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Darrell Blackwelder: North Carolina weather confuses the plants

Our recent weather has been confusing to say the least. Cold weather one day, warm the next; with a few days of intermittent downpours thrown in for good measure.

Sickly pansies (undisclosed location). Photo by Darrell Blackwelder

Many plants are also confused by the weather. Is it spring or still winter?? Pansy plants often bear the brunt of weather extremes. Some plantings are beautiful while others look pitiful.

Excessive water and warm temperatures this fall have provided the perfect environment for root and stem diseases.

Water mold fungi Pythium and Phytophthora sp. are the major fungal disease culprits. Both usually spell eventual death to pansy plants.

Periodic freezing weather has also damaged leaves and stems on the plants.

On the other hand, some pansy plantings look the best I’ve seen in many years. The transplants were planted in well ­tilled soils with soil conditioners and ground bark to loosen tight clay soils.

Home gardeners should fertilize peri­odically throughout early winter into early spring to achieve maximum growth for better winter survival. However, avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers and applications when temperatures are above 62 degrees. Excess nitrogen fertilization over-stimulates plants, causing them to stretch and become leggy during unseasonably warm days.

Mulch plants with finely ground pine bark or fine bark to conserve moisture and protect roots from freezing and heaving.

Blossoms should be pinched to promote continuous bloom throughout the growing season.

Darrell Blackwelder deblackw@ncsu.edu is the retired horticulture agent and director with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.

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