Essential Spring Care for Wilmington, NC Lawns

Lawns across the southeast are waking up – some have already started to break their dormancy and send up new growth.

Although it is always nice to see spring green, this early warm snap is a little misleading; it will be several weeks before turf grass in Wilmington, NC will be fully active.

A few spring chores are needed to keep lawns looking their best. Here at Wrightsville Beach Landscaping, we have finished treating our clients’ lawns with a pre-emergent herbicide to catch pesky weeds before they appear. This will help keep down the growth of summer weeds, and along with spot-treatment at a later date, will keep lawns looking their best throughout the warm weather months.

Don’t be too concerned if your neighbor’s grass has turned green before yours – different varieties of grass will come out of dormancy at different times. It’s also best to wait to fertilize until the threat of colder weather has passed – not for several more weeks. If fertilizer is applied to turf too early and causes the grass to push out new growth only to be damaged by cold, it can spell trouble for the entire season.

Lawn care in the southeast has its own set of rules. We enjoy a long warm season during which grasses thrive, but lingering cool weather can wreak havoc on the grasses that are most prevalent in this area. In the coming weeks, our team will be on the lookout for a few fungal diseases, notably large-patch fungus. This particular disease shows up during periods of high humidity and cool nights, and appears in a circular spreading pattern. It needs to be treated as soon as possible to maintain lawn health and attractiveness.

We pay close attention to our clients’ lawns during this transition period, and adjust our treatment and fertilization schedule to best match what the weather gives us. The timing and application rates of fertilizer and other turf chemicals are so important to maintaining a healthy, beautiful lawn, and that’s our goal for each customer. Hey, we think watching grass grow is actually pretty exciting.

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Five Gorgeous Spring Plants

Add these gorgeous spring plants to your landscape for a colorful show.

Coastal North Carolina has a stunning springtime. It may not last for long or show up when you think it will, but when the azaleas burst out in a riot of color and daffodils pop up seemingly overnight, it is a beautiful and welcome sight.

Many of us want to enjoy color in the landscape year-round, and we’re lucky to live in a place that makes that possible – a few flowers can be relied on to bloom throughout the winter, and plenty more thrive at the barest hint of warm weather. Camellias are show-stopping shrubs and different varieties will put out blooms from early fall to spring in reds, pinks and whites.

There are a few trees, shrubs and flowers that are quintessential to spring. Here are five of our favorites:

    Bridal Wreath or Baby’s Breath Spirea (S. prunifolia and S. thunbergii ):

Spring Plant: Bridal-Wreath
These graceful, arching shrubs produce abundant white blossoms on arching canes. They grow from five to ten feet wide, and can make a nice addition to a perennial garden or as a specimen plant. They’re an old fashioned plant that will bloom for years without much fuss.

    Snowball Viburnum (Viburnum macrocephalum ‘Sterile’):

Like hydrangeas? Snowball viburnum produces a similarly shaped flower, starting off a pale green and opening to pure white. In our area, it is evergreen, and often blooms in late fall and again in the early spring. It’s a larger-sized shrub, so it needs some room to grow with afternoon shade and slightly acidic soil for best results.

    Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana):

This popular small- to medium-sized tree brightens up early spring with its candy pink blooms that are 5-10 inches in diameter. The leaves are a leathery dark green and contrast well with its silvery bark. The saucer magnolia will grow to 25′ feet or more, and makes a great addition to the landscape.

    Tulips (Tulipa spp.)

Spring Plants: Tulips
Many of spring’s flashiest flowers come from bulbs, resting quietly through the winter and emerging when the weather turns warmer and the days start to lengthen. Tulips are among the most popular of these. And although tulips are best treated as an annual in the Southeast, they are a beautiful garden addition for those willing to give them the proper coddling. Many bulb suppliers also sell varieties that are specially suited for the South.

    Azaleas (Rhododendron spp.)

Of course these staples would be on our list, as they light up this area every year with candy-colored red, pink and white blooms. Azaleas thrive in well-drained, acidic soil with dappled sunlight. They look great in their natural form, with just a bit of pruning needed to keep them healthy and full.

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Renovation Pruning – renew your landscape

Does your yard have plants that have outgrown their space or intended purpose? Have shrubs that were planted for privacy thinned out over time?

Instead of tearing the plant or plants out and starting over, another option would be rejuvenation pruning – the practice of cutting a plant back significantly to promote profuse new growth. This results in thicker, healthier plants that are more attractive in the long-term.

Renovation Pruning Pic 1

This wax myrtle hedge at a commercial property was overgrown and pushing into the canopies of the trees. Renovation allowed for more space between the trees and hedges and opened up the look of the landscape.

Many of the woody ornamental shrubs that are common in this area are great candidates for this type of pruning: pittosporum, azaleas, ligustrum, as well as other species can all benefit from rejuvination pruning. Pruning of this nature involves indentifying the desired size of the plant, and selectively pruning branches below that level. In doing so, the plant has space to re-flush back to the desired size. Using hand pruners or saws, cuts are made near new buds and/or stem junctions to help stimulate their growth and minimize deadwood. It is important to make clean, even cuts that heal well and help prevent disease from entering the plant. This process activates buds lower on the plant so that there is new growth near the base as well.

The best time to renovate plants is when they are dormant, before warm spring weather promotes new growth. In the Wilmington area, that means late March through April.

If you have plants that could benefit from renovation pruning or if you’d like to make other refreshers to your landscape this spring, contact us at 910-256-6345.

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Pruning Crepe Myrtles

Crepe myrtles are one of the most popular landscape plants of the south. They tolerate heat, humidity, and drought without any problems and range in size from dwarf varieties of less than 3 feet tall to large trees-like plants that can reach heights of up to 30 feet.

These southern beauties are prized for their year-round appeal and have something new to offer in each season. Crepe myrtles provide a long summer of blooms in beautiful colors, earning them the title of the “plant with the 100 day bloom.” In the fall, their bright green leaves change into vibrant fall reds, oranges, and yellows. During the winter, their unique peeling bark and branch structure can be a beautiful place to hang holiday lights and decorations.

The most controversial aspect of caring for crepe myrtles is how to prune them. The goal in pruning should be to maintain the health of the plants by achieving well-spaced main branches which allow air and sunlight to the interior of the plant. Crepe myrtles bloom on new growth, so the best time to prune is always in late winter or very early spring. Pruning at this time is best for the health of the plant, and may increase blooms in the spring and throughout the summer.

From year to year, crepe myrtles are usually low-maintenance plants. They only require basic pruning to keep them blooming and well-shaped. The best method usually involves starting from the bottom and working upwards: begin by removing any branches originating from or near the base, and any growing inward towards the center of the tree. Next, eliminate any branches that are crossing or rubbing against one another, and trim off dead branches. Finally, any limbs which detract from the overall appearance of the plant can be removed.

It is important to note that there IS a wrong way to prune crepe myrtles, and it is called topping or “crepe murder.” This silly nickname originates from the “murderous” appearance caused by the severe pruning process called topping. Many people believe that topping their crepe myrtles is the best way to promote flowering, but this is a common misconception. Topping plants in this aggressive manner may make them more susceptible to disease and pests, and may reduce flowering in the next season. Any arborist will tell you that cutting stems back to a predetermined height is not healthy for the tree – crepe myrtles should always be pruned back to a bud, a side branch, or a main stem. A crepe myrtle that has been topped also develops thinner and weaker branches in future seasons and may be unable to support the weight of its blooms. If you do have to control the height of the plant, pruning the branches back to a diameter roughly the same size as your thumb or smaller will not result in a “knee”- unsightly scarred and swollen terminal end of the branch that is created by “topping” cutting the plant back too far.

Crepe myrtles are also often topped after a few years of neglecting pruning altogether. These plants are healthiest when pruned regularly and consistently each year! Regular pruning helps to maintain shape and brand health, and also increases the number of new blooms in the spring and summer. Please allow Wrightsville Beach Landscaping to assist you in maintaining your crepe myrtles from year to year!

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How to Care for Winter Annuals

After your pansies, violets, snapdragons, mums, or ornamental vegetables are planted for winter, it is critical that they are properly cared for to ensure they will remain beautiful until spring!

As mentioned in our last post, pansies are the “king” of winter annuals, but violas belong to the same genus and therefore the two require similar care. The earlier pansies and violas are planted, the more established their root systems will be, which is the key factor in their winter hardiness. To keep these flowers blooming well throughout the season, regular application of fertilizer is recommended. These flowers are putting out lots of blooms and will thrive when given fertilizer as often as every two weeks. Steady drainage and at least partial sun are also necessary, as these plants are more susceptible to fungal diseases and insect pests when soil is not able to drain or dry properly, particularly after snow or ice accumulation. Weekly deadheading is also a great practice for pansies and violas; pinching off any dead or fading blooms will encourage new blooms.

Snapdragons are shorter-lived winter annuals that grow best during cool seasons. In our area, snapdragons put on a show in the fall, lay dormant throughout the winter and them bloom beautifully again in the spring. They enjoy full to partial sun in areas with exceptional drainage. After snapdragons bloom and begin to fade, it is best to remove the fading flowers where they are attached to the stalk. After most of the flowers have faded, snapdragons should be cut back dramatically, which is called “hard pruning.” Deadheading and hard pruning snapdragons will stimulate the plant to produce more flowers.

Caring for mums (chrysanthemums) during the winter begins with the decision of where to plant them. Mums thrive when they are planted in a location sheltered from harsh winter winds and in areas with satisfactory drainage. Mums often die due to ice forming around their roots (due to poor soil drainage) rather than just cold weather itself. After a few frosts, mums’ blooms and leaves will die back, so it is necessary that their stems are cut back to 3-4 inches above the ground. After cutting the mums back, it is best to add a new layer of heavy mulch to help insulate the ground around the plants.

Using .ornamental kale and cabbage is a new trend in winter gardening and these plants thrive when planted after nighttime temperatures fall below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. They enjoy regular watering but only with adequate drainage. It is important to keep an eye out for eggs, larvae, or caterpillars on the underside of kale and cabbage leaves, as damage from these pests can occur rapidly. Pesticide treatment is a simple remedy as long as the pests are found early. However, after a few hard frosts insects are usually not a problem.

For more information regarding the care or maintenance of winter annual plants, contact Wrightsville Beach Landscaping at (910) 256-6345 with any questions or to set up an appointment.

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Winter Annual Beds

Cool-season gardening is an increasingly popular way to add new life and color to your existing flower beds. As temperatures fall, perennials and summer annuals fade away, offering the perfect opportunity to add winter annuals such as pansies, violas, snapdragons, mums, and ornamental vegetables to your yard. Plant them in the fall to enjoy their blooms throughout the winter and into early spring!

Pansies are the “king” of winter annuals, as they will continue to flower even when temperatures drop into the lower 20os. Their colors range from yellows, golds, oranges, and reds to bright whites or deep purples. The blooms are typically two or three inches in diameter and some are said to have “faces” due to their unique coloration pattern.

Violas and pansies belong to the same genus, but differ slightly. Violas offer smaller, but more numerous, flowers than pansies and can tolerate a shadier spot while still blooming profusely. Violas come in a wide variety of colors, including white, yellow, lavender, blue, pink and multiple colors in one plant.

Snapdragons are a fragrant winter annual option and vary widely in height, some staying as short as eight inches while others can reach up to three feet tall! These unique beauties feature spiked stalks with bright blooms on top, which are perfect for cutting and placing in a vase indoors. Snapdragons prefer full to partial sun and require exceptional drainage to stay healthy and continue blooming into spring.

Another go-to fall flower is the chrysanthemum, usually just called “mums.” They offer bright yellow, orange, and red blooms, which are perfect colors for fall. Mums are also great container plants, meaning they grow well in window boxes, hanging planters, or clay pots. They prefer areas that get at least six hours of sun each day, and also require adequate drainage to thrive. Sadly, mums usually do not withstand winter weather, and will die after the first frost.

One interesting trend in winter annual planting is the addition of ornamental vegetables and herbs to your garden and better yet your containers! Ornamental kales and cabbages are the most popular, as their leaves are distinctly colored – deep green around the stems with purple, rose, or white edges – and have various textures in stems and leaves and heights. While neither of these vegetables produce flowers in the winter, the colors intensify as the weather cools, making fall the perfect time to plant them! They usually reach heights of around twelve inches and perform well in both winter beds and planters, especially large planters.

Wrightsville Beach Landscaping’s floriculture team specializes in design, installation, and maintenance of beds and containers of winter annuals that will offer you and your family enjoyment through the winter and into the beginning of spring! Contact us at (910) 256-6345 with any questions or to set up an appointment.

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Proper pruning of azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, and oleanders

When it comes to caring for the small trees and shrubs in your landscape, pruning is crucial! In addition to shaping the plant and removing dead or damaged branches, pruning can be used to control the size of the plant, promote flowering, and allow more light and air to circulate within the plant, improving its overall health. Timing is the key factor in pruning plants, as the act of pruning can be stressful on the plant. Pruning at an improper time can cause damage and prevent the plant from thriving or flowering in the next season.

Azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, and oleanders are just a few common North Carolina plants which must be pruned at specific times in order to thrive. The proper time to prune these shrubs depends on when they bloom, how new buds are formed, and the desired outcome from the prune.

Withstanding native azaleas, Asian azaleas, which go by many names including Coral Bells, Hino Crimsons, Formosas, and George Tabers do well in this area. These bloom in a variety of colors including bright red, pink, purple, and white. The proper time to prune these vibrant plants is within three weeks of their major bloom, which occurs in the spring. The absolute latest time to prune is the end of June. If you wait to prune until the fall, you risk removing flower buds, as azaleas form buds on old wood rather than new plant growth. If you wish to reduce the size of the bush after June, it is recommended that you only remove the tallest branches, as any other removal will result in fewer blooms next season. In addition to traditional Asian and native Azaleas, Encore™ azaleas provide multiple blooming events throughout the year, as opposed to just once in the spring. Prune these for shape and or health immediately after a flowering event in spring and summer.

Camellias, an absolute jewel of the southern landscape, provide a kaleidoscope of colors from fall to springtime. The best time to prune Camellias is in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. With that said, Camellias require very little pruning unless a specific shape or size is desired. When pruning, make sure to cut just above a healthy looking node. Cutting the branches here will force three or four new buds to form, resulting in a fuller plant next season. It is important to thin out dead or diseased branches to maintain plant health.

Hydrangeas should also be pruned following their major bloom, but when this occurs (between spring or the end of summer) depends on the the species of hydrangea. For the most part, hydrangeas that bloom on old wood, such as mop heads, lace caps, and oak leafs, should not be pruned after July because you run the risk of removing next year’s blooms. If you wish to drastically reduce the size of your hydrangeas, they are able to withstand – and sometimes require – severe prunings every few years, as they grow larger and larger each year. For species that bud on new wood, such as limelight hydrangeas, pruning is best done in very early spring, once the threat of frost is gone.

Of the plants named in this post, oleanders require the least pruning maintenance. Generally, oleanders do not need regular pruning unless you wish to shape the plant or reduce its size. If this is the case, pruning should be done immediately after flowering, or at least by the end of August or early September. This is necessary to give any new growth sufficient time to harden before the first frost of the winter. Spring pruning may also be required to remove any dead/diseased plant material. With that said, beware that all parts of the oleander plant are poisonous – keep the trimmings away from pets or small children who may decide to have a taste.

Wrightsville Beach Landscaping offers year-round maintenance or seasonal contracts for your outdoor needs in every season. For questions or more information about our services, contact us at (910) 256-6345.

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A Poisonous Caterpillar in Wilmington, NC?

Photo of Puss Caterpillar by Wrightsville Beach LandscapingThe Puss Caterpillar, the most poisonous caterpillar in the United States, has been spotted by the Wrightsville Beach Landscaping crew! They are the larval form of the Southern Flannel Moth, but are also known as tree asps, asp caterpillars, or Trump’s Toupee caterpillars. Their silly name comes from their furry appearance, as many people think their “fur,” which are actually venomous spines, resemble the softness of a household cat’s fur. The “Trump’s Toupee” nickname is a result of some people comparing their appearance to Donald Trump’s hair.

Children are often injured after petting these dangerous caterpillars because they appear to be soft and harmless, but they also can fall from trees onto unsuspecting individuals. The sting which results from contact with the caterpillar’s venomous spines can be compared to a bee sting, but more painful. Reactions can be very severe, ranging from a burning sensation and swelling to nausea, headache, rashes, blisters, numbness, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.

The reaction to a sting usually depends on where you are stung and how many spines remain stuck in your skin. Because of this, it is recommended that the spines be removed by applying cellophane tape to the area and then ripping it away, hopefully removing the spines from the skin. If a sting is severe or a reaction occurs, it is important to seek medical attention as quickly as possible.

The Puss Caterpillar lives along the east coast from Florida to New Jersey, and are sometimes found in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. Keep an eye out for them in your yard and avoid them at all costs!

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Turf Armyworms and Webworms

The staff at Wrightsville Beach Landscaping has noticed an increased presence of Sod Webworms in St. Augustine grasses and Armyworms in Bermuda grasses this season. Typically, a normal turf insecticide program would suffice to eliminate these pesky lawn-destroyers, but due to a prolonged and especially hot summer this year, there is increased potential for damage.

Evidence of the worms is fairly easy to spot in both St. Augustine and Bermuda grasses because it looks unusual. One telltale sign is damage that seems to appear overnight. Damaged lawns have large circular areas that can appear brown or diseased, but closer inspection of the blades will show evidence of chewing or ragged edges. Webworms leave trails of web left behind from where they crawled through the St. Augustine grass. It is usually easiest to see evidence of the webs in the morning dew, as Sod Webworms prefer to feed at night. Armyworms prefer to feed midday, so increased presence of birds feeding on your lawn (the worms) are another sign to watch out for.

The worms are usually only an inch or two long, and light green, tan, or grayish-green with spots or stripes. Small moths are responsible for laying the eggs which hatch into the grass-eating worms. The moths themselves do not damage the turf, but once their eggs hatch, the larvae (worms) will immediately begin feeding upon the turf.

The typical course of treatment includes more intensive or frequent rounds of insecticide, but our chemical specialists can determine the exact treatment necessary to rid your turf of these damaging pests. It is important to catch evidence of the worms early in order to prevent as much damage as possible, but your lawn will immediately begin to recover once the worms are eliminated from the turf.

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Getting Ready for Fall

Thousands of students headed back to school or classes this week, marking the unofficial start to fall. Even though we are still experiencing ninety degree days and high humidity here in Wilmington, it is never too early to start planning the seasonal changes necessary to maintain the beauty of your landscape. Setting up your lawn, trees, and plants for success means they will be healthier and more enjoyable come spring.

In the fall, it is best to perform preventative maintenance such as applying a pre-emergent herbicide, adding new ground cover like mulch and straw and treating for large patch fungus in grass. Applying a pre-emergent herbicide prevents germination of the seeds of new weeds without affecting the established plants. In the Wilmington area, it is particularly important to prevent the growth of poa annua, a widespread and low-growing turf weed that thrives in our temperate climate.

With the onset of cooler temperatures, adding mulch or straw to garden areas can help protect sensitive plants. Ground covers act as insulators to protect plants’ roots from winter cold or frost and keep soil temperatures consistent when the weather fluctuates. It is also important to routinely rake or blow the leaves from your lawn, as a heavy layer of leaves, especially ones that become wet or frozen, can suffocate your plants or the lawn beneath them.

Cool nights and higher humidity are the perfect recipe for large patch fungus growth in grasses. Large patch fungus is one of the most common diseases of turfgrasses, and is characterized by the develop of large circular or irregularly shaped patches of browning grass. While the fungus does not usually kill the grass, it causes rot at the bases and results in unsightly thinned areas which are highly susceptible to weeds. To minimize damage, areas should be sprayed as soon as activity is noticed.

As leaves begin to fall, conditions for pruning trees and larger shrubs are ideal, because fewer leaves allows for better visualization of limb structures. Fall’s cooler temperatures are also perfect for planting new trees, as root systems have time to develop and become established before winter’s first frost.

Wrightsville Beach Landscaping offers year-round maintenance or seasonal contracts for your outdoor needs in every season. From new plantings and seeding to aeration or pruning, we will work with you to create a plan that will fit your exact needs. For questions or more information about our services, contact us at (910) 256-6345.

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“...pleased and impressed by such a fine landscape company as WBL, Provide first class service, superior quality, fair price, I highly regard them as truly the best for all your landscape needs.”

Phil Barker - Homeowner & Builder

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