Fall Planting Workshop Set for Saturday
The drought of the past year is history and landscapes in the Sandhills are now lush and green. Our year-to-date rainfall is above average and we have even made up for the rainfall deficit of the previous year.
The question now is what approach to take with our gardens. Should we continue our pursuit of drought-tolerant plants or is it all right to revert to the past practice of including thirsty plants in the landscape?
The wise gardener will remember that drought is a part of the normal cycle. It will occur again, and it will occur sooner rather than later. A glance at recent water bills from Moore County Public Utilities showing hefty rate increases may provide further incentive to include plants that are less dependent on water in the home landscape.
To help local gardeners decide on the best approach to fall gardening Master Gardeners Dolores Muller and Mike Zihal will speak at a workshop from 10:30 to noon Saturday, Sept. 27, in the Pinehurst Village Hall, 395 Magnolia Road.
The workshop is sponsored by the Greenway Wildlife Habitat Committee of the Pinehurst Conservation Commission. The workshop is the second of a pair on the use of drought-tolerant plants in the home landscape and is open to the public free of charge.
The first workshop was geared toward spring planting with an emphasis on annuals and perennials. The upcoming workshop will be an entirely different presentation, covering trees, shrubs, vines and ground covers that do well in dry conditions. It will concentrate on how to prepare the ground before planting, the best time to plant, and what to plant to reduce the area covered by water-thirsty lawns.
As Master Gardener volunteers, Muller and Zihal are well known throughout the community for doing presentations on topics of interest to local gardeners. Both have a special interest in planting for drought conditions.
Zihal's interest developed as a result of his professional career operating and managing water utilities under all conditions including periods of drought. Muller is a lifelong gardener who decided that the best way to garden in the sandy, porous soil of the Sandhills is to fit the plants to the environment instead of trying to adapt the environment to the plant.
The Saturday workshop, "Fall Planting of Drought-tolerant PlantsWhat to Plant and How to Do It" presents a special challenge: how to stir up interest in a subject that was dear to the hearts of local gardeners during the severe drought but may be of less interest in the midst of a period with above normal rainfall.
Muller and Zihal hope that interest in the topic will continue to grow for a number of reasons.
"Drought-tolerant plants do well in drought conditions as well as during periods of adequate rainfall and are generally less work," says Muller. "With rapid population growth in our area, adequate water will always be a problem and the price of water is going up so it would only make sense to plant things that require less water."
Although drought-tolerant plants require less water once established, they do need an adequate supply when first planted in order to get established.
"Now is a great time to get those plants in the ground and growing before the next drought comes along," she says.
When asked about the best time to plant Muller says that trees and shrubs are best planted in the fall. The weather in the Sandhills is generally warm into December so October, November, and December are good planting months.
"The ground is still warm, and the roots have an opportunity to get established while the days are cooler and there is less stress on the plants and less watering is required," Muller says. "By spring the plant is well established and ready to go. Although planting can still be done in early spring, the weather is getting warmer and trees and shrubs planted at that time will be under more stress than those planted in winter."
Muller and Zihal recommend and will cover a number of different plants at the workshop. Recommended trees include Chinese elm, saucer magnolia, and Southern Sugar Maple. Yaupon hollies, Abelia, and Rose of Sharon are among the shrubs on their "favorites" list. Vines include Akebia and Virginia Creeper; ground covers include Juniper procumbens nana, Pachysandra, and scotch rose. These are only a few of the many that they will recommend and discuss at the workshop.
Plants with interesting foliage will be covered along with those that provide winter interest at a point in time when the landscape is more barren. Muller recommends Gingko tree, hollies, Southern Sugar Maple and variegated varieties of many of their recommended trees and shrubs for interesting foliage. Plants that provide winter interest with blooms during that sometime dreary stretch include witchazel, honeysuckle lonerica, and camellia. Camellia Japonica blooms in January and February and Sassanqua camellia blooms in the fall. Crape myrtle, a Sandhills favorite for its colorful summer blossoms, also provides interesting bark during the winter.
When asked about the best hollies for this area, Muller and Zihal say they like Yaupon hollies which are native to the area and the best choice for the local landscape. Although holly flowers are insignificant the berries are attractive and a good source of food for the birds.
Muller says that the size of the berry crop in a particular year is dependent on the pollination of the flowers.
"If there is particularly harsh weather when the flowers are blooming it may be too cold for the insects that pollinate them or the flowers themselves may be killed by the cold," she says.
The plants that will be recommended at the workshop do well because they are conditioned to live in sandy soils with less water and have adapted to this environment, Muller explains.
"Sometimes they have thicker leaves that retain moisture better," she says.
She recommends starting with younger, smaller plants when introducing plants to the landscape because they are usually easier to get established. When asked about replacing one plant that has died in a collection of those of similar size she has two suggestions: 1) buy a different variety of plant, or 2) buy a moderate size plant and prune the established plants so there is not such a size difference.
Muller quotes an old Southern saying when asked how long it will take a tree or shrub to grow large enough to take its rightful place in the landscape.
"The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap."
In addition to acquiring lots of plant recommendations, those attending the workshop will come away with information on how to prepare the soil and how to care for their new plants. The speakers will cover water needs and will include an extensive discussion about mulching requirements. Finding the recommended plants should not be a problem.
"There are many, many plants that we could recommend but we suggest only the ones that can be found locally," says Muller.
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