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Reducing Pesticide Use in Your Vegetable Garden

Add Color to Winter Landscapes or
Reducing Pesticide Use in Your Vegetable Garden

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Thursday, December 7, 2006

Question:  M. P.,   Piscataway, NJ
While I was out walking, I saw  a bush that had no leaves left on it but the bush was covered with bright red berries.  I have never seen so many little berries on a bush. Can you tell me the name of this plant ?  Where could I purchase one ?

Answer:
The plant in question is  probably a common winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata).  These shrubs  lose their leaves in the fall but leave behind abundant beautiful red berries.

Winterberry holly is  relatively easy to grow  and the berries  provide  a beautiful splash of color to barren or snowy  winter landscapes.  The plants will produce more berries in the full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Winterberry grows best on moist,  but not overly saturated soils.  It prefers slightly acidic soils with adequate organic matter.  I advise landscapers and gardeners to mix well rotted compost or peat moss in with the  surrounding soils when planting these hollies, and to use organic mulches around plants to increase soil organic matter.

Remember that when growing hollies, you need a male and a female plant nearby in order to get berry production.   I would recommend growing these hollies in groups of three if you have room,  to provide a point of interest in a landscape design. There are  a number of interesting  varieties of winterberry  hollies that have large, bright red berries that remain on the plant for a longer winter display of color.  You can find winterberry hollies at many local nurseries in our area.  

Question: T. R., Edison, NJ
My neighbor suggested that I cut the lawn very short in the fall to prevent diseases. Is this necessary? I thought that keeping the lawn at a higher cut was the best thing for grass. Who is right? 

Answer:
You are actually both correct. For the last cut of the fall season, mow the lawn shorter to reduce the potential for fungal diseases called snow molds that can infect turf in the fall and winter. Longer cuts in the fall and winter can enhance the incidence of snow molds by providing an ideal environment for these winter diseases. During the growing season however, it is best to cut the lawn higher at 2 to 3 inches. Close mowing in the spring and summer actually increases stress on most cool season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, fescues and ryegrass. Close mowing also encourages weed growth and research has shown significant reductions in weed infestations by increasing mowing height over one to two years. It is especially important to keep grasses cut higher during the hottest part of the season.

For more tips, log on to   www.rce.rutgers.edu/  and to www.ifplantscouldtalk.rutgers.edu for educational slide shows, videos and graphics. 

Bill Hlubik is a Professor and Agricultural and Resource Management Agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension- The New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Rutgers University.

Bill is also a host of the “If Plants Could Talk” television series on NJN  Public Television.