Sussex Master Gardener workshops feature hostas, insect safari

August 7, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

Fritillary Butterfly in the GardenSussex County Master Gardeners will offer two workshops in August. On Tuesday, Aug. 13 at 1 p.m., Master Gardener Vickie Thompson will conduct a workshop on hostas.  Learn about these easy-to-grow, shade-loving perennials known for their beautiful foliage.  See examples of several different colors, sizes and leaf styles. Also, become familiar with the many uses for this plant in containers and in the landscape. There will be information on how to plant and care for hostas and what to do when insects or disease attack.

Grownups, kids and grandkids will enjoy the workshop scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 22 at 10 a.m., entitled “You Just Have To Look for Butterflies and Other Interesting Creatures in the Garden.”  A lively presentation and a storyteller will lead up to a jungle safari through the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden. Bring the children or come by yourself.

Both workshops will be held at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown, Del. Participants must pre-register by contacting Tammy Schirmer at 302-856-2585, ext 544.

These workshops are free. Come early or stay late to enjoy the Demonstration Garden behind the building.

For more information on gardening in Delaware, visit Cooperative Extension’s Lawn and Garden website.

Master Gardeners are working volunteers and are supported by Delaware Cooperative Extension through the University of Delaware and Delaware State University Extension offices. It is Delaware Cooperative Extension’s policy that that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran or handicap status. If you have special needs that need to be accommodated, please contact the office two weeks prior to the event.

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UD Cooperative Extension offers class on pickles

July 25, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

Let's Make Pickles class set for Aug. 22 in DoverAfter conducting food preservation classes on topics like salsas and jams, Kathleen Splane decided to change it up a bit and tackle a new topic — pickles.

“Let’s Make Pickles” is offered through the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Sciences unit and will take place from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 22, at the Paradee Center at 69 Transportation Circle in Dover. The class is open to the public and the cost is $15 and includes all the materials participants need to make their pickles.

For the class, Splane has partnered with the Master Gardeners and the Master Food Educators.

When it comes to canning foods, Splane, Cooperative Extension’s family and consumer science educator for Kent County, said that one of the most important aspects is “encouraging people to know the latest techniques. Sometimes things that grandma did back in 1930 might not be the safest options, so we are really trying to get people on board with the most recent techniques.”

Those techniques are taught in the class, in which Splane discusses all of the sanitation instructions before getting started on the actual process of making pickles.

“We want to be hands-on with them to actually go through the steps of preparing the product from beginning to end,” Splane said. “In the beginning, I teach the principles of canning, the importance of the sanitary conditions and sterilizing the jars and surfaces, and also we go through the differences between hot water bath canning and pressure canning and what products need to be done in what kind of process.”

Once the students learn about the background information, it is on to the pickling. The participants roll up their sleeves and get started, cutting cucumbers, preparing the brine and going through the process of water bath canning for the pickles.

The pickles take a fairly short time to make but Splane explained that participants will have to wait 24 hours to pick up their pickles to make sure that their jars are totally sealed.

The canning itself is not very hard, Splane said, but it can be difficult to wait out the process. “Sometimes, it just takes patience. Patience and waiting for the finished product versus going to buy it at the store.”

To access a registration form for this class or to check out other classes offered by Cooperative Extension, visit the website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Sussex County Master Gardener Open House set

July 2, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

Master Gardeners volunteer time to spruce up the demonstration garden at the Carvel Center in Georgetown before the annual Open House July 13.The Master Gardeners of Sussex County will host their annual Open House in the demonstration gardens behind the Carvel Center at 16483 County Seat Highway (Route 9) in Georgetown on Saturday, July 13, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

There will be activities for children, including a Peter Rabbit puppet show, as well as demonstrations on gardening and related topics. Master Gardeners will be available to answer questions and to provide information about the various sections of the garden that exhibit trees, shrub, perennials, annuals, and vegetables that do well in Delaware. Visit the popular plant sale located in the picnic grove.

The public is invited to stroll through the paths that link special areas — a children’s garden, a sensory garden, an annual/perennial border, a native plant garden, a shade garden and more — or to sit on one of the benches and watch the insects and wildlife interact with the setting.

For children, this year’s highlights include:

  • Insect Safari (come hunting with us for the creatures that live in the back yard). Bring your camera!
  • Meet Mr. and Mrs. Turtle, courtesy of the Delaware Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators and Educators.
  • Participate in a scavenger hunt
  • Scheduled performances of Peter Rabbit and Farmer McGregor

Educational workshop topics include:

  • 10 a.m.  Accessible Gardening. Learn how to Garden Smart, Garden Easy
  • 11 a.m.  What are Invasive Plants and how do you control them?
  • Noon  Insect Safari – children and adults – bring your camera!
  • 1 p.m.  Hostas!

Master Gardeners will also raffle some exciting items! Currently on the list are:

  • Garden gift basket with miscellaneous items
  • Coffee table book donated by Kent County
  • Hypertufa planted with succulents
  • Garden kneeler

Master Gardeners are members of the community who have received extensive training in order to extend the home garden outreach of Delaware Cooperative Extension. Information also is available online. Visit: http://extension.udel.edu/lawngarden/.

It is the policy of the Delaware Cooperative Extension System that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, disability, age or national origin.

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Master Gardener Native Plant Teaching Garden Open House Set for June 11

June 7, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

J.W Wistermayer in the Master Gardeners Native Teaching GardenGardens are teeming with sights, sounds and tactile experiences. They’re meant to be used and enjoyed, not merely gazed at from a distance, says University of Delaware Master Gardener J.W. Wistermayer.

So, even though Wistermayer spends 5 to 10 hours a week tending to the New Castle County Master Gardener Native Plant Teaching Garden, he just chuckles when he sees that the garden’s plant identification tags have been rearranged.

“When tags are out of place, I know it means that kids are getting in here and discovering the garden,” says Wistermayer. “Our garden is next to the university’s Laboratory Preschool and Early Learning Center. At drop-off and pick-up times, kids and parents come look for new blooms, check to see if birds are in the bird boxes, and listen to the wind chimes. There is one particular path through three-foot-high plants that little kids love because they’re surrounded and hidden by all the foliage.”

The Native Plant Teaching Garden gets kids excited about plants and nature but its primary purpose is to promote the use of native plants in home landscapes, whether that landscape is several containers on a city apartment deck or an acre-plus in suburbia.

If you’re stumped about what to do with a spot where nothing grows, or how to jazz up a boring landscape bed, the Native Plant Teaching Garden is the place to go. Located on the grounds of the New Castle County Cooperative office in Newark, the garden features several distinct areas, including a butterfly garden, a rain garden, a meadow, a perennial border, and a foundation landscape planting.

The Master Gardeners also maintain a fruit and vegetable teaching garden, and a compost demonstration site, both of which are located behind the county office.

If you had to sum up the Native Plant Teaching Garden in one word, it would have to be “unexpected.” The garden features a fresh, exciting design that proves without a doubt that “native plant” isn’t synonymous with dull.

The foundation landscape bed, running the length of the county office, is a perfect example of this unexpected nature. While many of us select the same-old pink azaleas or red-blossomed dwarf cherries to line our homes, the Native Plant Teaching Garden’s foundation planting is full of unexpected textures, colors and plant choices. Such as the feathery foliage and steel blue flowers of threadleaf bluestar. Or the brushy blooms of fothergilla, which will sport fiery foliage in fall. There’s nothing formal or structured about either of these native species, yet they work well in this foundation planting.

Another unexpected touch is the green roof on top of the garden arbor. Covered with vegetation, this green roof absorbs water and creates habitat for wildlife. If it was used on a home or business, its insulating effects could lower cooling and heating costs, too.

One of Wistermayer’s favorite spots in the garden is a wooden bench positioned under a river birch. From there, he can hear wind chimes that hang in a nearby maple. Wistermayer often stops by the garden on Sunday to water the plants and ends his work session with a bit of quiet time relaxing on the bench.

The Master Gardeners will be hosting an Open House at the Native Plant Teaching Garden on June 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. They’ll be joined by Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with UD Cooperative Extension, and Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Extension. The Open House is free but pre-registration is necessary. Email Murphy at cjmurphy@udel.edu.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Kent and Sussex Master Gardener taking applications for Class of 2013

May 1, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

The application period is open for Master Gardener training in Kent and Sussex counties. Master Gardeners enjoy gardening, have gardening experience, want to learn more about gardening and have a desire to help others in their community. Following an intensive twelve-week training program with day-time classes alternating between the two county Extension offices, the trainees volunteer a minimum of 45 hours during their first year before becoming official Master Gardeners. Training is held every other year in the fall. Sessions for the Class of 2013 will begin in September (right after Labor Day and will be completed before Thanksgiving).

Master Gardeners are working volunteers and are supported by Delaware Cooperative Extension through the University of Delaware and Delaware State University Extension offices. Master Gardeners are part of a vibrant community of individuals dedicated to growing a greener Delaware, with a more bio-diverse and sustainable environment. They extend the home garden outreach of Delaware Cooperative Extension, staffing garden “hotlines” for much of the year, offering information at events such as community fairs, festivals and farmers’ markets, talking to local civic groups and working with youth groups and schools. Many provide workshops on favorite garden topics and are available through a speakers’ bureau to make presentations for community groups upon request. A dedicated group of puppeteers in Sussex County perform an educational version of “Peter Rabbit” to the delight of children of all age

Tracy Wootten, horticultural agent for Sussex County, said, “Without these wonderful volunteers, Cooperative Extension would not be able to provide the impressive amount of outreach that is being offered to local Delaware communities.”

The training program includes formal lectures, discussion sessions, tours, workshops, and problem-solving sessions. Advanced training opportunities include state, regional and national workshops, lectures at monthly business meetings, special training sessions, and the shared experiences of a group of skilled, experienced gardeners.

The application can be found online at http://extension.udel.edu/lawngarden/master-gardener-volunteer-educators/become-a-master-gardener/

Send completed applications to: Kent County Extension Office, 69 Transportation Circle, Dover, 19901.

All applications must be received by June 1, 2013. Class size is limited. All applicants must attend a reception on June 20, 2013, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Kent County Extension office. If accepted, you will be notified by letter and will receive further information about classes. It is the policy of the Delaware Cooperative Extension System that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, disability, age or national origin. The Delaware Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program is provided in coordination with the University of Delaware and Delaware State University.

For more information, contact Tracy Wootten or Tammy Schirmer in Sussex County, (302) 856-2585, ext. 544 or Maggie Moor-Orth in Kent County, (302) 857-6426, or the University of Delaware Paradee Center Kent County Extension office at (302) 730-4000.

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Master Gardeners say no need to spend lots of green on growing green things

March 26, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Quick, hide the credit cards; spring is here. Even the most budget-conscious gardener can get into trouble now. A trip to the nursery for a flat of plants results in three flats, plus a new spade and pair of garden gloves. A plan to grow tomatoes in containers morphs into a raised bed of pricey redwood. Even a stop at the market for bread and milk brings about a new basket of blooms.

University of Delaware’s Sussex Master Gardeners feel your pain. “We’re garden-a-holics; we have a tough time controlling ourselves in spring,” acknowledges Fran Meehan, a Milton-based Master Gardener.

While they can’t help you with your self-control, the Master Gardeners do have some good advice on saving on gardening expenses.

For starters, get your soil tested, says Tracy Wootten, a horticulture agent with UD Cooperative Extension who oversees the Sussex Master Gardeners. You’ll spend a few bucks for the test but could save in the long run. For example, if you have acidic soil, cabbage and other vegetables won’t do well. You’ll need to fix the problem with limestone or other amendments before planting.

Master Gardeners say no need to spend lots on green thingsMany of the Sussex Master Gardeners save money by starting vegetables from seed. It’s also easy to start flowers from seed, notes Maggie Moor-Orth, a Delaware State University horticulture agent who provides technical assistance to the Master Gardeners.

If you’ve had bad luck starting plants from seed, try using a sterile, soil-less medium, says Moor-Orth. Seeds started in soil can suffer rot because of over-watering or non-sterile conditions.

Save money on your soil-less medium by buying dry mix rather than the wet mix formulation, advises Melora Davis, a New Castle County Master Gardener. “With the wet mix, you’re paying for water,” she notes.

Don’t buy those special (and expensive) plastic trays for starting seeds. Recycle plastic containers you already have; just be sure to punch drainage holes in the bottom. Davis suggests using single-serving coffee pods (such as the K-Cup brand).

Garden accessories are another area where you can economize. Stakes, twine, plant markers and weed fabric can get pricey so the Sussex Master Gardeners are creative recyclers. Cut pieces from an old mini-blind for plant markers, suggests Betty Layton of Greenwood. Pantyhose can be used instead of twine, and T-shirts work well, too. “One year, I grew three-pound watermelons on a trellis and used my husband’s old T-shirt as a sling,” recalls Wootten.

“Some gardeners like to use bamboo for stakes,” she adds. “It’s such an aggressive plant that if your neighbors have any, I’m sure they’d be happy to let you cut some for garden stakes.”

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension, has even seen old golf clubs used to stake vegetable plants at Bellevue State Park’s community garden.

If you’re willing to consider more radical ways to save, get rid of your lawn. That’s what Master Gardener Brent Marsh did about 10 years ago. Ever since, he hasn’t spent a penny on lawn fertilizers, re-seeding bare spots, watering the lawn, lawnmower repair, or gas to run the mower. In place of turf grass, Marsh’s one-acre Georgetown yard is filled with perennials, shrubs and trees.

Even if you remove a portion of your lawn, you could save money.

“If you’re mowing a lot of lawn, you might think about turning part of it into a meadow planted with native grasses and wildflowers,” says Marsh. “You’ll see lots of birds and butterflies, enjoy the sounds of those songbirds and insects, and provide food for baby birds. And you won’t have as much grass to cut.”

Of course, Marsh didn’t go out and buy all those plants that now fill his yard. When a sapling turns up – its seed carried by wind or birds – he allows it to grow. He also propagates his plants by taking cuttings, seeds, and dividing them.

Murphy has been waiting patiently to divide some ornamental grasses that she purchased three years ago. She wanted to hold off until she had good-size divisions to add to a new landscape bed at her North Wilmington home. Those original three plants will become six plants – for the price of just three.

Once you’ve decided to divide your plants, it’s important to divide at the appropriate time of year. Murphy divides her perennials in early spring or later in the fall, depending on when they bloom.

Backyard propagation

May 14, 7 p.m.: Minimize the costs of gardening by reproducing plants in your backyard. New Castle County Cooperative Extension office, Newark. $25. To request a registration form, call 302-831-COOP or download the form online.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Delawareans can takes steps to avoid winter plant damage

February 18, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

native delawarePeople have been whining about the weather recently. We’ve dealt with high wind and rain from a nor’easter that walloped states to the north. We’ve had icy, sleety and snowy mornings — not enough to close schools but enough to be an annoyance. We’ve seen Old Man Winter switch on and off, from artic conditions to spells of warmth.

If plants could whine, they would be whining right along with us. Winter can be a tough time on plants, especially young plants and those that were transplanted this year. Branches can break from ice, snow and wind; leaves can get dried and burnt from salt damage, roots pushed out of the soil from frost heave; and lack of moisture can cause plant tissues to suffer desiccation.

Unfortunately, we’re not out of the woods yet – spring doesn’t officially arrive until March 20. In fact, the waning days of winter can be the trickiest for plants, when it’s common for temperatures to fluctuate wildly from day to day.

You can’t do much to prevent some types of winter plant damage – like salt burn on shrubs by the street. Most road maintenance crews persist in using road salt, not eco-friendly alternatives such as sand or calcium chloride.

But other issues are avoidable, says Carrie Murphy, a University of Delaware horticulture agent. And even when damage occurs, it often can be fixed.

For example, in the case of salt burn, the effects can be minimized by flushing the plants in early spring. Apply two inches of water over a three-hour period and repeat three days later. This will leach much of the salt from the soil.

Avoiding winter damage starts by choosing the right plants for the right place. Think about overall conditions – how much sun, rain, wind and cold your plants will experience. Don’t forget to factor in any specific microclimates within the yard, such as wet spots and windy areas.

“I have chosen plants for my garden that are fully hardy,” says UD Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist Sue Barton. As a result, Barton’s plants don’t need a lot of help in winter. She waters all of her plants thoroughly in the fall, especially if it’s been dry. She also rakes leaves into her landscape beds for a layer of protective mulch. Some years she loosely places evergreen boughs over top tender plants.

Bob Lyons, director of UD’s Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, also is a big fan of mulch and makes sure that his new plantings are covered with a blanket of it before winter winds blow.

If you didn’t mulch in the fall and are worried about young plants, then get out there now – it’s not too late, notes Murphy. Mulching reduces water loss and it also helps to prevent frost heave.

When soil freezes and thaws in rapid succession, shallow-rooted plants can be pushed out of the ground. Mulching decreases frost heave by reducing the amount of alternate freezing and thawing that occurs.

Dick Pelly has been staffing the Master Gardeners’ Garden Line since joining the group in 1999. In winter, he often gets asked what to do about branches that have broken off because of ice, wind or snow.

Pelly recommends removing the broken limbs as soon as conditions are safe and weather permits. Doing so helps the tree or shrub heal faster. Damaged trees are more prone to disease.

Another question that frequently comes up is whether or not to wrap trees in burlap. Although Pelly doesn’t use burlap in his own yard, he says it can be a good way to shield smaller trees, fruit trees and evergreens from cold temperatures and wind. In coastal areas, wrapping a tree can help reduce the damaging effects of salt spray.

Highway crews may use salt, but that doesn’t mean you should use it on your sidewalks and driveway, notes Pelly. Eco-friendly and effective alternatives include sand, ashes and kitty litter.

Learn more

Those with questions about winter plant damage can call the Garden Line in New Castle County at 831-8862. In Kent, call 730-4000, and in Sussex, call 856-2585, ext. 535. A Master Gardener will return your call within 24 hours.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Horticulture experts share secrets for choosing right trees for your landscape

February 13, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Photos of Brandywine Creek State Park and the Brandywine River.At the end of January, the Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH) offered a workshop on choosing the right trees for your landscape. This past Thursday, University of Delaware Master Gardeners presented a session on spring planting. On Feb. 20, the Delaware Nature Society will offer a similar program.

While it might seem like these gung-ho gardeners are rushing spring — after all, it’s only mid-February — Delaware’s plant sale season is already underway.

DCH kicked things off with its bare root tree sale, featuring 10 varieties of low-maintenance, easy-to-grow trees. Orders will be accepted through Feb. 15, with tree pick-up March 20-21. Two other major plant sales – at the UD Botanic Gardens and Delaware Nature Society – take place in April.

“Now’s the time to start making decisions about what to plant this spring,” says Carrie Murphy, a horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension. “It’s important to research your options and choose carefully, especially for trees, such a prominent part of the landscape.”

For starters, don’t fall in love with a particular species and overlook the fact that it may not be right for a site, advises DCH tree program manager Patrice Sheehan, who led the recent tree workshop. For example, the American hophornbeam is one of her all-time favorite trees because of its exfoliating bark and hop-shaped seed that’s gobbled up by many songbirds. But when a workshop participant asked what to plant on a berm, Sheehan never would have thought to suggest this native species.

“American hophornbeams prefer moist soils. A berm gets lots of wind. Couple that with the slope of the site, and the end result is soil that dries out quickly,” she says.

Instead, Sheehan told the gardener to consider the Eastern red cedar. This native can thrive in windy places like berms where other trees can’t. Not only does it put up with high winds but it can tolerate dry and alkaline soils and it lives a long time.

Just like some little puppies grow up to be huge dogs, some little saplings grow up to be humongous trees. Think about whether the tree at its mature size will work well where you want to plant it. Don’t place large trees near overhead utility wires or too close to the house.

Consider not only the mature height of the tree but its canopy spread – how wide it will grow. Oaks have wide canopies, as well as many species of maples. These are great choices if you’re looking for extensive, even shading; not so great if you plant one too close to your property line and branches extend over the neighbor’s fence.

Don’t forget to provide enough room for the tree’s roots – don’t, for example, plant a large tree in a narrow strip of land between a sidewalk and street. “Plan on root growth extending well beyond the spread of the canopy at maturity,” notes Murphy.

Other factors to consider when choosing a tree are its form and shape; soil, sun and moisture requirements; whether it’s coniferous or deciduous; and its growth rate, which usually correlates with the life span. Fast growers have softer wood and usually don’t live very long. Slow growers are hardwoods that tend to live longer. Many gardeners also like to plant species that provide food or shelter for wildlife.

One of Sheehan’s favorite large trees is the Princeton elm, a majestic native with a vase shape and yellow fall color. Although it’s beautiful on the outside, it’s tough on the inside – it’s highly tolerant of pollution and other stressors.

Medium-sized trees that she likes include the black gum, also known as black tupelo, for its reddish fall foliage. For winter interest, her hands-down favorite is the bald cypress, with its peeling, copper-brown bark and tiered, upward-facing branches.

If you see a tree you like while walking or driving in Wilmington but don’t know what you’re looking at, check out the Street Tree Inventory maintained by DCH and the city of Wilmington. It provides a complete inventory of Wilmington’s street trees.

For more information

Order bare-root trees from DCH by Feb. 15. For more information, go to the organization’s website or call 658-6262.

Learn about designing your own landscape at “Dig In at DEEC” Feb. 20 at the DuPont Environmental Education Center in Wilmington. Call 239-2334 to register.

DCH will hold a free “How to Plant Your Bare-Root Tree” workshop on March 20. To register, call 658-6262.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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University of Delaware New Castle County Cooperative Extension Announces 2013 Master Gardener Volunteer Training

January 2, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

Master Gardeners volunteer trainingThe University of Delaware Cooperative Extension in New Castle County is now accepting applications for Master Gardener volunteer educator training. Training will run Tuesday and Thursday mornings starting March 7, 2013 and continue through May 21, 2013.

Carrie Murphy, Extension Educator, said of the program, “This training program is designed to make good educators out of good gardeners. Master Gardeners pledge to devote volunteer time to help Cooperative Extension provide research-based information to the gardening public. Without this volunteer program, we could not reach nearly as many people as we do now.”

Training will consist of horticultural and educational topics, with emphasis on hands-on experience and active learning techniques. There is a training fee of $150. Scholarships are available based on financial need. The application deadline is January 7, 2013.

Details on the Master Gardener program, training, and application materials are available on the Cooperative Extension website at http://extension.udel.edu/lawngarden/master-gardener-volunteer-educators/become-a-master-gardener/, or by email and phone request to Carrie Murphy, cjmurphy@udel.edu, (302) 831-2506.

It is the policy of the Delaware Cooperative Extension System that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, disability, age or national origin.

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Holiday time means American holly, Delaware’s state tree

November 29, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Shirley Duffy is a recent transplant to Delaware who is proud of her new state. And as an avid gardener, she knew just the way to show her state pride — by planting an American holly in her Newark yard.

The American holly (Ilex opaca) has been the state tree of Delaware since 1939. Back then, the holly was an important cash crop to the state, says Carrie Murphy, a horticulture agent with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.

Holly grew in abundance in the wild, particularly in Sussex County. Savvy entrepreneurs, such as Milton fertilizer salesman Charles C. Jones Sr. recognized that there was money to be made from this broadleaf evergreen. He began shipping wreaths and other holly products throughout the U.S. and abroad. By the 1930s, Delaware had become the leading supplier of holly in the nation. The town of Milton produced more holly wreaths and decorations than any other town in the world.

With the advent of artificial decorations, as well as wage law requirements for piecework businesses, the state’s commercial holly industry declined and ceased entirely by the 1960s. These days, the only holly harvesting in Delaware is in backyards like Duffy’s. A UD Master Gardener, Duffy likes to take holly cuttings throughout the winter, not just at Christmas time.

“I use holly for both indoor and outdoor arrangements,” says Duffy. For an easy but eye-catching decoration she arranges cut holly boughs down the length of her dining room table.

Ed Stevenson, a Master Gardener who lives in North Wilmington, also turns to the hollies in his yard for seasonal decorations. However, he uses holly judiciously because it does have a few downsides.

“We cut holly branches and use them for a Christmas table centerpiece,” says Stevenson. “However, once holly is cut, the leaves start to shrivel and the berries slowly darken. The branches should either be cut close to Christmas, or, if they are cut earlier and show signs of aging, they can be replaced with newly-cut branches.”

“Because we expect our Christmas door wreath to last about a month – early December through mid-January – we don’t use holly in it. Also, keep in mind that the sharp leaf spines of the holly can scratch wood finishes so don’t put it directly on wood,” he says.

Hagley Museum horticulturalist Renee Huber used plenty of American holly for the “Christmas at Hagley” display, which opened Friday and continues through Jan. 6. She fashioned it into swags, as well as wreaths.

“Being our state tree I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to include it in the decorations,” notes Huber. “Plus, my great-great-grandfather, who was a farmer on the Eastern Shore, supplemented his income at this time of year by making American holly wreaths. I guess I don’t fall far from the tree.”

Huber had to decorate not only Eleutherian Mills, but also the Belin, Soda and Gibbons houses. To fill all these spaces, she roamed the museum’s 235 acres for just the right cuttings of hollies and other evergreens. But the bulk of her plant material came from a cutting garden maintained specifically for decorating purposes. It’s planted with a variety of evergreens, winterberry and other perennial favorites.

Since most of us don’t have the luxury of a cutting garden, it’s important to carefully clip branches from hollies – and all your shrubs and woody perennials — so that your landscape still looks good when you’re done.

Cut back to the trunk or another branch, says Murphy. If you put up your holiday decorations early, check throughout the season to see if anything needs to be replaced. If evergreens get dried out they can become a fire hazard.

If you don’t have any holly on your property, plan now for spring planting. “Holly makes a great specimen planting and over time will fill out to screen unpleasant views,” says Murphy. “It’s a slow grower but eventually can reach 30 feet tall.”

To produce the American holly’s distinctive red berries, you will need to grow both male and female plants. Although the male plants never produce fruit, they must be sited near the female plants to provide pollen needed for fruit production. Bees and other pollinators will do the work of transporting the pollen from the male to female plants.

Ironically, Duffy had trouble finding Delaware’s state tree at local garden stores. Many stores said they could special order it, and she knew that online shopping was another option.

But she wanted to see various cultivars before she selected her plants, so she eventually found a New Jersey-based online nursery that was holding an open house.

“Internet descriptions of ‘stiff, glossy’ leaves and ‘large’ berries mean nothing,” notes Duffy. “You have to see the plants yourself.”

A great place to see the plants for yourself is at the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens. Some 50 species and cultivars of holly grow there, with the largest concentration of hollies found in the Clark and Fischer Greenhouse gardens. The UD Botanic Gardens maintains research data on its holly collection and is a test arboretum for the American Holly Society.

At Hagley one of the best places to see hollies is in the field across from Eleutherian Mills, by the gatehouse, according to Hagley arborist Richard Pratt. At least half the hollies there sport red berries.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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