Annual bluegrass may be the single worst turf weed

Many folks have noticed their lawn has suddenly turned green, and the grass is not coarse and ugly. However, this species of annual grass is the most difficult to control and most obnoxious weed in golf courses.

The culprit is called annual bluegrass (Poa annua). It grows voraciously in cool weather. Around here it is rarely a problem in summer, but it can take over desirable turf and squeeze it out, allowing other weeds to establish when warm weather begins.

Annual bluegrass produces tremendous quantities of seed, and it does so at any cutting height. Even on golf greens cut at less than a quarter inch annual bluegrass can produce seed. On your average home lawn, it’s not a problem, because most folks aren’t as discerning. Eventually it will blend in with the rest of your turf environment.

My dad always said that if his lawn was green it was fine. Golf course superintendents take a different view. Annual bluegrass can greatly influence how a green will play, to say nothing about how it looks. Golfers don’t pay huge country club membership fees to play on substandard turf.

Frequent irrigation will make annual bluegrass flourish. That’s why it’s such a problem on golf courses. It’s also why it springs up around here in late winter and early spring. Soils are usually wet, and this year is no exception.

Killing Poa annua with herbicides is difficult for multiple reasons. First, its seeds are everywhere and killing a patch of this weedy grass only creates a bare patch for new seeds to germinate. Annual bluegrass seeds can lay dormant and viable for six or more years.

Also, many herbicides that will kill annual bluegrass also injure other grasses, particularly cool season ones like fescues and bentgrasses. Creeping and velvet bentgrass are common species for greens in cooler regions. At high application rates these herbicides could do more than injure the desired turf. Additionally, most effective herbicides are restricted use and must be applied by professionals.

Fortunately, bermudagrass is more commonly used here for golf greens and sports fields. It’s dormant now, making spot treatments for annual bluegrass more effective. Still, the biggest problem is the high natural supply of seed coming from adjacent places.

Using pre-emergent chemicals like those used to prevent crabgrass can be effective to control annual bluegrass. However, that should be done in fall, not now. Now is the time to prevent crabgrass, a warm-season grass.

One non-chemical method for controlling annual bluegrass long-term is to establish a higher cutting height for your lawn. If cutting height is maintained at three to four inches there will be less light penetration. This will mean weed seeds will have a tougher time germinating and competing for light. Complete control will take a few years.

For those like my dad who only care about a lawn being green, the only real problem with this weed is that you will have to start mowing your lawn sooner than you want to. I’ve already mowed mine and it’s only early March.

Close-up of annual bluegrass loaded with seed


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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What a difference a month makes – and then another two weeks

The first five days of 2018 saw low temperatures in the teens in Elizabeth City. Night temperatures hovered in the single digits the next three nights, one of them around zero. During that stretch daytime temperatures remained in the 20s. Mercury reached into the 70s four days later.

Weather fluctuated for a while until about the tenth of February when things turned warm again. We had no frosts until March 5th and daytime temperatures frequently topped 70 degrees. It’s natural to ask if this means anything and if so what are the implications?

Judging from all the flowers one might think it was late March or early April. Pears, saucer magnolias and forsythia have been in full bloom since mid-February. Mild nights are likely more responsible than anything. However, when daytime temperatures consistently flirt with the 80s and root zones warm, dormancy ends.

In most years plants break dormancy gradually. Take sugar maple for example. I used to make maple syrup and collected sap well before any visible signs of bud swell. Were there any sugar maples around here, this spring would have been lousy for syrup yields.

Sap runs heavy when daytime temperatures are cool to mild and nights are below freezing. If night temperatures consistently run above freezing leaves and flowers develop and sap flow stops. Once plants break dormancy they’re far more susceptible to winter injury.

This is the part that concerns me. It’s early March and we could yet have some very cold temperatures. The further plants progress into active growth, even a light frost could injure them. Should temperatures suddenly dip into the mid-twenties all foliage could be killed and plants would have to form new buds and start again. If fruit buds die trees would be barren this year.

Because of the mild February many folks have the itch to plant gardens and flowerbeds. My advice is, unless one is prepared for poor stands and stunted plants, waiting a few weeks is the best option. Raised beds, plastic mulches, row covers, cloches and even space heaters can provide extra insurance toward success. It’s still a gamble.

Mild air temperatures have pushed trees and shrubs. However, soils are still wet. Working soils when they’re wet destroys soil structure. This results in poor water movement, cloddy soils, standing water and stunted roots.

It might sound like I’m being negative about this mild weather. I’m not. We had some harsh weather in late December and early January and evidence of winter injury is everywhere. All foliage is dead on my big eucalyptus, and I’m not sure if the inner bark is damaged on the main trunk. I’ll have to wait and see if buds develop. My loquat got hammered too.

This unseasonable weather hastens determining winter injury to landscape plants. Bud swell means plants aren’t dead. If no buds have begun to grow people can check for live bark trees and shrubs by scraping small sections and hoping to see green. Cut back to the green and hope. As far as planting goes, be patient.

Here comes the update. As for the temperatures since March 5th, things have been different. We’ve avoided severe cold temperatures but have had several freezes, none severe, and daytime temperatures have been cool. This has ruined some of the beautiful flowers but it has also slowed growth and that has been a good thing. Everything is so wet  that gardeners have been slowed too.

I would rather have taken this pear flower picture in mid-March rather than mid-February

This picture of a saucer magnolia flower was taken on March 10th after a few frosts.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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English ivy is one of the most versatile and invasive plants around

Many people who don’t have it growing on their property want it. Those who have it usually want to get rid of it. Once established, English ivy (Hedera helix) can take over a wall, tree or forest floor.

I don’t know of another plant more adaptable to indoor and outdoor use. Even cast iron plant has an Achilles heel. It doesn’t tolerate too much sunlight and won’t grow outside north of zone 7. English ivy grows in full shade and full sun. No, it won’t thrive in low light interior locations like cast iron plant will, but its adaptation to different environments is impressive.

English ivy is an evergreen vine with glossy leaves and prominent veins. It is hardy to northern New England. It grows best in moist but well drained soils with high organic matter. Plants don’t require much fertilizer. Once established it tolerates substantial drought due to a system of above and below ground roots. English ivy takes advantage of dew as well as any water source available.

Ornamental varieties can have a variety of leaf shapes and colors. They’re easy to propagate by stem cuttings and can tolerate lower interior temperatures than most houseplants. Plants respond well to misting, especially if the soil is kept on the dry side.

English ivy is not a native plant, and for this reason is frowned upon for landscape use by many people. It is an effective ground cover and soil conservation plant. However, it chokes out native vegetation and spreads to areas where it might not be wanted. It’s not unusual for plants to spread more than a hundred feet. Plants also respond well to pruning, so unless the entire plant is removed, remaining portions regrow vigorously.

English Ivy also climbs anything. It spreads by clinging adventitious roots that burrow into bark, masonry or house siding. It certainly can damage the appearance of siding, bricks or whatever it climbs upon. It can even weigh down and eventually topple some trees. It also can shade some of the tree foliage and that can reduce tree vigor.

However, it also provides insulation and can reduce heating and cooling costs. It also covers up unsightly areas along walls. There is considerable argument as to whether the ivy protects or degrades.

Some say the ivy traps water making the walls moister and more subject to decay. Others say the ivy soaks up the water and forms a barrier that protects the walls. It’s a trade-off, but most folks I’ve talked to would rather save money in other ways.

English ivy has a long list of medicinal uses. It is used to treat asthma, bronchitis, COPD, arthritis and other inflammations. Sometimes essential oils are used. This is often true for skin irritations. One potential problem is that some people are mildly sensitive to these oils and could develop a rash.

Some people make teas from the leaves to extract saponins and flavonoids that are helpful for reducing inflammation. High doses can cause nausea and vomiting. I’ve never fooled with it.  Always consult your health professional before trying anything new.

English Ivy is covering the trunk of this loblolly pine

English Ivy covers the forest floor

English Ivy up close


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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Optimists hope frigid winter temperatures might quell bugs

Whenever we have a mild winter folks complain that mosquitoes and other insect pests will be worse. This past January we had some of the coldest temperatures in several years. People have asked me if that weather might have a silver lining. It’s wishful thinking.

Think about it. I’m originally from Maine where the mercury plummets far more than it does here. Mosquitoes are worse too. I’ve heard they are especially bad in Alaska also, and it’s much colder there. Standing water is the key to high mosquito populations, so if we have a wet spring we can expect more of the ravenous blood sucking devils. If it’s dry in April and May, we might have fewer.

I hate to be a wet blanket, but the same goes for most crop pests. Spring weather influences pest populations much more than winter weather does. Even without the protection of a few feet of snow, frigid temperatures in our area have virtually no effect on crop pests either. Don’t expect the near zero temperatures to deminish the corn borers in your garden this summer.

Long-term cool temperatures have a greater impact. All arthropods are what we commonly call “cold blooded.” Their body temperature depends on their environment. If it’s warm they are active. Cool temperatures cause them to be lethargic. If it were to be cool during March, April and May, many pests would not reproduce at the same rates they normally do. Cold temperatures would certainly create other problems, however.

Moisture is far more important to bug populations than temperature, particularly past temperatures. Many insects overwinter in soil. Dry conditions are generally not suited for their survival.

Too much water will benefit mosquitoes, but it will harm populations of other insects. Ants and other things that basically live underground would be negatively impacted.

Temperature has little to do with diseases that harm plants either. Controlling plant pests is more effective with proper culture and sanitation. Many diseases are made worse because infected tissue remains in the field and the same crop is planted the following spring.

For a disease to manifest itself three factors must be present. Without a susceptible host, a virulent pathogen and a favorable environment a disease could not occur. However, removing all plant residue is usually unnecessary.

Cover crops can cause what I refer to as a microflora civil war. Different microorganisms compete for resources and often the beneficial ones outcompete the pathogenic ones. It doesn’t always work in some agricultural situations, but that’s basically how nature works.

On the positive side, bees and other beneficial insects shouldn’t be bothered by this winter either. Both predators like lady beetles and praying mantis along with parasites like many wasps should be out there killing the bad guys. Pollinators should be doing their thing too.

Since we’re disposing of myths, woolly worms don’t forecast coming temperatures. They’re an indication of what’s already happened. The more they have molted, the browner they become. Different species also have different patterns. Some naturally are more brown while others are more black. Direction of travel is a myth too. Northward crawling caterpillars do not forecast a mild winter. Sorry.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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Honey has many sweet uses

Nearly everyone has used honey as a sweetener. It is far sweeter per gram than table sugar. That means fewer calories per serving.

About thirty-five years ago I remember watching my future father-in-law dehorning cattle. After tying off exposed bleeding blood vessels he lathered the exposed tissue with honey. At the time I as perplexed and skeptical. I assumed the sugary substance would draw flies or at least provide a substrate for microbial growth.

I was wrong. The sores healed perfectly with no evidence of infection. Honey sealed off the wounds and kept them dry.

The only previous experience I had using honey as a medicinal substance was when my mother mixed it with glycerin, ginger and bourbon for cough syrup. As a kid I thought the only reason the honey was in there was to make it sweet, so we wouldn’t spit it out.

Honey contains compounds that are naturally antimicrobial. One of these is hydrogen peroxide. Honey is also acidic with an average pH of about 3.5 to 3.9. That in and of itself inhibits most bacterial growth.

For this reason, honey is often incorporated in soaps and shampoos. It’s also a component of many body lotions.

Honey also contains antioxidant enzymes and flavonoids, which are also antioxidants. Antioxidants reduce stress on our bodies. Buckwheat honey, a particularly dark type, has very high antioxidant properties.

One thing to remember though is that all honey is not the same. Even all raw honey isn’t the same. Consuming pasteurized honey will destroy vitamins and other antioxidants found in honey. Processed honey is prettier, but many of the natural benefits are lost.

Despite containing many different compounds, honey is still largely a sugar rich substance. However, type II diabetics need not totally abandon its use. Some research has shown honey to improve insulin resistance. This means sugar is transferred from the blood to the cells more efficiently, which is good.

Other researchers claim there is not a bump in insulin resistance, so more research is needed. It’s important to keep in mind that honey is basically a mix of sugars. Large quantities aren’t good for diabetics. Honey possibly could pose fewer problems than refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, but sugar is sugar.

Pretty much everything I’ve read advises not to feed honey to children under a year old. This is due to the potential of botulism or reaction to any of the myriad of chemicals found in honey in trace amounts. Babies do not have a developed immune system capable of dealing with impurities that would have no effect on adults.

It’s a shame there are no significant wild bee populations today. Forty years ago, robbing bee trees and filtering the honey was a fun pastime. A disease spread by mites and imprudent pesticide use has eliminated wild bees in many places.

The mite problem might be a difficult fix, but more careful and timely application of pesticides can help save bees. Spraying when bees are active is a problem and we should try to adjust out treatment to accommodate the bees.



Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Much of our landscaping has been hit hard by cold weather

Ever since the first of the year we’ve experienced strange weather in eastern North Carolina. A few days have been warm. We’ve even seen temperatures in the 70s, but most of it has been cold. Many folks have experienced frozen water lines. Landscaping has been hit hard too.

We’ve had two significant snowstorms already this year. People from Great Lake or New England areas might not consider these snowstorms major, but here in eastern North Carolina it’s a big deal.

It’s not just the snow. Single digit temperatures have been commonplace since the year began. One night it was around zero. Some people don’t realize it, but having snow on the ground actually might have helped us. The insulation provided by a few inches of snow might have saved a few pipes and plants.

Snow can make some plant problems worse, however. It’s more difficult for animals to find food. Mice, deer and rabbits can eat the bark and buds. That can kill trees and shrubs.

At this point there’s really nothing we can do about our plants but wait until spring. Damage has been done. Problems will only be compounded by dealing with them now. That includes trying to repair trees that have been split carrying the weight of snow and ice.

Many evergreens have a lot of bronze colored leaves. They might come out of it, but I’m skeptical. Osmanthus and Indian hawthorn have been particularly hard hit. Many hollies in the area show signs of winter damage. However, damage will only be exacerbated if we try to treat the shrubbery now.

In spring we can assess them. That means scraping the stems with a knife or fingernail. If the bark is still tight and green that means that portion of the stem is still alive. If the bark slips off easily and is brown then that part of the stem is dead.

Some large shrubs like wax myrtle can show bronzing and have many broken branches from snow load. The good thing here is that they will not only tolerate, they will thrive from severe pruning in spring. Other shrubs will die if pruned severely.

Most conifers won’t tolerate renewal pruning. Leyland cypress, Cryptomeria, arborvitae and all the pines will not grow back when severely pruned. If they have been severely damaged they need to be removed.

Even deciduous plants should not be pruned now, especially spring blooming ones. Trimming them back into shape will only serve to limit their flowering. Let them flower and then shape them. This also is true for fruit trees.

I think most of our winter damaged plants will recover. However, many of us try to stretch the hardiness zone a little and this year we’re likely to get burned. It’s fun to grow plants like Eucalyptus, banana, and some of the palms, but eventually a winter like this one comes along and plants get damaged.

The main thing to remember is that what’s done is done. Now is not the time to try to doctor those plants. Wait until spring when it’s more comfortable. We’re getting close here.

I think my gardenia might be toast

I’ve never seen Vinca major with this much winter damage this far south.

Snow may have saved the base of this Indian Hawthorn.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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Pussy willows tell us spring is on the way

I know we’ve had some rough weather for this area. We’ve had substantial damage to some of our landscaping too. However, some shrubs have begun to awaken from their slumber. I’m speaking of pussy willows (Salix sp.). There are many species of them.

Pussy willows are hardy shrubs to small trees and they’re not common around here. We’re on the southern reaches of their range. These plants with the furry grayish flower buds are one of the first woody plants to break winter dormancy. I was at the Asheboro zoo in late January and the pussy willows were near their peak of attractiveness.

Some plants were showier than others. As you might suspect, they are a dioecious species, meaning entire plants are either male or female. This might come as a surprise, but male plants are generally more dramatic than female ones.

The furry buds are protected by a single bud scale. This silvery grayish material protects the male or female flower parts until later in the season when the pollen matures and is spread by insects. At this time the hairs wither and flowers become yellowish green and unattractive.

Pussy willows are a fast growing species. They also thrive in full sun to partial shade and are a terrific landscape choice in wet areas. They also naturalize well at the edge of wooded areas or along streams. As one might expect, willows tolerate wet places very well.

These plants are great for informal landscaping. They require very little pruning, but they can be shaped to form attractive specimen plants or a hedge, especially if one wants a tall hedge.

They are also extremely easy to propagate. Simply stick a piece or dormant branch into the ground and it will most likely grow. It’s that easy, at least on moist soils. They are not the best choice on dry sites.

Another advantage of pussy willow is that since it flowers so early it is one of the few food sources for pollinators in the late winter and early spring. Believe it or not, pollinators and nectar feeders are out when we have a stretch or mild winter days.

Butterflies and songbirds love the flowers. Songbirds thin the insects that flock there as part of their winter food. Hummingbirds often use the furry stuff from them to line their nests.

As with most willows, pussy willow has extensive roots. This makes it great for conservation purposes but bad if planted near septic tanks and leach fields.

At this time of year when the flower buds are showy they can be cut and used in floral arrangements and other crafts. They also can be preserved by drying. Dried pussy willow branches maintain their attractiveness for a long time.

As is the case with other willows, the bark of pussy willow can be made into an analgesic tea. All willows contain varying amounts of salicylic acid, an aspirin derivative.

As with all collected herbal medication, use caution. It’s difficult to know how much active ingredient you’re ingesting. If you are sensitive to aspirin you should avoid it altogether. Always consult your medical professional before trying anything new.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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