Thursday, December 2, 2010


            Because the Christmas holiday is bearing down upon us like one of those bullet trains we Americans don’t have any of for no very good reason (don’t let me get started on the automakers and the oil-and-gas conglomerate), I’m a bit more distracted than usual. Fitzgeralds Gardening is also in high gear, with almost two-thirds of our containers changed out and half of those 3000 bulbs in the ground. The level of organization required to orchestrate who gets what when requires a major chunk of my left brain’s resources, leaving barely enough oomph for calling out questions to “Jeopardy!” answers.

            Consequently, I shall wander where my less-encumbered right brain leads.

We had almost one-and-a-half inches of rain Monday night. That means the drip irrigation is off for the rest of the week. (The grass zones have been off since Oak Island’s Rube-doggle of a sewer system creaked uneasily into service in September). It (the drip) has only been running ten minutes three times a week anyway since the nights have cooled off, reducing transpiration stress. Did you know it’s the unrelentingly high nighttime temperatures that make late-summer Southern gardens look like crap? I for one refuse to go outside when the thermometer reads 80°F—or higher—at eight o’clock in the morning.

For those of you lucky enough to have one, get into the habit of regularly fine-tuning your irrigation clock’s program. It’s really not that daunting: I offer my Luddite self as Exhibit A.  Fresh water is a terrible thing to waste. If your warm-season lawn has established, turn the grass zones off until spring. (The easiest way to do this is to reduce all the Zone Run Times to zero. Consider your grass established if it has weathered one entire growing season.) Dormant grass needs much less in the way of inputs than actively growing grass: in fact, dormant grass needs no inputs at all. Why? Because it’s asleep. Please don’t you or your lawn service mow, overseed with rye, spray, fertilize or treat for mole crickets from now until April: hold off on the mole cricket thing until July, when the treatment does some good. (A special note on overseeding: it’s mostly for people who love to mow. In general it’s a detrimental practice. People who want green lawns all year should move to Borneo.) A March treatment with a pre-emergent weed-killer is fine, I guess, if you don’t mind colluding in the degradation of the environment.

Warm-season grasses go dormant for a reason. Leave them alone. “I am the grass,” said Carl Sandburg. “Let me work.”

(In case you’re wondering, I weed our lawn by hand. I find the activity relaxing and gratifying and peaceful. Nobody bothers me when I’m weeding for fear of getting roped in.)

Frost is in the air this morning, and on the truck. Didn’t see any on the ground, but I may have been squinting. Guess I’d best hustle to move the rest of the plants I’d like to winter over onto the screened porch before temperatures drop that final degree.

It’s important to know the historical first and last frost dates for your area, because they are what determine the official length of your particular growing season. For most of us, that means “when it’s safe to put the bedding plants out” and “when to bring the houseplants back in.” Wilmington, NC’s earliest recorded freeze was on October 16, 1876. (The National Weather Service no longer publishes records from before the 1930s. Why do you suppose that is? Do they disdain the instrumentation of the time?) Wilmington's latest recorded freeze was April 21, 1983. As an example of how contiguous areas can differ, coastal Brunswick County's respective dates are later (October 30) and earlier (April 9).

The Old Farmers’ Almanac (or its website: is a good place to look for local information. Matter of fact, I just gleaned some interesting frost factoids from them.

1.      A light freeze occurs between 29 and 32°F. Tender plants are killed, but most others—like my lettuces—shrug it off.
2.      Between 25 and 28°F is considered a moderate freeze. You can count on fruit and flower blossoms and tender and semi-hardy plants to get blasted. It’s also curtains for the true annuals.
3.      Colder than 24°F rates as a severe freeze, with across-the-board severe damage to vegetation.

I spent the 20 years immediately after university graduation in ’way upstate New York, in a town aptly nicknamed “The Refrigerator.” Consequently, I’m enduringly grateful to be in southeastern North Carolina now. Only about 500 yards from my front door, the Gulf-Stream-warmed Atlantic moderates temperatures year-round. Of course, temperatures are experienced relatively. In wintertime New York, a 40° day felt positively shirt-sleeves-only balmy. When the thermometer drops that low these days, I’m swaddled in layers upon layers. Blood thins out more quickly than it thickens, I’m here to tell you.

We humans are never satisfied, are we? Seems everyone was just whining about how hot it’s been, like, forever. At least keeping a garden minimizes the disconnect from the natural world The Experts tell us more and more Americans suffer.
            Sorry, no pictures this post. I figure you know what your irrigation clock looks like: besides, a snap of mine has only about a 25% chance of being helpful. I’m also confident you’ve likely seen a thermometer before. I’ll do better next time.   

            And now for a little rant. I am thoroughly bummed.

            It started with my husband, Tim, who has no trouble shopping without a list. (Stay with me—it’s not the non sequitur it seems.) Me, I have to have a list; otherwise it’s just aimless wandering around a store. When I turn on the computer, I have a specific site and task in mind. Tim, on the other hand, loves ambling about in cyberspace, embracing serendipity. Monday night, serendipity led him to, a garden blog registry.

            “You gotta check this out!” he bubbled. So I promised I would.

            Tuesday morning I did, duly registering “Gardening from the Ground Up.” What the heck, I thought, let’s take a look at what else is on offer. Scrolling through the first few pages of blog descriptions, I noticed the number of pages listed at the bottom of each page kept growing. After scanning down page 15, I clicked on “last” instead of “next.” “Last” turned out to be page 96. At an average 12 entries per page, that’s 1152 gardening blogs, not including mine or those of the 85 other people likely to register today. And that’s just one registry site. There are dozens.

            So much for my great original idea.

            Based on the approximately 200 descriptions I read, I have to say this: at least I can spell, and never post anything without proofreading it multiple times. One lady wanted us to read about her “arden.” Someone else desired to spread his knowledge of growing “galric.” Another needed to pass on instructions for installing a “manafold.” Many have problems with the space bar. More have trouble with comma placement. SOME WRITE ALL IN CAPS, like they’re yelling at you. The blogosphere may be the great leveler, but, as far as I can tell from this cursory survey, the level is pretty low, at least literarily.

            Yes, I’m a writing snob. It’s worse than that, actually: I’m a writing curmudgeon. Chalk it up to my unfortunate beliefs that a) anything worth doing is worth doing well, and b) one ought to be careful what one foists on the public at large.

            Thanks for dropping by and for letting me get that off my chest. Your comments appreciated. Stay warm!