Gardening Q & A

— Written By and last updated by

Time continues to fly. With the sweet potatoes dug, the last of the bush beans canned, and the final muscadines coming off of the vine we are shifting gears in the garden. Hopefully you have planted some cool season greens like kale, collards, Swiss chard, lettuce, and beets to name a few. With the right management and some row covering when temps drop below 20 F, you can enjoy fresh salads from your garden all winter. This is a great time to plant a cover crop. I like crimson clover because it fixes nitrogen, looks beautiful when it blooms, attracts pollinators, and it is easy to cut and till in. We have had some great questions come to the extension office this week. Here are a couple of examples:

Q: With my garden work slowing down, could I catch up on some of the trees and shrubs that need pruning?

A: With few exceptions (you can prune hydrangeas after they flower but don’t wait too long), we do not recommend pruning woody plants after July 4. Here’s why: Pruning branches sets off a series of chemical reactions in a plant that result in an increase of new growth. That new growth will not have enough time to mature before cold weather. The immature tissue is easily damaged by cold and when there is a warming period it can become infected. That infection can spread.

Q: I have been told that soils in Catawba County are acidic and always need more lime. Is that true?

A: Liming soils is like adding oil to your car’s engine. Do you ever just pop the hood and start adding oil? Hopefully you are shaking your head ‘no.’  What do you do before adding oil? You have to check the dipstick. If your engine doesn’t need oil, adding more will cause problems. Lime is the same. Before adding lime you need to take a soil sample and send it to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Raleigh for analysis. That test is free from April 1 until Nov 30; any other time the test is $4 per sample.

The ideal pH for lawn or garden is 6.2 to 6.5. If you get above a pH of 7.0 there are some micronutrients like iron, zinc, manganese, and others that become much less available to the plant. Micronutrient deficiencies can cause poor growth and susceptibility to disease and pests. I have seen some soils testing at 8.2! That is a big problem and it was caused by adding lime every season without taking a soil sample and analysis.

Call the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Catawba County office at 828-465-8240 or stop by for soil sample boxes and guidance in how to take the soil sample and interpret the results.