There is always something blooming in Aiken, By Bill Hayes

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I usually try to wait until the last minute to submit my articles for this column. Minor weather changes that can create problems, good or bad, always seem to give me something to write about. This week’s sudden rise in temperature has created a stir in the garden. Jonquils are pushing up, Japanese Magnolias are in bloom, native azaleas are beginning to show some color and my hydrangeas are leafing out. Yesterday it was close to 80 degrees and that’s enough to jump start a lot of things. That doesn’t mean that they are all good things!

This is the time of year when our winter weed friends do their best to show off. They have been hanging around waiting for a warm up to get some energy and spread like crazy. They are difficult to treat at this time of year since two of our turf grasses, St. Augustine and centipede, are not completely dormant. It would be better to hand pick weeds than risk damaging your lawn with some of the available chemicals. To complicate the issue, most of these weeds now have an established root system. That means that it will probably take more than one herbicide application to kill them. That’s just more danger to the turf grass. I would pull the worst of the weeds and let nature kill them off when the temperatures rise. Next October be sure to put down a pre-emergence herbicide which should prevent them from germinating in the first place. And, don’t forget to put down the pre-emergence herbicide for summer weeds. Crab grass and all of its relatives are getting close to opening their eyes after a long nap. If your lawn is unprotected, they will use it for their summer home. I can’t make my appeal any stronger than to say: “Do it now”!

If you have even more problems with your landscape there is some additional help available. The Rent a Master Gardener (RAMG) program is for you. RAMG is a program of the Aiken Master Gardeners Association (AMGA) conducted under auspices of the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service of Aiken County. For a nominal fee, a team of Master Gardeners will visit your home and spend an hour with you, answering your questions and examining the lawn and garden for problems you may not have seen. After the visit, the homeowner will receive a written report detailing the team’s findings and offering suggestions on how to improve the landscape. Proceeds go to the AMGA’s general fund to help support our scholarship endowment at Clemson University and public service activities. To sign up for the program or for more information, call the Master Gardener office at the Clemson Extension Service, 649-6297 x 122. If you prefer, you can email us at rent@aikenmastergardeners.org.

The mole problem continues throughout the Aiken area. The little bas, err, insectivores, are working extra hard to tunnel under every yard in town. Traps are the only proven way to get rid of them and a good place to research the problem is at http://icwdm.org/handbook/mammals/Moles.asp. We have discussed this issue before and I still feel that the two best traps for the homeowner are the Nash and Easy-Set models. Just use Google to locate a seller and order them on the Internet. Follow the instructions carefully and you should have success.

I have always enjoyed a winter blooming plant. Over the years, the Oregon Grape Holly has never failed to put on a dazzling display. This year is no exception. For those of you, who have never seen this beauty, let me give you some details. First off, the name is misleading. It is not a holly even though the leaves of the plant are very “holly” like. They are razor sharp and deserve some respect. The plant is a Mahonia and is part of the Barberry family. The plant starts out with bright yellow flowers on long finger-like spikes. As the blooms age, they fall off and are replaced by fruits that look like grapes. There can be very large grape clumps depending on the weather. As the grapes mature on the stems and become a deep purple, my assumption is that they do some form of fermenting. Birds, such as the cardinal, catbird and mockingbird love to sit on the sharp spiky branches and eat the grapes. If they eat enough, they get drunk and can’t fly for a while. It’s quite a sight to see a bird walking across your yard with its wings stretched out and falling on its beak. It doesn’t seem to harm them since they are back at it the next day. My reason for mentioning this wonderful plant is that during the early blooming of the yellow flowers, the plant was engulfed by honey bees. This was the first time that I have seen this many bees, in one spot, in several years. Let’s hope that they are recovering from whatever harmed them a few years ago.

The Master Gardeners will be back at the Farmers Market on March 5, 2011 from 8:00 A.M until noon. Bring your questions about gardening and they will do their best to help you. The new 2011 Master Garden Almanac will also be available for purchase. It has been completely revised and expanded to 100 pages.

I would like to thank the 150 plus people that attended the Lunchbox lawn seminar at the Aiken County Historical museum on last Monday. I hope that you took home some information that will help with this year’s lawn. We were a little crowed but managed to survive. The next Lunchbox seminar is on March 21, 2011 at the Aiken County Extension office. The subject is “Roses”. Spring is less than a month away!