Buying/Planting A Live Christmas Tree

Colorado spruce, formerly a Christmas tree, now landscape tree

Colorado spruce, formerly Christmas tree, now a landscape tree

Cut Fraser Fir Trees for sale

Cut Fraser Fir Trees for sale

A living Christmas tree—one that’s planted outdoors after the holidays—has become a tradition with many families to commemorate a birth or someone’s passing.

Purchase a live Christmas tree and plant it in your landscape after the holidays. Pre-dig a planting hole ahead because outdoor weather may not be suitable for digging. For safety sake, fill it with leaves or mulch to prevent freezing or cover it with a board or piece of plywood so no one accidentally falls into it.

Choose an evergreen species that grows well in your plant zone. Your choice includes eastern red cedar, white pine, Norway spruce, and Colorado blue spruce. Frasier fir (Abies frasieri), a very popular Christmas tree, prefers a cool mountain location above 3500 feet elevation (USDA hardiness zones 4-7) and will not be a good landscape tree. Over the past quarter century Leyland cypress has become a popular choice in warm parts of the Southeastern U.S.

Here are some planting steps:

  1. Examine the rootball and top (leader) before you purchase. Rootball for a 6-7 foot tree should measure 30 inches or more in diameter, tied, and wrapped tightly in cloth burlap.
  2. Dig a shallow hole twice the diameter of the rootball.
  3. Unload the tree and be careful not to damage the rootball.
  4. Place the rootball in a tub or container large enough to snugly support it.
  5. Water rootball if it feels dry to the touch; do not let tree stand in water.
  6. Tree should not stay indoors for more than 10 days.
  7. Use LED lights which emit little heat and are energy efficient.
  8. Inspect rootball moisture every 3 days.
  9. Move tree to an unheated garage or basement until you’re ready to plant outside.
  10. Plant outdoors in prepared hole, water and add 3 inches of an organic mulch around tree.


Stop Inviting Critters to Your Property

Haven for Unwanted Critters?

Landscaping practices can influence pest populations. Old landscape timbers, particularly those that are partially rotted, may provide food for termites. powder post beetles, and carpenter ants. Numbers of millipedes, earwigs, crickets, sowbugs, and clover mite larvae may be greatly reduced if piled up old branches and boards are properly disposed of.

Mosquito populations rise in wet summer weather when buckets, plugged up eaves, old tires lay around filled with stale rainwater. Mosquitos carry serious health risks such as the West Nile virus and malaria.

Never distribute organic based mulches near house wood siding and low window sills. Watch wood chip mulch and other wood products on or in the soil (lumber scraps, boards, firewood, pallets, etc.) for signs of activity if termites are present in your area. Keep wood-based mulches several inches away from the house foundation. Bark-based mulches are permitted. Never allow soil or mulch to contact wood- made windowsills or house siding. Periodically inspect mulched zones around your home and garage for signs of termite activity.

Remove old fallen branches to discourage rodents and snakes from nesting. Firewood can also harbor large cockroaches, carpenter ants, wood-boring beetles, termites and others. Clean leaves and debris from gutters.

Overgrown weeds and grasses on abandon properties and vacant lots become the major weeds in the entire neighborhood. Noxious weeds gain a foothold in residential areas by one neighbor who does not take ordinary care of his or her property. In a short time invasive plant species such as multiflora roses, ivies (adult forms), honeysuckles, Johnson grass, and thistles cost muncipalities tens of thousands of dollars to eradicate.

Stop Destroying Forsythias

Forsythia 'Gold Tide' at NC Arboretum In Asheville, NC

Forsythia ‘Gold Tide’ in summer at NC Arboretum in Asheville, NC


Large Forsythia x intermedia needs annual pruning

Large Forsythia x intermedia needs annual pruning








Forsythia (Forsythia spp.), also called “yellow bells”, is an extremely popular spring flowering shrub (USDA hardiness zones 5-8). Their bright yellow flowers signal the coming of spring. However, many gardeners do not know how to prune them.

Tall 8-12 foot forms of F. x intermedia are commonly sold at most U.S.  garden centers. Forsythias grow from 2 to 10 feet high and 4 to 12 feet wide depending on species and cultivars. Natural shrub form is arching.  Many forsythias outgrow their space within a few years.

They are frequently planted too close to building and home foundations. What results is clipped boxy hedges or round balls with few flowers. Fall pruning also removes a majority of the pre-formed spring flower buds, which is the main reason you grow forsythia.

Forsythias bloom best in full or partially sunny location. They’re not fussy, growing in any average soi,l and are insensitive to acidic or alkaline pH soils. They have few pest problems although deer browsing in some areas. Spread a slow-release shrub fertilizer in spring if growth is slow or if flowering is sparse.

Prune immediately after flowering has finished in spring. Cut out one-third of the stems to the ground each year to retain its natural arching form plus tip prune to reduce overall size.

Forsythias make excellent specimen shrubs; group several 6-8 feet apart to create a hedge; plant on steep bank for erosion management.

For small sized forsythias, try Gold Tide ® (Courtasol’) that grows 1 – 2 feet tall and  2-4 feet wide. ‘Little Renee’ grows 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Goldilocks®  (‘Courtacour’) @ 2-3 feet tall and wide; ‘Show Off’ @ 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide; ‘Fiesta’ @ 5 to 6 feet tall and wide and variegated leaves.

Preventing Disease Outbreaks In The Garden

Hand pruners to remove dead or diseased wood

* Hand pruners to remove dead or diseased wood

Viral leaf spot on hosta. Dig up and destroy

Viral leaf spot on hosta. Dig up and destroy








When a sick plant has been diagnosed with a viral or bacterial disease, your only option is to remove the diseased branch by pruning or destroy the entire plant. You should start out by practicing prevention.

Prevention is adopting good cultural and sanitation practices. Consider the following measures:

  • Start with disease-free plants. Inspect plants before purchase for any kind of symptoms. This includes the roots as well.
  • Use new or clean pots when planting pots and large containers.
  • Minimize outdoor irrigation or reduce the time interval that foliage remains wet. Keep plant foliage as dry as possible.
  • Don’t take cuttings from weak or sickly plants.
  • Don’t crowd your plants. Increase air circulation between them. This is particularly true for disease organisms such as botrytis, and powdery and downy mildews.
  • Routinely disinfect tools such as propagation knives and scissors with bleach, alcohol or disinfectant solutions. A 15% bleach solution (1 part bleach to 15 parts of water) will sterilize tools. Wash used pots in a mild disinfectant.
  • Discard any plants showing symptoms — no questions ask.  At the garden center, if a flat of tomatoes or pansies contains a few weak or sickly plants, do not purchase. Don’t replace sickly plants in each cell with healthy looking ones from another flat. The tray cells could also be contaminated.
  • If a friend gifts a cutting or plant from his/her garden, isolate a minimum of 2 weeks before adding it to your plant collection.  Daylily rust and hosta X disease frequently get started this way.
  • Similar measures should be followed for insect prevention.

What You Should Know About Herbicides

Weedy Patch in Garden

Weedy Patch in Garden

Winter annual weeds

Winter annual weeds








By definition a weed is any plant that you don’t want in your garden. Herbicides are vegetation killers and  classified as a pesticide that kills weeds. When used incorrectly, herbicides may injure good plants as well. Always read and understand the package directions before using.

In a lawn or garden, you may be trying to control (manage) three different kinds of weeds: grasses, broadleaves, and sedges. Broadleaf weeds including dandelions, spotted spurge, buckthorn, purslanes and thistles. Fall and late winter (before new leaves emerge) are safe times to spray broadleaf herbicides. Most deciduous shrubs and trees are shedding their leaves and are less susceptible to the spray drift. Some herbicides are labelled to kill sedges only or grassy weeds only such as yellow nutsedge, dallisgrass, or quackgrass.

Check the weather forecast before spraying herbicides. Avoid spraying on windy days or on hot days over 85 °F as herbicides may drift or volatilize, injuring nearby garden plants. Hot summer temperatures increase chances of lawn injury from herbicides. It should not rain for 8-12 hours following an application.

For a herbicide to work, outside temperatures need to be 60 °F and higher over a 6 hour interval for contact broadleaf herbicide spray to be adsorbed inside the plant. Regardless the time of the year, weeds need to be actively growing for herbicides to work.

Don’t mow a few days before and 2-3 days following an application. Greater leaf coverage is important here. Don’t spray newly seeded areas and wait 3-4 mowings before treating a new lawn with additional herbicides.

Spring and early summer herbicide applications do not control perennial and woody vegetation such as brambles, poison ivy, and invasive species. Wait until mid-summer to start tackling these tough weeds; multiple applications are usually necessary.

Heavy weed invasion in lawns may be evidence of poor mowing practices, low soil fertility, or too much shade which favors the weeds more than the grass. Presence of knotweed and spotted spurge usually indicates bad soil compaction.

Stylish Boulevard Cypress

PomPom Boulevard Cypress

PomPom Boulevard Cypress


'Boulevard Cypress'

‘Boulevard Cypress’






A twist here…a turn there, that’s the unique growth of Boulevard Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard’). It is a popular medium-sized evergreen shrub for home and commercial landscapes (USDA hardiness zones 5-9).  Boulevard cypress exhibits a twisted pyramidal form with soft, silvery blue foliage that also grows in a slightly twisted manner. The fine, texture feathery needles take on a slight purplish tint during the cold winter months.

Boulevard cypress grows to mature heights of 8 to 12 feet and 4 to 6 feet wide. Its annual growth rate averages 6 to 10 inches. It thrives in full sun to light partial shade. In warm Southern climes it enjoys a break from extreme hot midday summer sun. Boulevard cypress should be planted in moist, compost-rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Mulching newly planted shrubs is highly recommended. Fertilize with granular 10-10-10 or an equivalent product in late winter – early spring.

Boulevard cypress is relatively free of serious problems although Phomopsis needle blight and root rot problems may occur when poorly sited. Older mature specimens often show up interior needle browning, which is blown away with a leaf blower if the buildup becomes excessive or unsightly. Seed and fruit formation are unimportant.

Utilize Boulevard as a specimen shrub, or 5-12 foot high clipped hedge or privacy screen. Garden centers may sell pompom  forms. Plants should be spaced minimum of 6-8 feet apart to avoid overcrowding and eventual decline due to disease and pest problems. During the summer, inspect all off-colored evergreens for a buildup of mites; hose them down with water weekly.

Winterberry Holly Brightens Winter Scene

Winterberry holly at NC Hwy rest area

Winterberry Holly at NC Hwy Rest Area

'Winter Gold' holly in early fall at Atlanta Botanical Garden

‘Winter Gold’ holly in early fall at Atlanta Botanical Garden







To escape from dreary days this winter, brightened up your landscape with deciduous hollies. Among a long, long list of deciduous holly species, winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is the superior choice (USDA hardiness zones 3-9). Inconspicuous white blooms in spring are followed by red, orange, or yellow berries in fall. Compared to their evergreen kin, winterberry hollies shed all foliage in the fall, revealing the colorful berry fruits.

Winterberry holly is native to swampy areas in the eastern half of North America. Winterberries prefer full sun and a moist, acidic soil (at home in wet soil). Well established after two years, shrubs are drought tolerant; berry production is highest on swampy or boggy ground. Feed with granular 10-10-10 or equivalent or with Holly-tone® in late winter or early spring.

In spring bees pollinate the tiny holly flowers, and birds consume the vibrant fruits in winter. Cut berry-filled branches in fall and bring indoors to decorate. In early spring prune deciduous hollies partially and back to the ground every 4-5 years.  Disease and insect problems are rare and deer leave hollies alone.

Deciduous hollies are excellent for massing, for hedging, for wet soils, and for attracting wildlife to your landscape. Plant one “matched” male selection nearby 8-10 female plants to boost fruit numbers. Mature plant size depends on cultivar planted. Some of the better selections of deciduous hollies include:

Berry Heavy® – 6 to 8 feet tall shrub and abundant bright red berries.

Berry Nice® – 6-8 feet tall shrub and bright red berries.

‘Bonfire’ (I. verticillata x serrata) – 8 by 8 feet holly and bears small red berries at young age.

‘Red Sprite’ – compact 3 to 5 feet tall with large, bright red berries and lustrous dark green leaves.

‘Sparkleberry’ (I. verticillata x serrata) –upright branched, 12 feet tall, and brilliant red fruit.

‘Winter Gold’ – matures to 7 by 7 feet with lovely salmon colored berries.

Winter Red® – matures to 8 by 8 feet with lustrous dark green leaves and bright red berries.


Male Pollinators:

‘Apollo’ ( I. verticillata x serrata) – pollinator for ‘Bonfire’, ‘Red Sprite’, and ‘Sparkleberry’.

‘Jim Dandy’ – pollinator for Berry Heavy®, Berry Nice®, ‘Red Sprite’.

‘Southern Gentleman’ – pollinator for Berry Nice®, ‘Sparkleberry’, ‘Winter Gold’, Winter Red®.

Five Summer Perennials You Will Love

Phlox paniculata 'Shortwood'

Phlox paniculata ‘Shortwood’

Echinacea x 'Cheyenne Spirit'

Echinacea x ‘Cheyenne Spirit’







In the past few years several great performing perennials have caught my eye. Some are exceptional landscape performers exhibiting long bloom period and exceptional disease resistance. All are hardy in Zones 4-9. Here are five of the best:

Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit coneflower mix (Echinacea purpurea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’) offers a spectacular floral show of many colored ray flowers from mid-summer to early fall. This hybrid purple coneflower comprises a delightful mix of bright red, orange, golden yellow, purple and white ray flowers with a large brown button center. Stems are strong and well-branched. Coneflowers attract butterflies and blooms are excellent for cutting. Deadhead (remove) faded blooms to encourage re-blooming.

‘PowWow Wild Berry’ coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is an outstanding multi-year performer. From late spring to early fall, it produces large 3-4 inch wide deep rose-purple ray flowers with orange-brown button centers. Stems are sturdy and well-branched, 18-24 inches tall and 12-18 inches wide. Plants re-bloom without deadheading.

‘Pardon My Pink’ beebalm (M. didyma) is a self-branching, compact, 10 to 12 inches tall (and wide) beebalm or bergamont. Clear pink flowers measure 2½ to 3 inches across and attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. It blooms from midsummer to late September along with dark green foliage that is highly mildew resistant.

‘Shortwood’ Garden Phlox is a garden phlox (P. paniculata) that is highly touted by Stephanie Cohen, the perennial diva herself. ‘Shortwood’ boasts full-size bright pink blooms with deeper pink eyes and are wildly fragrant. Flowers are superb for cutting, and attract lots of butterflies and hummingbirds. Plant is also highly mildew resistant.

Dazzleberry® sedum is groundcover type from sedum breeder Chris Hansen that grows only 8 inches tall and 18 inches wide. It is a strong grower with attractive dusty blue foliage. In late summer Dazzleberry is covered with clusters of vibrant raspberry colored flowers.

Echinacea purpurea 'PowWow Wild Berry'

Echinacea purpurea ‘PowWow Wild Berry’

Fall Leaf Gathering Turns Into “Black Gold”

Compost in rose bed at Biltmore Estates, Asheville, NC

Compost on rose bed at Biltmore Estates, Asheville, NC

Leaf pile for later mulching

Leaf pile ready for composting








In autumn the cool crisp air paints the land with a colorful array from tree and shrub foliage. As days turn into weeks, leaves fall away and pile up on rooftops, walkways, lawns and gardens. Instead of just raking and tossing them curbside, gather and put them to good use.

Fallen leaves (and grass clippings) can be easily composted, turned into “black gold” and spread as leaf mulch over garden soils or around trees and shrubs, including roses. Leaf mold enriches the soil, locks in moisture, and protects plant crowns and roots from the frigid winter temperatures. You save money by not buying bagged mulch or compost at garden centers.

To speed the composting process, shred leaves and small twigs and branches with a mulching mower, shredder or leaf blower set on vacuum setting. Start with a thin layer of shredded leaves to compost. It decomposes rapidly, usually within a few months. Small twigs and branches decompose more rapidly. Heaping up thick heavy layers garden debris will block air and water from penetrating the pile.

Leaf mold (sometimes spelled mould) is essentially a soil conditioner. It improves soil water retention and soil structure, and creates a living habitat for beneficial organisms such as earthworms and bacteria that nourish the soil.

Distribute only a few inches of leaf mold. Thick layers of composted mulch locks in too much moisture, and smother plant roots that require well-drained soil. Roots become susceptible to rots and other fungal diseases.

The decomposition process for leaves takes at least 6-12 months. It takes very little work on the gardener’s part. To speed up decomposition, mow over the piled leaves once or twice. A few handfuls of nitrogen-rich fertilizer will speed up the rotting process. Turn the pile with garden fork or heavy rake to aerate. Throw a plastic tarp over the pile to keep leaves warm and moist.

Add leftover leaf mold to a compost bin or store remains in plastic bags for later use.

Selecting Japanese Maple Varieties For Winter Hardiness

Acer palmatum 'Tamukeyama' at NC Arboretum, Asheville, NC

Acer palmatum ‘Tamukeyama’ at NC Arboretum, Asheville, NC

Palmatum leaf type

Palmatum leaf type








Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) and (A. japonicum) are among the most picturesque of trees and shrubs. Their star-shaped leaves are comprised of 5-7-9 pointed lobes, depending on variety (cultivar). Trees exhibit layered branching, cascading form, lacy foliage (dissectum types), and stunning fall color. There are countless numbers of cultivars… those with green, yellow, purple, red, bronze, or variegated leaves. Tree/shrub sizes vary from 3 feet to 50 feet in height. Many cultivars are slow growing their first two years, particularly the dissectum types.

Select a variety based on its winter hardiness. Many Japanese maples are rated hardy in Zones 5 and 6 (-10 to -20 °F). You need to protect newly planted trees against winter sun scald, related to cold injury to tree bark on the south or west side.

Protect the trunk of a newly planted tree with special tree wrap, usually kraft paper or fabric, to prevent sunscald over the first two winters.  The wrap swells as the trunk diameter expands; it should be totally removed after two winters. Maintain a 2-3 inch organic based mulch layer under the tree to keep roots moist and cool.

Other Japanese maples must cope with summer heat and humidity in Southern climes (Zones 7 and 8). Leaves may scorch and require shelter from midday sun. Planting them on the east or north side of the house is ideal. Green-leaf varieties tend to be more scorch resistant than red, purple, or variegated leaf types. Providing irrigation during the hot summer months is a practical step.

Rated among the cold hardiest cultivars for zone 5:

Dissectum class: Inaba Shidare, Tamukeyama, Crimson Queen, Red Dragon, and Viridis.

Palmatum class: Bloodgood, Emperor I, Sango Kaku, Atropurpureum, Osakazuki, Heffner’s Red, and Oshio Beni.

Additional species (other than A. palmatum): Acer japonicum (full moon maple) and A. aconitifolium (fernleaf maple).