Gardener’s Corner with Director of Horticulture Eric Kimbrel


Spring is a wonderful time in the garden; the pops of color just keep coming, teasing us with what will be blooming next.  We’ve been busy outside, cleaning up beds by removing leaves and adding fresh layers of shredded leaf mulch, removing remnant perennial stalks and pruning out any brown, winter-damaged stems of rhododendrons to help prevent borers. Like Sisyphus pushing the rock uphill, we continue to attempt to keep the deer and rabbits at bay by applying repellents like Garlic Sentry and Deer Scram to prevent damage to those perennials just emerging and flowering. We are always eager to increase our plant collection through our own propagation efforts and specimens donated from our many generous friends.  Thus far this season, we’ve planted Skunk Cabbage, American Columbo, Bog Orchids, Cumberland Azalea, Mountain Camelia, Chinquapins, various Magnolias, and yellow Buckeyes.

As plants realize it’s time to start growing in the spring, we want to take advantage of that by giving their roots more room to grow.  The best time to pot up plants to minimize shock is before their leaves have emerged, once root growth has begun and top growth has not yet started. “Potting up” is a term that refers to transplanting a plant into a container, and we’ve been busy in the nursery doing just that.  I just potted up chinquapins that arrived bareroot from a nursery.  There are also red spruce seedlings that need their first pot, a two-inch rootmaker 32 cell tray where they will stay a full year and develop a good root system.

Seedlings that were repotted in early spring may be ready for another size up in pots.  And, as the growing season moves into summer, you can still pot up one more time. As a rule, six weeks between potting up allows for roots to become established.  If you can keep the root growth ahead of the amount of shoot growth, you will have a better developed, larger, and healthier plant. When a seed germinates it usually sends the radicle, or root, out first.  Yet, when a plant produces energy, it doesn’t distribute that energy uniformly.  First it gives energy to flowers, second to fruit, third to leaves, then to stems, and finally to the roots.  So, a reduction in energy affects roots first.

Recently, we received 340 ‘James Gold’ hybrid chinquapin nuts in partnership with Dr. Joseph James in Seneca, South Carolina.   Dr. James has worked to hybridize American chestnuts to resist chestnut blight while also crossing Chinese chinquapins with American chestnut trees to create a more blight and phytophtora disease resistant tree.  These trees were then backcrossed with American chinquapins to maintain American genetics, forming a 90 percent or greater American hybrid.  We are excited to be growing these and will offer them for sale in less than two years as mature, one-gallon trees.