Gardener’s Corner with Eric Kimbrel

July 9, 2019

native plants, azaleas, gregory bald, gardens, gardening

I always eagerly await this time of year when leaves emerge and plants begin to flaunt their flowers. A truly magical transformation happens all around us. This is also the perfect time to dig into gardening and get plants in the ground and established for several reasons. First, the ground has thawed after the harsh winter months. Also, the rainfall is typically plentiful, lightening the workload of irrigation required during dry spells. Finally, early planting allows ample time for roots to ground down before cooler weather sets in, leading to better survival rates through the first winter. This is what we have been doing in the Core Park as well as in preparation for the annual Native Plant Sale, which will be August 23 this year.

We have been fortunate to have volunteer Robb Turner joining us frequently in the nursery to help pot up two-month-old native azalea seedlings (Rhododendron vaseyi, calendulaceum and Gregory Bald) into larger pots where they will remain and grow for one year. They will then be moved up once more for the final stage of growth that will bring them to an adequate size to be sold (and planted in your yard) the following fall. Red spruce are also being moved up from 2” to one-gallon Rootmaker pots and will be ready for sale and planting (some at the Reserve and some in your yard) in two years. This does not mean, though, that we won’t have any for sale until then; this is simply one stage of the ongoing cycle of propagation, and we always have another batch of young trees mature enough to begin their journey in their new homes.

In the landscape, we are planting in all garden rooms to enhance color for our visitors and pollinators alike, provide screening and replace dead or dying plants. We also continue our water mitigation efforts by installing 37 new LWDs (large woody debris) as well as more river rock and wood chips to slow the pace of water runoff and prevent erosion in various areas. We turn our attention to detail on beds, edging adjacent turf for greater definition and distinct boundaries prior to mulching. Locust logs are also being installed along Azalea Walk trail edges to retain bed integrity and define trail material from bed mulch.

Pesky azalea bud gall persists, so our annual ritual of removal from flame and Gregory Bald azaleas is at its peak. This diminishes the spread of the fungus and prevents energy from being wasted on gall tissue rather than flower growth. Our location adjacent to Panthertown Valley’s native rosebay rhododendrons covered in gall makes it almost impossible to prevent spread to the Reserve without spraying fungicide on buds. Dedicated to conservation, we choose to manually remove the disease rather than risking the larger detriment from harmful chemicals. While a slower process, it is worth the benefit to the ecosystem–and it’s free!

In late spring and early summer, we prune evergreen trees and shrubs, such as rhododendrons, after they have completely finished flowering. Late bloomers, rosebay rhododendrons flower later than all other species, so they are the last to be pruned. This not only allows time for the plants to grow back and fill in, but also to form flower buds prompted by the detection of shorter days later in the year. So, the sooner after flowering that you prune, the better chances you have for abundant flowers next year!