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The Gardener’s Dirt December 2007

December 2007


The Gardener's


Information you can dig into.

North Carolina State University

College of Agriculture and Live Sciences
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
Johnston County Center
2736 NC 210 Highway * Smithfield, NC 27577
919 989-5380

Shawn Banks
Extension Agent
Agriculture—Consumer Horticulture

In this Issue
Feature Article
Spotlight Plant
Pest Alert

Gardening To-Do
This newsletter offers timely information for your outdoor living spaces
Addressing the most common questions ranging from container gardening,
tree pruning, wildlife management, to fire ant control, insect
identification and lawn establishment.

Feature Story Banner


by Adair Pickard

It’s the Holiday Season and plants are a favorite gift item.  They arrive looking fresh and beautiful and all too often end up bedraggled or even dead.  Let’s look at a few of these holiday offerings and how to keep them looking good.
Paperwhite narcissus in flower

:  These usually arrive as a kit and are easy to grow and enjoy.  With Paperwhites it must be remembered that they are being forced to bloom before their time so enjoy them, then after flowering plant outside, green top and all.  The bulb will go back into its natural cycle, and while the bloom may never be as profuse as the original, it should rebloom in the spring of next year.

poinsettia three different colors
POINSETTAS:  These lovely plants may come wrapped in bright papers.  If the paper is integral to your decorating plan, at least loosen it and pull it away from the plant leaves.  Preferably, remove the wrap.  Place the Poinsettia in indirect sun for 6 hours daily.  Optimum temperature is 65 to 75 degrees with no drafts.  Water when soil is dry to the touch but don’t allow it to stand in water.  Blooms usually last many weeks.  If you want to save the Poinsettia, place it outside after the last frost date and feed with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks.  It can be pruned in late June or early July, but never later than Sept. 1, because the plant sets its buds as the autumn nights lengthen.  Now is the time to begin acclimating the plant back inside. Then beginning mid-September, the poinsettia will need total dark for 14 hours each day for 9 to 11 weeks.  Natural bloom time is November to December.
Red Amaryllis in vase

:  These are such stately plants and easy to care for even though they, like the Paperwhites, are forced to bloom out of season.  When the plant arrives, and before it blooms, place it in a sunny location.  Once the bloom appears, move the plant to a bright area in order to prolong the bloom.  This plant likes to be warm.  Soil should be moist but don’t keep it sitting in water or put water on top of the bulb.  After blooming cut off the dead flowers but not the stem.  Allow the stem to wither on its own then cut it off.  If you want to keep your amaryllis in its pot after flowering, just return it to a sunny spot, water as before and fertilize monthly with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer. From Raleigh eastward, this bulb can be planted outside after frost danger has passed and will often perennialize.

Christmas Cactus in bloom with red flowers
CHRISTMAS CACTUS:  These delightful plants need high light intensity to flower profusely.  They want well-drained soil.  Water thoroughly when the soil feels dry, but do not allow the plant to sit in water.  Christmas Cactus blooms best when daytime temperatures are warm and no lower than 60ish at night.  Don’t place it in a draft or too near a heat source. After bloom, allow the plant to rest 6 weeks with no water.  When new growth appears, the plant can be repotted and top-dressed with fresh soil.  In spring provide a weak, liquid houseplant fertilizer at 2 to 3 week intervals.
Cyclamen in flower (red)
CYCLAMEN:  This plant will bloom from mid-November until mid- February if conditions are good.  It likes bright, indirect light like an East window, temperatures of about 60 to 65 daytime and 50s at night.  This is a humidity lover so sit it on a bed of pebbles in a dish of water.  Although it likes moist soil, keep moisture away from the tuber or it may rot.  Cyclamen leaves are “crunchy” so a good test of when to water is when the leaves feel soft.  Feed twice a month with a complete liquid fertilizer. Cyclamen can be transplanted when dormant.

With just a little care, all these beautiful holiday plants will continue to delight for years to come.

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 Spotlight Plant banner

Ilex decidua

Possumhaw holly

Possumhaw is a native, deciduous holly that can be found throughout the United States in zones 5 to 8.  This small- to medium-sized tree produces regular crops of bright red berries on the female plants.  Like most hollies this plant is dioecious, meaning it has some plants with only male flowers and some plants with only female flowers.  Small inconspicuous white flowers with 4 petals are born in the leaf
axils, which give way to bright red-orange berries on female plants.  It
is possible that this plant may be pollinated by Ilex opaca, another
native holly found in North Carolina woods.

Depending on variety, height can range from 3 to 16 foot with a variable spread.  It has thin brown to grayish brown bark with warty projections.  Leaves are 1 ½ – 3 inch wavy-edged and dull green, with very little or no color change in the fall.  It is most commonly found in low swampy soils, yet it can also be grown quite successfully in an average garden soil in full sun to partial shade.

 Possomhaw with red berries and no leaves

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Pest Alert!  Pest Alert!  Pest Alert!

What to do When a Pesky Ice Storm Threatens Plants

 Damaged limb repair steps

Steps to take to repair a damaged limb
     If an ice storm is forecast, protect foundation plantings and small
conifers in the yard by covering them with a plastic tarp or wrapping
them with twine, burlap, or blankets.
    If a plant does become ice-encrusted, allow natural thawing to
remove the weight of the ice.  Do not hit the branches with a broom or
stick as the rigidity added by the ice makes branches brittle and often
results in greater breakage.
    Plants that arch or bow under the weight of ice usually straighten themselves during the spring growing season.
    Should the ice result in a broken branch, proper branch stub
pruning is key to recovering the plant.     Cut stubs back, but not
into the branch collar.  The branch collar is the raised area at where
the branch and main stem meet.
    If the top of a tree has broken, cut back to the first undamaged
branch or whorl of branches. Make the cut at a 45 degree angle to
prevent water from pooling in the plant. Be patient, it may take
several years for full recovery.
    Broken limbs often tear and strip bark. Avoid disease and insect
invasion by repairing bark. Use a sharp knife or chisel to round the
jagged edges of the dying bark.   Remove loose bark to the point where
it is attached to main branch or stem. Keep the wound as small as
possible to help the tree heal quickly.
    A certified arborist can assist in deciding whether or not a storm-damaged tree can be saved.
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Gardening to-do Banner


Man taking a soil sample
➢    Learn exactly what your soil needs by taking a soil sample and
having it tested.  Most plant health problems start in the soil.  A
healthy soil will mean less pest and disease problems.

LAWN CAREWinter weeds in lawn

➢    If it hasn’t been done already fertilize cool-season lawns such as
fescue.  Roots of cool-season grasses continue to grow whenever the
ground is not frozen.
➢    Cool-season weeds in established cool-season or dormant Zoysia or
Bermudagrass lawns may be treated with broadleaf herbicides


➢    Prune evergreens to use for winter decorations in the house by
cutting out unwanted limbs that would be pruned in February anyway.
(Save major pruning for late winter.) Holly, Magnolia, Cedar, and
Nandina foliage will last a long time.
➢    Many landscape shrubs can be propagated from hardwood cuttings including American holly and junipers Juniper.
➢    Prevent winter damage to plants from dessication (drying),
freezing and thawing, and breakage from ice and snow loads. Keep plants
watered during dry periods. Read 'How to Protect Plants from Cold
Damage' at  https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-604.html
➢    This is an excellent time to mulch shrubs, trees, perennials, and
herbs for winter protection. Apply a layer 3" deep since most
perennials are dormant and it's easy to get a wheelbarrow into the
garden.  Mulch comparisons
and general info: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-608.html
Mimosa tree in flower
➢    Weed out "weed" trees and shrubs. Prolifically-seeding plants like
oak, elm, mimosa Mimosa Tree, hackberry, plum, and ligustrum (privet)
produce numerous offspring which compete with other landscape plants
for light, water and nutrients. Weedy woody seedlings are easier to
remove while still young.
➢    Need help selecting and caring for your holiday tree?  Check out Holiday Tree Selection and Care
➢    Put your cut Holiday tree to use!  Cut the branches and lay them
over perennials to protect them from the cold. Shred small branches to
make mulch.


➢    Do NOT prune fruit trees now.  Fruit trees are best pruned late winter just before they start to grow in spring.
➢    Asparagus crowns can be planted now through March.


➢    Giving gifts? Consider giving a good gardening book or accessory! Gardening is a gift all year round.
➢   Build raised beds now for plant next spring. 
Find out why and how at: 


➢    Clean bird feeders monthly with hot sudsy water and diluted bleach
to prevent the spread of wild bird diseases. Keep seed hulls from
accumulating underneath the feeder to discourage rodents.



➢    Check holiday and gift plants for insects before locating them near other plants.

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Need Help



Got Questions? We've got answers!

If you have a gardening issue you would like to see addressed in this
newsletter please let me know I will do what I can to get you the
information you need.  Contact me by e-mail at shawn_banks@ncsu.edu or by phone at (919) 989-5380.

The Johnston County Master Gardener Volunteers are available Monday,
Wednesday, or Friday from 1 to 4 pm to answer questions as well.  They
can also be contacted by phone at (919) 989-5380 or by e-mail at jcmastergardener@yahoo.com

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