DIY Potting Table Out of a Metro Shelf

Here is a pretty neat project to do before the growing season starts. Using 2×4’s, you can frame out a metro shelf and use it to pot up trays of seeds or other pots without the mess. We used a 2×5, 5 rack shelf that I found on FB Marketplace, but you can use any size you want. We found that the 2′ depth is ideal because you can fit most wheelbarrows under it, but feel free to use as small as a 2’x3′ if space is tight.

Supplies:

3 or 4 Outdoor rated 2×4’s, depending on the size of your metro shelf and legs (we went 32″ for the legs, and used 4 2×4’s)

#12×3/4 self-tapping metal screws

wood glue (optional)

3″ outdoor deck screws

single metro shelf, ideally 2′ deep but any length will work

Simply frame out the metro shelf, attach the shelf with the self-tapping screws, then add your legs with a brace about a foot up from the base. We used wood glue for a little extra support at the joints, but that may be overkill.

 

 

asheville native perennials, monarda, jacob cline bee balm, wnc native plants

Jacob Cline Monarda

Native Perennial Spotlight: Monarda (Bee Balm)

Monarda, commonly known as bee balm, is a genus of North American flowering plants that’s a delight for both gardeners and pollinators. These vibrant blooms boast a long list of charms, making them a must-have for any sunny garden. The number one seller at the nursery is Jacob Cline, a fast-growing variety with true red blooms, pictured above.

A Feast for the Senses:

  • Visual Appeal: Monarda comes in a kaleidoscope of colors, from fiery reds and vibrant purples to soft pinks and sunny yellows. Their showy flowers, often clustered in dense heads, resemble fuzzy pom-poms, adding a playful touch to the garden.
  • Aromatic Delights: True to their name, Monardas boast a delightful fragrance that’s reminiscent of citrus, mint, or oregano, depending on the species. The scent attracts a bevy of pollinators, creating a lively buzz around your garden.
  • Culinary Treats: Don’t let the beauty fool you; Monarda leaves and flowers are edible! Use them to add a citrusy zest to teas, salads, and even desserts.

More Than Just a Pretty Face:

    • Pollinator Magnet: Monarda’s nectar-rich flowers are a magnet for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, making them a valuable addition to any pollinator-friendly garden.
    • Easy Care: These adaptable plants thrive in full sun and well-drained soil, requiring minimal maintenance once established. They’re also relatively pest- and disease-resistant.
    • Long-Blooming Beauties: Enjoy weeks of colorful blooms from early summer to fall, depending on the variety. Deadheading spent flowers encourages reblooming, extending the floral show.

Planting and Care Tips:

  • Plant Monardas in well-drained soil and full sun for optimal growth and flowering. They are tolerant of the heavy clay of Western North Carolina, but you may want to break up the clay a little with a bit of soil conditioner when you plant.
  • Water regularly until established, then reduce watering as needed. We find that they can be thirsty plants when in the heart of the season, particularly if in well-draining soil.
  • Deadhead spent flowers to encourage reblooming.
  • Divide clumps every few years to maintain vigor.
  • Mulch well with a good shredded bark.
  • Some varieties are susceptible to powdery mildew and rot, particularly in shadier areas. Pick more recent cultivars bred for resistance to that, or trim way back if you see it.

So, why not add a touch of vibrant color, delightful fragrance, and pollinator-friendly charm to your garden with Monarda? These low-maintenance beauties are sure to buzz with life and bring joy to your outdoor space. Some varieties, like Jacob Cline, can take over before you know it. Look for newer cultivars like the Sugar Buzz or Upscale series for a more well-behaved habit.

I hope this article has piqued your interest in these captivating plants. With their diverse colors, captivating scents, and pollinator-attracting abilities, Monardas are truly a gardener’s delight and a worthy native for your Asheville garden.

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Raspberry Wine Monarda

Fizzy mizzy itea, sweetspire, asheville native plants, asheville native shrubsFizzy Mizzy: Making Sweetspire Cool Again

Itea virginica(sweetspire) is a versatile shrub native to the southeast United States. Almost impossible to kill; it’s happy from understory shade to sun, in wet areas, and in heavy clay. It makes a nice filler type of plant for native woodland borders. Most people only notice it in the late spring when it blooms, but it has a nice deep red fall color.

Unfortunately, it suckers quite a bit, and most older cultivars, like the classic Henry’s Garnet, get fairly big and rangy. It makes a decent filler for slopes, but its popularity has waned in favor of more eye-catching bloomers like hydrangeas and rhododendrons.

The fragrant blooms really are nice though, and it blooms well even in shade. It also has the added bonus of being deer-resistant, something that can’t be said about the more popular natives.

If you’ve shrugged off Itea, check out Fizzy Mizzy. It surprised us as one of our favorite new plants last year and is a big improvement in how it blooms. They stick out like spikes above the plant, giving it a fun, cheery appearance in the late spring when not much else is blooming. It’s also much more compact, growing just 3′ tall. Try some of these in the middle of the border with hydrangeas behind it for a flower show from spring to fall.

Whether it’s Fizzy Mizzy or one of the classics like Henry’s Garnet or Little Henry, Itea is a beautiful and easy-to-grow Asheville native that’s worth a second look. Particularly if deer are an issue for you.

tiny quick fire hydrangea, sun hydrangea, asheville hydrangeaThe Littlest Sun Hydrangea

Hydrangea paniculata are the easiest species of hydrangea to grow in Western North Carolina, and the least fussy hydrangea in general. They take heavy clay fairly well, grow fast on new wood in the summer (after our notorious spring frosts,) and are reasonably drought-tolerant. They are also cold hardy up to zones 3 or 4!

This comes with some trade-offs, however. While the blooms can be huge, they all come out white, fading to pink/red as they age, despite the marketing to the contrary. They also get quite large, with some of the older varieties easily growing to 8′ or more. Recent cultivars on the market have been increasingly compact, with quite a few out now that stay a more manageable 5′ or so. Even that can be a bit big for many spaces, especially when you compare the macrophylla varieties like Wee Bit that grow just 2 or 3’tall.

Introducing Tiny Quick Fire, the teeniest paniculata hydrangea out there, growing just 2-3′ tall. This is a very versatile shrub for Asheville landscapes in full sun, with long-lasting blooms all summer long. If you are looking for a shrub that’s a sure bet for blooms, easy to care for, and will fit almost anywhere, this one is worth checking out.

Also, because it’s in the quick-fire family, it’s an early blooming variety, with blooms coming as early as May!

This is a new variety for us to grow this year, and we hope you are as excited to check it out as we are.

Rhododendron in asheville, asheville native plants, asheville native shrubsOh, deer. Maybe the top garden pest in Western North Carolina. They get our vegetable gardens, they get our fruit trees. They knock things over at the nursery.

The list of DIY deer deterrents is almost as long as the plants they eat. Shaving Irish spring around the plants, dangling plastic grocery bags in the trees, and pie tins are some things we’ve heard work out the hollar. We have had decent luck with “Liquid Fence,” a spray you can get on Amazon. It’s pretty expensive and takes a lot, even in concentrated form, but it seems to deter them for a bit.

Deters them at least for a while until the next big rain, or they get really hungry again.

Truth be told the best approach to deer is to live with them. That means starting with three basic strategies:

  1. Buy deer-resistant plants (not from the list below.)
  2. Fence what you can.
  3. Accept the inevitable munch or two.

Here are a few well-loved plants in the Asheville area that are particularly susceptible to deer damage:

  1. Evergreen azaleas. We can’t even grow these in the nursery landscape because of the deer. We keep trying though, they are beautiful plants. We especially like the older, spring-blooming varieties like Girards. But, they are all deer magnets for sure.
  2. Oak leaf hydrangeas. These are great plants when they find the right spot, but they don’t like areas with a lot of sun and wind exposure, and, of course, watch out for the deer.
  3. Blueberries. There aren’t many fruit plants that are resistant to deer, and blueberries certainly aren’t. If the deer don’t get them, the birds will.
  4. Rhododendron. They are not as bad as Azalea, but they munch them enough to be frustrating. We like Illicium as a deer-resistant substitute in the shade. Look for the ‘Star Power’ series.
  5. Hostas. Deer and hostas just seem to go together. Folks either seem to be up to their ears in hostas or can’t grow them because they get scarfed so fast.

If you look at that list, you’ll notice one trend: Shade-loving plants. Deer are opportunists and will go for what they find in sheltered, out-of-the-way areas first. If you do end up growing some of these we can’t blame you, but place them near the house or in well-traveled areas if you can.

Finally, keep in mind that no plant is truly safe. Fruit trees and arborvitae are a couple more that can get decimated all of a sudden. If you have a lot of deer in your area, give your new plants some extra protection as they get established in the first couple of seasons and keep in mind that larger plants can take grazing better than dwarf varieties.

 

hydrangeas in asheville, asheville shrubs, wnc nurseryJanuary is a great time to do a little landscape planning for the spring. February can be very up and down temperature-wise in Western North Carolina, so it’s great to be ready to take advantage of warm spells when they come to get a head start on prepping. Here are 9 tips for designing new perennial beds or fine-tuning your existing borders.

  1. Start with edging to define beds. Edging is extra work and can add up expense-wise, but it makes your beds look much tidier. If it is bordering your lawn, edging makes weed whacking much neater as well. We like the concrete block edging that comes in various colors at the big box stores, or steel edging. Stay away from the plastic rolls, they are a pita to install.
  2. Mulch before planting. This is particularly helpful if you are planting a lot of small items like groundcovers. It’s also a chore you can get done at any time, so why not go for it when there isn’t much else going on?
  3. Start your planting with large plants and work your way down. Start with trees, if any, then shrubs, and finally perennial flowers and/or groundcovers.
  4. Evergreens also come first, they will be the foundation of your landscape and the most low-maintenance choices. Look to the Arborvitae family if you are in the Asheville area, they take the climate very well and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
  5. If it feels overwhelming, consider going with only shrubs to get started. A fine perennial border can be made with simply hydrangea and Arborvitae. Sit on it for a season and add later as they start to fill in.
  6. Add a specimen tree or two. If you can afford it, a fancy Japanese maple or spruce tree can class things up a notch.
  7. Plant small annuals or perennials in swaths or drifts. Bulb growers recommend grabbing a handful and tossing them on the ground, planting where they land. That way it looks like how they would fall in nature. Most flowers look great as an irregularly shaped mass. Just try not to get too tempted to mix it up, keeping the same color has more impact.
  8. Similar to #7 above, try to plant in groups or lines of the same plant, using odd numbers if possible. Resist the urge to alternate plants. There is nothing like a giant row of blooms of the same color.
  9. Finally, remember that flowers are more maintenance than evergreens. They are wonderful, but if you are busy busy and don’t want to add more work to your plate, you can have a fantastic garden with very few flowering plants. It’s a zen thing!

If you are staring at a blank slate this spring, or just overwhelmed with the choices, we hope this helps a little. Check the area throughout the day to double-check how much sun it gets(remember it can change seasonally.) Start with evergreens and shrubs, creating rows or groups going off the lines of hardscaping in place. When in doubt, if you are in the Asheville area there is almost always a hydrangea or Arborvitae that will do the trick.

asheville shrubs, hydrangeas in asheville, asheville nursery

Hydrangeas in Asheville, spring

native plants wnc, gardening in asheville, asheville native plants, coneflower, echinacea

Cheyenne Spirit Coneflower

A good mulch is simply the best thing you can do for your outdoor plants as well as improve the look of your property for the season. Some mulch is better than others, but any mulch is better than none.

A good rule of thumb is no bare dirt, ever. Bare dirt, particularly for us in Western North Carolina, means bare clay, which gets hard and crusty when it’s exposed and eventually fills up with nasty weeds of which there are tons.

So, it’s worth investing in mulch. Most people don’t want to though. They will spend good money on plants, then skimp on the mulch. Either no mulch at all or very skimpy on it.

Maybe that’s because it’s too much work to mulch. It’s hard on the back to haul around a wheelbarrow. It would be nice if neighbors got together to have a mulch party kinda like the Amish do with raising barns. It’s a lot easier with multiple hands and multiple wheelbarrows.

We suggest a good sturdy wheelbarrow with a single flatless type wheel. The double-wheel versions are much harder to push around and navigate through beds. Resist the urge to fill it all the way. Go just half full or so, whatever is comfortable, and you’ll last much longer.

The best mulch is all bark, either pine or hardwood. They say the pine lasts longer but I think either is fine. It should smell really good and have a fluffy texture.

There is a lot of mulch available that is from mulch yards where people go to drop off yard debris or stumps. This is a mix of the whole tree (and pallets or whatever) that gets ground up and aged underground for a while to burn off, then sold usually for a little less than all bark mulch. This type of mulch isn’t terrible but doesn’t smell very good or stay in place like the nice fluffy all-bark mulch.

Once you’ve gotten the good shredded all-bark mulch that smells so nice, you won’t want the other type. One interesting thought we’ve heard is that for every dollar you spend on the garden, 90 cents should be on the soil. That makes you think, doesn’t it?

Putting a layer down every year is best, but once plants have filled out significantly in the bed in a couple of years, you can get away with skipping a season here and there. Plants can have the effect of covering the dirt over time, either as a ground cover or as a low canopy from shrubs.

Finally, mulching is just fine to do any time of year, but we suggest the winter months. Not only are the leaves off deciduous plants, but most of us are less busy during this time (including landscapers and mulch yards.) As long as it’s not too frozen outside, mulching might help when you are feeling cabin fever.

4 of Our Least Favorite Perennials in Asheville (2023)

 

lambs ear, asheville perennials, asheville groundcover

1. Stachys byzantina (Lambs Ear.) Admittedly, Lambs ear has some appeal. It’s easy to grow, spreads fast, and takes any soil or full sun slope you throw at it. If only it looked as good in the landscape as it does in a pot at the nursery. It tends to flower and rot up if we get a lot of moisture, leaving you with a patch of rotting foliage with lackluster flowers jutting out of it. The spreading factor can also be a double-edged sword, with it popping up in areas you don’t want it to. If you need groundcover there are better options, and if you want flowers there are much better options.asheville perennials, asheville flowers, wnc perennial flowers, wnc native flowers

2. Helenium  (sneezeweed). This flower may be a case of user error because it doesn’t seem to do well for us in pots. It’s been a frustrating plant to grow, with blooms that aren’t bad but are outshone by other species like echinacea or aster.

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3. Solidago (goldenrod). If you like goldenrod the best thing to do is probably to ask a neighbor with a pasture to dig some up. This stuff is everywhere. Lanky, scraggly, and all over the place in Western North Carolina. It’s easy to grow, we’ll give it that.

asheville native perennial, wnc native plants, asheville nursery

4. Eutrochium fistulosum (Joe Pye Weed.) This might be the most controversial native Asheville perennial on this list. It has a lot of fans and is a decent draw for pollinators like butterflies. We find it leggy and blah as a flower, and even a bit underwhelming for us in the pollinator category. We had it in a patch next to some Agastache and the Agastache won hands down for the bees. To attract butterflies we much prefer milkweed, gaura, or butterfly bushes.

Conclusion

So there you have it, four of our least favorite Asheville perennials for the 2023 season. With a few exceptions, we find it best to avoid plants with the word weed in their name, they tend to get that for a reason. Do you disagree or have a cultivar to recommend? Drop it in the comments or let us know in an email. We’d love to change our minds!

plants in WNC, asheville compost, leaves in asheville, leaf compost asheville

Fall leaf painting, Aunt Michelle

Many people put off raking leaves until well into the winter months, or even spring when the motivation for yard work strikes again. It’s generally a bad idea to put this off for that long, particularly for us in Western North Carolina with our wet winters and heavy clay soil. The winter rains often mat up the leaves, choking out the sunlight and killing the grass underneath.  So what to do with them? Here are some tips for dealing with fall leaves in the garden:

  1. Get those leaves up, particularly large leaves like maple (which most of us have around Asheville.) It is worth it if you value your lawn.
  2. Mow with a mulching blade if it’s just a thin layer of leaves or they are smaller leaves like birch. This adds some organic matter to lawns, as long as the grass is getting some sun.  It might take a couple of mows though, once the winds come around.
  3. Use leaves as mulch on your ornamental beds. This works best with shrubs or larger perennials like baptisia.
  4. Keep leaves out of beds with smaller perennials or that are sensitive to moisture. Plants like low-growing sedums and rock garden-type plants will have a hard time reaching the sun through the leaves, and won’t like the added moisture.
  5. Leaves take a long time to break down, don’t assume this will add nutrients that same season.  It can take a year or more for any nutrients to be available to plants, and even then it’s not very significant.
  6. Blow leaves off any hardscaping areas like gravel or rock paths and driveways.  Leaves will break down over time and create little bits of soil where weeds can grow. Try to stay on top of it weekly in the fall so they don’t form piles. Battery-powered blowers are great for this.
  7. Try using a small tarp for raking up piles, it makes it much easier to transport them where you want them.

What about fungus? Insects?

Fungi and bacteria are everywhere. There is no way to keep them out of the garden or the compost bin. It’s best as a general rule to not worry about it and let nature take its course. If the plant is susceptible to fungal problems, it will be there with or without the extra leaves. As far as pests, insects or slugs may overwinter in leaves, but they’ll be there anyway and it’s far better to build up the topsoil with organic matter here in WNC than it is to worry about pests. Healthy plants are the best defense against both insects and fungi.

Do we need to shred them?

Shredding can be helpful if there are a ton of leaves and/or they are getting used to mulch smaller plants like veggies and annuals, or if they are going to be layered in the compost bin. For many applications, it’s not necessary. It’s far better to take care of getting them off the lawn or hardscaped areas than worrying about the added step of shredding.  Shred if it floats your boat, but don’t stress about it.

Conclusion

Leaves as mulch are…ok. They are useful as a natural insulation if there isn’t another type of mulch available, and of course, the price is right. This author spent a lot of time and energy picking up bagged leaves from North Asheville during his first couple of years gardening. They break down faster than bark mulch and have an irksome tendency to get blown all over the place. You’d probably be better off with even free local wood chips from the city. Alternatively, you can layer leaves and add mulch on top of the leaves to keep them in place, but again, is the juice worth the squeeze?

This guy doesn’t really think so.

Robert Pavlis over at Gardenmyths.com recently posted a much more thorough article on what to do with leaves in the fall, he is an excellent resource for good gardening knowledge and worth checking out.

Here is the 3rd installment of a series we are doing in December as the year wraps up to look at some of our favorite plants in 2023. This list is in no particular order and highlights the evergreen conifers we love both for their beauty and thriving growth in the mountains of Western North Carolina. While we are also big fans of fancy evergreens brought in from the west coast (like spruces), for this list we are sticking with conifers readily available from local suppliers in the southeast. Without further ado:

 

green giant arborvitae, asheville evergreens, wnc screening trees1. Thuja Green Giant arborvitae. While these trees are quite all over the place at this point, we have to include them here for pure utility’s sake. If you need a tall, fast-growing privacy screen, there’s no better tree on the market right now.

arborvitae asheville, arborvitae shrubs, evergreen shrubs asheville

Fire Chief Arborvitae

2. Thuja Fire Chief arborvitae. Another in the same family as Green Giant, this is a relatively new variety on the market and an excellent foundation shrub if you need an evergreen that is both colorful and compact. Fairly slow growing but that’s a good thing for foundations.

fernspray chamaecyparis, gold fernspray, asheville evergreens, asheville plant nursery

3. Gold Fernspray chamaecyparis (false cypress). We just love both the green and gold versions of fernspray chamaecyparis. They grow to around 8′ and make excellent specimen evergreens or corner foundation planting. The loose, wild form isn’t for everyone, but if you like that look, they grow very well in WNC, and are deer resistant too!

globosa nana cryptomeria, asheville evergreens, asheville shrubs, wnc evergreens

4. Globosa Nana cryptomeria.  Cryptomeria is one of those conifers that gets a little touchy with the cold, particularly if left in pots. Don’t let that deter you from planting globosa nana though, they make very nice, if slow-growing, foundation plants or low-growing specimens. We love their soft feel and unique leaf structure.

polar gold arborvitae, asheville arborvitae, wnc evergreens

5. Thuja Polar Gold arborvitae.  Polar gold, for us, beats out some of the other upright yellow conifers on the market like Fluffy or Forever Goldy. We think it’s form, somewhat like a more compact green giant, size (12-15′ at maturity), and just the right amount of gold make this cultivar stand out.

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6. Thuja DeGroots Spire arborvitae.  DeGroots! It’s not just a cool name with this one. If you like that California look with the tall thin Italian cypress, this is the best option for the southeast.  We like DeGroots for corners or to frame doorways, and since they are hardy to zone 3, they are great if left in ornamental pots.

asheville evergreens, wnc arborvitae, asheville nursery

7. Thuja Pancake arborvitae.  Pancake is a new one for us, and no doubt one of our favorites on this list.  Pictures don’t do it justice, it has a fantastic blue-green color during cooler weather, the bluest we’ve seen on arborvitae.  Pancake is very compact, making it very versatile in the garden. Don’t forget the compact conifers! Many people tend to look for perennial flowers or groundcover for border areas, but adding a few compact evergreens can make a very low maintenance statement as well.

There you have it, 7 of our favorite evergreen conifers of 2023 for growing in Western North Carolina. As you can tell, we are big fans of arborvitae, they just handle the dips in temperature we have in the mountains so well, as well as the heat and humidity of the summers. If deer are a big concern for you,  you might want to stick with chamaecyparis or junipers, or just keep an eye on them for the first couple of years until they get established.