CEU Opportunities

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by Alan Bruhin, Director Sevier County TN Extension.

Continuing education programs are the backbone of a vigorous Master Gardener program

Continuing education programs are the backbone of a vigorous Master Gardener program

For those looking for CEU’s or just some additional training in interesting topics, here is a link to a series of webinars being offered by eXtension.org. Each month a new topic video is posted for you to view. Currently there have been three topics posted that are available for you to view. The next topic to be added will be on Termites and their treatment.


W. Alan Bruhin
University of Tennessee Extension
Sevier County Director
Sevier County Extension Office
752 Old Knoxville Highway 
Sevierville, TN. 37862 

The Teaching Patch – New Beginnings

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Pam Barron – Demo Garden Chairperson.

I was not here when the Demonstration Garden was created in 2013, but I know it got off to a great start with some great Master Gardeners. There were some great ideas and demonstration gardens introduced. But, as with most things, the garden as well as the gardeners, has gotten older and in need of refreshment. 

Therefore, we are in the process of installing a greenhouse and redoing the old beds and introducing some new ones. This process is going to be long, and, dare I say, a little stressful. This is quite an undertaking for us more “mature” gardeners who don’t have the stamina of some younger ones. But I’ve also seen some of these seasoned gardeners at work, and let me tell you, they are up to the task!  

There are going to be a few rough patches getting to our finale, but with everyone’s help and cooperation, we will have a great new Teaching Patch with a lot more opportunities to learn, teach, and accomplish great things. 

The Mountain Ash: Red with Romance

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by Carl Parsons, Tennessee Master Gardener.

Who wouldn’t love a beautiful ornamental tree, not too large or too small, with an abundance of leaves, pure white buds and blossoms in late spring followed by bright red edible berries in the fall, a tree that lives for up to 200 years and has the added (albeit folklorish) benefit of protecting us against evil spirits?

American Mountain Ash, known in Europe as the Rowan tree

Then meet the mountain ash, also known by its more romantic European name, the rowan tree. The first thing to know is that the mountain ash is not an ash tree at all. While the ash is a very large tree, the mountain ash varies greatly in size, according to the growing conditions, but tends to be much smaller (no more than 10 – 20 feet tall) than the towering ash and belongs to a completely different botanical family—namely, the rose! Indeed, the mountain ash is often so small that it is thought to be a shrub instead of a tree. It does, however, have a compound leaf similar to that of the ash (only smaller and with fewer leaflets), which is the apparent source of confusion.

American mountain-ash (Sorbus americanus) in bloom

American mountain-ash (Sorbus americanus) in bloom

The variety of mountain ash that grows in the Smoky Mountains is the American mountain-ash (Sorbus americanus), which is very similar in nearly every respect to its European cousin (Sorbus aucuparia). The berries of both varieties often last through the entire winter into blossom time the next spring and thus provide an important source of food for wildlife, especially birds which play an important role is spreading the indigestible seeds of the mountain-ash. In England the berries, which are inedible raw, are cooked into a jam or combined with apples in a chutney and served with wild game and other meats.

The tree itself is very rugged and adaptable. While it prefers a rich, well-drained soil, it will grow in nearly all soils, including our stubborn East Tennessee red clay, compensating for any lack of nutrition it encounters by simply adjusting its size.

In the British Isles the rowan tree is associated with many aspects of Celtic folklore and Christian traditions. Both Celts and Christians believed that the tree provides those close by with protection against various evils, especially witches. Hence, rowan branches were often fastened to the lintels of cottage windows and doors as well as over barn doors (for witches especially loved the prank of souring cows’ milk). Rowan trees were also planted in cottage and church yards for protection. The fact that rowan trees often grow in mountainous areas was also thought to drive witches from their favorite habitat, although the real reason seems to be that browsing animals, especially deer and elk, love rowan saplings and so devour those growing in the valleys.

Icon of St. Bridget with a cross woven from Rowen stems
Icon of St. Bridget with a cross woven from Rowen stems

During Candlemas (February 2— the traditional midpoint of winter) residents of the English Westlands (Thomas Hardy country) place crosses made of rowan twigs tied with red yarn about their houses to banish the dark of winter and welcome the coming light and warmth of spring. In Ireland the rowan tree is associated with St. Brigid, the patroness of Ireland, whose feast day is February 1st.

The mountain ash lives so long, at least in part, because it has no pests or diseases that assail it. Deer, however, do browse on its leaves—a point to keep in mind if you plan to grow a mountain ash in your yard. Whether for cultural or botanical purposes, the mountain ash is a native tree well worth considering for our own properties, both to add beauty and provide for wildlife.

Sources: http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/mtnash.html https://treesforlife.org.uk/forest/mythologyfolklore/rowan2/ Acknowledgement: First published in Hey, Smokies!, 2017.

Basil Downy Mildew

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Sweet Basil affected by basil downy mildew
Bruce Watt, University of Maine, Bugwood.org

by Colette Mancke, Tennessee Master Gardener.

What is basil downy mildew?
Basil downy mildew is a devastating disease that affects the leaves, branches and stems of many types of basil (ie.,plants in the genus Ocimum) commonly used for cooking. Green-leafed varieties of sweet basil are particularly susceptible to the disease, while purple-leafed varieties of basil, Thai basil, lemon basil and spice basil are less susceptible. Certain ornamental basils (e.g., hoary basil) appear to be highly resistant to the disease. Basil downy mildew was first reported in the US in 2007 and has since spread widely to wherever basil is grown.

What does basil downy mildew look like?

Symptoms of basil downy mildew typically develop first on lower leaves, but eventually an entire plant will show symptoms. Initial symptoms include leaf yellowing (which gardeners often think is due to a nitrogen deficiency) followed by leaf browning. Affected leaves also curl and wilt and on the undersides of the leaves, a gray-purple fuzzy material will develop.

Where does basil downy mildew come from?

Bruce Watt, University of Maine, Bugwood.org 

Basil downy mildew is caused by the fungus-like organism Peronospora belbaharii. This pathogen can be easily introduced into a garden each year via contaminated seed, on infected transplants, or via wind-borne spores. Once introduced into a garden the pathogen can spread by wind, by rain splash, or via items (hands, clothing, garden tools)

How do I avoid problems with basil downy mildew?

Whatever type of basil you choose, try to grow your plants in a manner that will keep them as dry as possible, thus creating an environment that is less favorable for the downy mildew pathogen to develop and infect. Plant basil in a sunny location, space plants as far apart as possible and orient rows in the direction of prevailing winds to promote good airflow and rapid drying of plants when they get wet. Avoid overhead watering.

Lemon Basil

“Lemon Basil” by FarOutFlora is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Use of fungicide treatments to control basil downy mildew IS NOT recommended. This disease also infects cucurbits. To find more information on this topic Cornell University has articles on their Downy mildew research. Or try this site cdm.ipmpipe.org which forecasts the spread of the disease in cucurbits.

Much of this information can be found at the University of Wisconsin -Extension.

Cuttings, Your Pathway to Plant Propagation

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By Roger Simpson

Knowing how to propagate plants from cuttings is one of the most useful skills anyone interested in plants can have.  With it, a gardener gains the ability to grow plants without any cost except time and effort.

The advantages of propagating with cuttings are many:

  • Cuttings are cheap and convenient
  • Large plants are much quicker to get from cuttings than from seeds
  • A cutting reproduces a plant exactly like the parent while many varieties and hybrids vary if raised from seeds
  • Finally, certain plants such as lavender do not readily reproduce from seed

There are several types of cuttings; softwood cuttings, hardwood cuttings, single-eye cuttings, leaf cuttings, and root cuttings.  This article will deal with softwood cuttings, the most common method.

Softwood Cuttings

It is easy to learn how to take softwood cuttings, there are numerous articles on line, and for practical experience, just volunteer to work at the Our People Senior Citizens’ greenhouse in the early spring.  The volunteers there will be glad to show you how, and give you immediate on the job training. 

For best results, take the cuttings when the mother plant is at an intermediate stage of growth in the spring, when the shoots are neither too soft nor too mature.  If the shoot bends without snapping like glass or crushes without bending, then it is in the right condition.  This is usually May or June for outdoors plants, or earlier in the spring for plants in a hot house. If the stem is too mature, it might not root and grow properly.  If the stem is too green and soft, there is a greater chance that it will rot during the rooting process.

The most vigorous shoots are not the best cuttings, side shoots of middling strength cut at their base, root the easiest. The best shoots come from the side of the plant, not the top or the very bottom. If small side-shoots are not available, you can use the tips of longer shoots. The cutting should come from a stem that has not flowered.

Study the plant you wish to propagate. Carnations, for instance, only the side-shoots from the center of the stem make good flowering plants. Do not take cutting from plants that have wilted.  The recommended time for making cuttings is early in the morning.  If the plant shows signs of wilting, water it before taking the cuttings.

Take the cutting off the donor plant from ¼ to ½ inch below a leaf or a pair of leaves.   It is from this part of the stem below the node that roots are most like to grow. Place the cutting into rooting medium as soon as possible and before it wilts.  If this cannot be done immediately, then place the cutting in a damp paper towel; do not put it in water. Also, in the future treatment of the cutting, it is essential that it never be allowed to wilt.

Cuttings are generally 4 to 6 inches long. To make the cut, use a sharp, thin-bladed pocketknife, razor blade, or sharp pruning shears. If necessary, dip the cutting tool in rubbing alcohol or a mixture of 1 part bleach to nine parts water to prevent spreading diseases.

Remove the leaves from the lower one-third to one-half of the cutting (Figure 1). On large-leafed plants, the remaining leaves may be cut in half to reduce water loss and conserve space.

Species difficult to root should be wounded. That is, a small area below the bottom node is scraped or small cuts made into the stem.

There is a debate among gardeners if a rooting compound is needed.  Some people use it while others do not.  If you do use it, prevent possible contamination of the entire supply of rooting hormone by putting some in a separate container before treating the cuttings. Any material that remains after treatment should be discarded and not returned to the original container.

The rooting medium (the soil you put the cutting in) should be sterile, low in fertility, and well-drained. It should retain enough moisture so that frequent watering is not necessary.

Materials commonly used are:

  • Coarse sand
  • A mixture of one part peat and one part vermiculite (by volume)
  • Or one part peat and one part sand (by volume).

Vermiculite by itself is not recommended because it compacts and holds too much moisture. There are plenty of commercial rooting/potting soils available at the garden store. 

Moisten the potting medium before using it. Insert the cutting one-third to one-half its length into the medium. You need to stick them in far enough that they stand straight up. Maintain the vertical orientation of the stem (do not insert the cuttings upside down).  Space cuttings far enough apart to allow all leaves to receive sunlight. Water again after inserting the cuttings. 

If you do not have a green house, the experts always recommended that the cutting container be placed in a plastic bag or that some type of plastic tent be made in order to keep the cutting and rooting soil from drying out.

This is something that was hard for me to understand.  However, at one site, there was a tip on using clear plastic drink cups to cover the growing pot.  The clear plastic drink cup being either slightly larger and fitting over the lip of the growing container or slightly smaller and fitting snugly down inside. The plastic cup creates a mini-greenhouse for the cutting. 

I found a growing container and drink cup that were the same size.  So after placing the cup over the container, I used duct tape to seal the two together.  It worked like a charm. Just remember to make a drain hole in the growing pot.

A Styrofoam cup covered with a clear plastic cup make a great green house to start cuttings.
A Styrofoam cup covered with a clear plastic cup make a great green house to start cuttings.

Place cuttings in bright light. NEVER PLACE NEW CUTTINGS IN THE SUN. They will cook in the plastic. And even if they are not in plastic, they should be placed in a bright shady area.  For this spot, I choose an area under my deck away from the direct sun. Check the plants every day or so, but do not water again until top of soil begins to feel slightly dry. Over watering will cause cuttings to rot. Depending on the plant, the cuttings could root in 2-3 weeks. Some cuttings root in as little as one week.

If a tug on the cutting resists the pull, it is rooting. If the slip pulls out easily, then it has not rooted.  Also, some plants are slower to root.  Hydrangeas are notably slow, taking up to two months.   Once the plant resists being pulled, and is rooted, it can be taken out of the protective container. Depending on the type of plant you have rooted, You can transplant the rooted cutting at once, in the fall, or you might need to over winter the it.

For plants that need it, getting cuttings through the over wintering process without a greenhouse is the trickiest part. Starting new cuttings in late spring or early summer will give them the best chance for surviving the winter.  For plants that require over wintering, here are some suggestions:

Experts recommend sinking pots of cuttings into the ground and covering them well with lightweight mulch, or placing smaller pots of cuttings next to a foundation and covering them with large clay pots for the winter. While some people manage to take cuttings through the winter indoors, this also has its drawbacks.  Not being an expert, I choose bringing my pots inside for the winter.

The plastic cup covers worked very well for me.  So my plants would receive bright, but indirect light, I placed the tray of cuttings under my deck close to the house foundation. 

“Mistakes I made”, or how “I Kill My Own Plants”

Out of the tray of cuttings, several cuttings did become soft and then rot.  I realized that the plants, which had spoiled, came more often from the side of the tray facing the wall. Next time I make cuttings, I will switch the orientation of the tray from time to time so each plant gets equal light.

The last cuttings I made were for a hydrangea, and they had to be over wintered.  I decided to bring them in side the basement when the temperature went below freezing. However, I made a mistake and they were left outside below freezing.  This did not kill all the plants, just some of them, but it did damage them all in some way. So always err on the side of bringing in or otherwise preparing the plants for winter sooner rather than later.

Once my plants were inside, I damaged them in another way. I would visibly check my plants as I walked by.  However when I physically checked them, I discovered that several of my best cuttings had dried completely out. I have over wintered lavender before and it was not this sensitive. 

Making the cuttings and rooting of a plant is relatively easy, but know the requirements of the plant you are rooting, and make your decisions based on this.

Once the technique plant propagation is acquired, it enables the gardener to fill a landscape with plants identical to ones which have already thrived there.


A month after being taken these Hydrangea cuttings are healthy, but  still not rooted.

A month after I took the cuttings, these Hydrangea are thriving and healthy. However, I can still slip the cuttings out easily which means they have not developed roots yet and are not ready for transplanting.

The following spring, this Hydrangea  plant is ready for planting.

After I overwintered this hydrangea plant, it is ready to be transplanted to its permanent location/

“The Case of the Callery Pear.”

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Callery Pear Tree
Callery Pear

By Carl Parsons

With this post, the Sevier County Master Gardeners who man the SCAMGA Ask a Master Gardener Hot Line are introducing a series of articles based on some of the most interesting calls we receive. We begin with “The Case of the Callery Pear.”

Client’s Problem

Late last summer a client visited the Extension Office with a sample—branches cut from a small, shrub-like tree that he found on a vacant property he owned and wished to clear for development. “What are these?” he wanted to know. “They’re growing in a dense thicket on my property, and I need to get rid of them. And worst of all, they have sharp thorns on them.”

I removed the branch from the plastic bag with some difficulty for indeed it had numerous three inch long thorns that were exceedingly sharp and ripped the sides of the bag. But one look at the leaves identified the problem: Bradford pears gone wild!

Bradford Pear

The Bradford Pear

When the USDA first introduced the Bradford pear in 1961, it was billed as the perfect tree—shapely, not too large, fast growing, and filled with white flowers in the early spring (never mind that they stink!)—a graceful tree that could be planted in yards and parks and along city streets. Also it was sterile, unlike the tree from which it was developed—the odious Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana).

The USDA even convinced Lady Bird Johnson to assist in a ceremonial planting of a Bradford at the agency’s offices in Washington, D.C. (I’ll bet it’s not there now!)
Growers and landscapers across the country quickly followed the USDA’s guidance and so began planting the trees everywhere. At first, the Bradfords were very impressive (as long as you held your nose in the spring). But as the trees started to age two problems developed.

The Bradford Pear – Unintended Consequences

First, the tree’s exceptionally soft wood could not support the weight of its branches, which had been trained to fork in order to achieve and maintain the tree’s nearly perfect round shape. At the forks of its branches the tree’s soft wood eventually split. The bark opened up, water collected, rot began, and soon wind brought the branch down—and not a small branch like the ones we collect under maple trees. The Bradford’s broken branches might constitute as much as half the tree.

Second, the Bradfords are NOT always sterile, as the USDA claimed. Their lovely white (smelly) flowers sometimes produce a small hard fruit that animals carry away, eat, and effectively plant elsewhere. The resulting saplings are not Bradfords any longer, but the prolific, invasive, thorny pest that the USDA thought it had tamed— namely, the Callery pear. This is exactly what my client had found on his property, a dense thorny thicket of Callery pears.


So now what? The solution is straight-forward. Instead of “plant and enjoy,” as we were told to do with the Bradford, now we must CUT AND KILL the Callery. Yes, the solution is that simple: Cut them down AND kill them by painting the stumps with glyphosate concentrate (53.8% solution). Cutting alone will simply prompt the Callery to send up more saplings and produce an even denser thicket.
PS: Be sure to follow the safety precautions on the container label when using glyphosate.

PPS: This fall, as I was cleaning up my pollinator garden, I found among the remnants of the cosmos and zinnias—a Callery pear!


https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/ howto/mapping/invexse/bradfor.html

www.dallasnews.com/life/ gardening/2018/03/21/nasty- çbradfordpear-trees-come-popular

Night Blooming Cereus

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Casey Berg

Night Blooming Cereus
Night Blooming Cereus

I love all the flowers and plants on my porch but one of the most fascinating and beautiful blooms I have ever seen comes at night on a Night Blooming Cereus. I try my best to share with friends this phenomenon but they usually think I am crazy when I call at midnight and ask them to come over! (Jon Damron, a Master Gardener friend was this year’s winner! AND he actually came!) Cheryl Griffin, a master gardener who joined our group after moving from Florida, gave this plant to me. She passed away from cancer since and every time I see and smell those wonderful flowers….I think of her.

“Night Blooming Cereus is a cactus that is native to Arizona and the Sonora Desert. Admirers grow this cactus variety as a houseplant in all but the hottest regions of the United States. The Cereus cactus is a tall climbing cactus that may approach 10 feet tall. The cactus is three ribbed and has spines along green to yellow stems. The plant is a rather untidy jumble of limbs and requires manicuring to keep it in habit. The plants can actually
be trained to a trellis in Arizona and other suitable climates. ” *

“It will not begin to flower until it is four or five years old and will begin with just a couple of flowers. The incidence of blooms will increase as the plant grows older. The flower is breathtaking at almost 7 inches across and produces a heavenly scent.” *

“The bloom will only open at night and a moth is its pollinator. The Cereus flower is a large white flower born off the tops of the stems. It will close and wither in the morning but if it was pollinated the plant produces large juicy red fruit. The flowers usually begin to bloom at 9 or 10 p.m. and are fully open by midnight. The first rays of the sun will see the petals droop and die.” *

Night Blooming Cereus Care

“Grow a night blooming Cereus in bright sunshine where temperatures are toasty. The plant has extreme heat tolerance and can handle temperatures over 100 F. (38 C.) with light shade. Grow potted plants in a cactus mix or gritty soil with excellent drainage. Fertilize the plant in spring with a diluted houseplant food. The limbs can get unruly, but you can trim them without hurting the cactus. Save the cut ends and plant them to create more of the Cereus night blooming cactus. Bring your cactus outdoors in summer but do not forget to bring it in when temperatures begin to drop.”*

Reference: * https://www.gardeningknowhow.com


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Black cutworms can wreak havoc on your garden, so learn these tips for identification and control.
GrowVeg.com/Sam Droege on Flickr Creative Commons

Have you ever put out your transplants and the
very next day you go out to check on them and
they are mowed down by some unseen creature?
It’s something all gardeners face one time or another.
Here is the culprit: Cutworms . They are
plump, smooth-skinned, greasy- looking caterpillars
up to one inch long and they often are found
curled up at the base of your now defunct plant.
Young transplants may be cut down at the ground
level or branches may be removed from larger
plants. Even some damage to small tomato fruits
may occur on older plants.
What to do: Physical barriers such as aluminum
foil wrapped around a 4 inch length of the stem
between leaves and the roots may be used to protect
newly set transplants. Baits, sprays or recommended
insecticides may be needed. Avoid planting
tomatoes in soil that recently was in grass or
sod. Do not allow the soil to touch the uncovered
stem above the foil.

Nasturtiums in cutworm collar (toilet paper tube). Heide Veronica

Another organic solution is to use the cardboard
tubes from toilet paper or paper towels. If
using paper towel tubes, cut them in half. Unravel
the tube and then insert it into the soil a few inches
around the transplant while making it into a tube again.
It doesn’t need to touch the plant like the aluminum foil and it will decay into the soil
over time.

Pre-plant insecticides can also be used such
as a single application of 0.115 percent bifenthrin
(High Yield Vegetable and Ornamental Insect
Granule or Heavy weight Multi Insect and Fire Ant
Killer) applied just prior to planting or after plants
emerge and worked into the top 4-6 inches of soil
may protect seedlings from cutworms, wireworms,
fire-ants and other soil insects. Use one
pound of product for a 500 square foot area. Always
read the label for complete details. Or you
can use permethrin 0.25 percent and apply according
to label. But with this product do not apply
more than 5 times a season.

Find more information at extension.
PB595.pdf titled 'You can Control Garden Insects
298" (available only online)

Colette Mancke, AMG Team Member

New Web-only UT Soil and Potting Mix Test Report Publications

Two new web-only publications are available on the UT Extension publications site:

W 804-A Getting the Most Out of Your Home Vegetable Garden Soil Test Report

W 804-B Getting the Most Out of Your Raised Bed or Potting Mix Test Report

For more information about these publications, contact Natalie Bumgarner in the Dept. of Plant Sciences.