Weather brings questions about garden chores

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 3, 2012

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
SALISBURY — February is the transition month when homeowners ponder what to do about the upcoming spring. Usually it’s too early to do much work outdoors, but the warm weather has homeowners calling about upcoming maintenance chores. Below are a few questions Cooperative Extension has received over the past few weeks.
Q: My gardenia bush is covered in bright red pods. I’ve had these bushes for at least five years and have never seen the buds that didn’t bloom turn orange before. Does this have something to do with the mild winter we’re having?
A: Some cultivars produce seed pods under mild growing conditions. The seed pods are quite attractive and plant breeders are now breeding gardenias for seed pods. You can plant the seed in early summer in an area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.
Q: Is now a good time to prune old English boxwoods?
A: Wait a few more weeks until mid-March. Most of the extremely cold weather should be over by mid-March, avoiding the likelihood of cold damage.
Q: Is now a good time to apply pre-emergence herbicides on my lawn?
A: It’s a little early for homeowners, but you can apply it now. I would plan to make another application of pre-emergence herbicides again in May to have full season crabgrass control.
Q: I have planted cover crops, both clover and winter wheat. When is the best time to turn under these crops for my garden?
A: It’s best to turn the cover crop under before flowering. Plants become woody and will decompose more slowly if they grow to the flower or seed stage. If you can’t turn the crop under in time, mow and turn it under as soon as possible. Turn the cover crop under about three to six weeks before planting. Avoid turning the cover crop when the soil is wet, especially in clay soils.
Q: We had some trees cut down and the limbs were ground into wood chips as mulch. Can I use this in my beds?
A: Technically you can use green wood chips as mulch, but green wood chip mulch attracts termites, as does any type of wood. So be careful using it around homes. It would be best used in walkways, paths, around trees, etc. Compost the material if you prefer to use it as mulch. I’ve heard too many horror stories about green mulch to recommend it as a bark or pine straw substitute.
Q: Is now a good time to prune grapes?
A: Now is an excellent time to prune both muscadine and bunch type grapes.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970 Facebook or online at