is the reward for all your hard work throughout the year. Now is the time to appreciate your landscape, but do some preparedness as well.

I’m not sure what excites me more, the foliage color change or the additional light from fewer leaves on the trees.

scott_pansies[1]Plant annuals. Kale, cabbages, mustards. Pansies, snapdragons, and violas are annuals are colorful, long lasting, and inexpensive; I’ve often wondered why they’re so underused.

Purchase pansies and violas when the selection is best, as early as September, but wait until late October to plant them. Early October can still be to hot to plant, but don’t wait until then to buy, or the selection will be too scarce. Nurse the plants in a holding area if you have to to ensure you get your top choice.

Gardening with Confidence indoor plantsPrepare your houseplants for winter. Many of us like to give our indoor houseplants a summer vacation outside, but our summer break is about to end. It’s time to bring those plants back inside.

During the summer, you might have found that your plants grew a lot, and errant branches are in need of a little pruning. Herbaceous plants can simply be pinched back, but use clippers on woody stem. Be sure to remove any stems or leaves that are dead or diseased.

Repot plants whose roots are growing out of the drainage holes or at the soil’s surface. Select a container that is only one size larger than the old one; otherwise top growth may be retarded while the roots try to fill up the extra space.

Clean the leaves of dust and dirt that gathered during the summer. This covering can interfere with a plant’s ability to turn light into food. A gentle spray from the garden house and a light wipe with a sponge is usually adequate.

A light application of insecticidal soap is a wise precaution before bringing your plants inside, even if you haven’t seen evidence of pests. Spider mites and other pests thrive in a dry, heated house and will multiply rapidly, if present.

Once inside, locate your plants where they will receive as much natural light as possible. When you water, do so thoroughly but less often in winter than you did in the summer.

Gardening with Confidence  wateringWater in well before winter. If October and November are dry, give perennials a deep final soaking so they go dormant in good conditions. They’ll be less subject to being killed in winter with a drink before they sleep.

Transplant trees and shrubs.  Have you have been waiting to rearrange a few trees and shrubs? Now, with the cooling temperatures, is a good time to begin the process.

It’s best to root-prune this month and transplant thirty days (or more) later. This allows woody ornamentals a chance to recuperate before being transported to their new location. Root pruning stimulates small feeder roots near the trunk. These new roots will be dug as part of the transplant, allowing the tree or shrub to better adapt.

  • Water the soil well the day before root pruning.
  • Prune out from the trunk 10-12 inch diameter root ball for ever inch of truck diameter. Thus, a 2-inch diameter root ball will be root pruned about 2 feet from the trunk.
  • Using a flat spade, begin cutting a trench about 24 inches deep. If you run into large roots, cut with loppers.
  • Continue cutting a circular trench around the tree trunk and water thoroughly.

Plant cool-season vegetables. The cooler fall temperatures bring back cool-season crops. It’s time to plant or seed spinach and collards. Also, cilantro and lettuce will once again thrive in your garden.

Consider trying some new varieties this year, or vary your usual choices. Why not add some red-leaf lettuce? Loose-leaf red lettuce packs a high nutritional value, including being an excellent source of beta carotene.

Gardening with Confidence  Canna FlowerWatch out for canna leaf roller. Cannas are a great accent plant and attract hummingbirds to the garden. Plus, most canna cultivars are hardy in the Southeast and can overwinter in the ground. If you found your canna foliage riffled with holes, you probably have leaf roller. Canna leaf rollers are major pest in the Southeast, causing the beautiful foliage to be unsightly.

After the first frost, cut the foliage to the ground and remove it from the garden. Removing the foliage helps control overwintering pests. Don’t compost, as the pest may winter over.

Divide peonies. If your herbaceous peony has become to big for it’s current location, or if you just want to move or share, it can be divide after first frost.

Prepare beds. It’s also a great time to prepare garden beds for next year.

  • Mark new beds (or the beds you want to extend) with marking paint or a hose.
  • Cut an edge, turning this dirt into the new bed, cover with 8 – 10 layers of newspaper.
  • Cover with about 4 inches of chopped leaves or composted leaf mulch.

Now sit back and let nature take her course. Your bed will be ready for planting in the spring.

Compost those leaves. Use your mower equipped with a mulching blade to chop fallen leaves on the grass. These leaves make a wonderful addition to the garden beds or compost pile.

Appreciate wildlife. Don’t be so quick to tidy up.  The remains of the summer and fall garden give shelter, food and cover for the wildlife while also adding winter interest to the garden beds.

IMG_4180Pictured here is a praying mantis egg case I found one year cutting back my garden, Helen’s Haven. It was at this point I learned to slow down my fall pruning until the spring, when the leaves were cleared away and overwintering wildlife was easier to see.



Words by:  Helen Yoest

Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association


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Water-wise Garden Design

Mixed Border Summer

Waterwise design is not only worthy, but a win-win.

A waterwise garden comprises three gardening zones: oasis, transitional, and xeric.

The oasis zone is the area closest to a water source: drain spouts, rain barrels, spigot, etc.

The transitional zone is the area away from the water source about midway to the end of the property.  Plantings here should be sustainable requiring only occasional supplemental water.

The xeric zone is at the property’s perimeter. These plants should be tough requiring no supplemental water.  This area can be filled with dependable drought-resistant plants.

Designing your garden with waterwise zones, helps make you a more efficient gardener, places plants where they will thrive, while saving resources.  Your garden wins, you win.

Photos of The Excellence in the Landscape awards have been announced and are posted at Tarheel Gardening.  Be sure to check this out!

By: Helen Yoest
The TarHeelGardening blog is published and edited by Helen Yoest. For more information on Tarheel Gardening, please visit our website at Tarheel Gardening – your online resource for North Carolina gardening enthusiasts.

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Tarheel Gardening — Wordless Wednesday

Heirloom tomato harvest


By: Helen Yoest

The TarHeelGardening blog is published and edited by Helen Yoest. For more information on Tarheel Gardening, please visit our website at Tarheel Gardening- your online resource for North Carolina gardening enthusiasts.

Posted in Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , , | Leave a comment