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Past News Articles

  • Preventing Chimney Fires

    The potential for a chimney fire is a real hazard to anyone who burns wood.  Chimney fires occur when accumulated creosote ignites and burns.  Chimney fires are most likely to occur during a very hot fire such as when cardboard or paper is burned to during a cold snap when the stove is burning wood at a higher than normal rate.  The actual burning in the chimney develops temperatures of 2000-3000°F.  This temperature can expand and break metal or masonry parts causing the flames to come out through the open spaces.


    A CO2 or dry fire extinguisher should be kept close to the stove for easy access in the event of a fire.  Do not use water.  The resulting steam and sudden change in temperature could cause the chimney to explode.

    • Wood stoves pose an increased potential for creosote production.  The new stoves have become very efficient at putting the heat out into the room rather than up the chimney. 
    • The resulting cooler flue temperature increases creosote formation.  Creosote formation should be monitored and cleaned at least once a year.  New stove owners should check creosote buildup more often until they become familiar with the rate of creosote buildup in their system.
  • Mulching Basics

    A Mulch is any material that provides protection and improves the soil when applied to the surface. Depending on the type of mulch, it can help to:

    1. Protect shallow-rooted plants from freeze damage
    2. Improve soil structure and nutrient availability
    3. Reduce weed growth
    4.  Reduce soil temperature extremes
    5. Retain soil moisture
    6. Prevent vegetables from making soil contact
    7. Prevent soil erosion from heavy rain damage. 

    There are two types of mulches;

    • Organic mulches include wood chips, sawdust, straw, grass clippings, manure, and seed hulls.
    • Inorganic mulches include volcanic lava rock, gravel, polyethylene plastic, and weed barrier fabric.

    The selection of a mulch depends on its intended use. If appearance is the main goal, a rock, gravel, or wood chip mulch should be used. If soil improvement is the main goal, use a straw, grass clippings, sawdust, or manure mulch that will break down and ass nutrients and tilth to the soil. If the mulch is used to protect fall transplants by keeping soil temperatures above freezing longer into the fall apply soon after transplanting. If the mulch is to be used to reduce frost-heave and delay spring growth, apply after the ground has frozen.


    • Apply most mulches to a depth of 4-6 inches. Some mulches particularly loose leaves and straw, may harbor rodents. A 6-inch space should be left between these mulches and the base of trees or shrubs. If these mulches are places next to the bark of trees, rodents living in the mulch will chew the bark off the base of the tree.
    •   As mulches decompose they tie up some of the soil nitrogen. Sometimes a quickly decomposing mulch such as sawdust can cause nitrogen deficiency that shows as a yellowing of the lower leaves. For every 100-sq. ft. of the mulched area add 2 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer.

    We receive many questions about mulches. The only “don’t use as a mulch” is black walnut. It contains a toxic substance that keeps other plants from growing. Some mulching materials such as peat moss can be acid-forming and should be used as a soil amendment more than a mulch.

    • Pine needles are the best for winter protection from freeze injury but can be hard to get in large quantities.
    • Straw blows easily and frequently contain weed seeds. It can be used around plants needing winter pro there is no perfect mulch for all occasions.
    • Availability is usually the biggest consideration. Even If a mulch has a slight acidifying effect on the soil, lime can easily offset that condition.


  • Hormones and Poultry

    A common misconception in the minds of the general public is that growth hormones are used in the production of poultry.  The simple truth is that growth hormones are NOT fed or administered to commercial poultry.  In fact, federal law prohibits the use of added hormones in poultry or swine production.


    Genetic selection, good nutrition, and proper husbandry of the bird are responsible for rapid growth rates and feed efficiencies, not hormone use.  In fact, most poultry is grown to their physiological limit, thus there would be no added benefit to using hormones.  Attempting to exceed this limit through hormone use would be counterproductive and would most likely result in increased mortality rates.

  • Using Dormant & Horticultural Oil

    Various types of oils have been used for many years to control insects like aphids, scale and spider mites on fruit trees, providing good control of these insects with little risk to the plant, beneficial insects or the applicator. 


    Oils kill insects in several ways, most importantly by blocking the air holes through which the insects breathe, causing them to suffocate.  Oils may also act as poisons by interfering with insect metabolism or to disrupt insect feeding.  They are also effective against powdery mildew and some aphid-transmitted viruses.  In fact, oils can easily be worked into an organic spray program for fruit trees as well as small fruit plants, vegetables, flowers, trees and shrubs.


    Before the development of current oil refining techniques, oils were used primarily on fruit trees during the dormant season, before the spring bud break.  The application was timed to kill insects over-wintering on the trees but also to avoid burning or damaging the leaves, which frequently happened with heavier, less highly refined oils.  These oil products could not be used on plants during the growing season due to their phytotoxic effects.  For this reason, the term ‘dormant oil’ was coined.  Many oil products currently available are more highly refined and the leaf damaging components including sulfur have been largely removed.


    Dormant oil needs at least 10-12 hours to dry.  If it freezes before the oil is dry it can severely damage the tree.  The standard recommendation for dormant oil is that the temperature not be forecast to drop below 40o that night.  I received a call from a lady last spring whose peach trees had died from a spraying of dormant oil.  The day that she sprayed dormant oil the temperature dropped to 30o that night.

    • Oil sprays also speed up spring bud development and reduce the ability of buds to withstand cold temperatures.  For species that tend to freeze out in this area like peach and apricot it is best to delay dormant oil sprays until the air temperature and bud development are at the proper stage.
    • Spray coverage is very important in oil sprays.  There is no residual chemical activity so the trees must be sprayed with an adequate amount of prepared spray mixture to cover all the tree parts.
    • Usually a 15x15 size tree will require 3 gallons of spray but a poorly pruned tree of the same size may take twice as much to get adequate coverage.
  • What Plant Goes Where?

    This spring local vendors are once again offering a tremendous variety of plants, bulbs and seeds for the local gardeners. Most of the offerings are adapted for this area and are of good quality. Some are supplied with basic growing advice and some are tagged with only the plant name. That is about as much information as you should expect to receive from the vendor but not near enough to know if you need to purchase that plant to grow in your landscapes. It is  the individual gardener to determine what, when, where, why and how much.

    • One of the most important decisions falls in the where category and concerns sunlight. With the trees in our landscapes finding an acceptable bright full sunlight location can be a problem. It is wise to determine whether your proposed location has  proper sunlight. Plants have a tremendous variation in the amount of sunlight they require and choosing the proper match is not that difficult. Many times calls about plants failure to bloom have been attributed to insufficient sunlight.
    • The second most important factor is the soil. Some plants won’t thrive in anything but sandy loam soil. Other plants require much more organic material and water holding capacity than a sandy loam soil provides. Much can be done to modify the soil but the larger the area the
      more time and expense involved.
    • Another consideration concerning the soil is to group plants with similar soil fertility and pH requirements


Soil Testing

Soil testing has been a large part of the Cooperative Extension Service for many years. It is easy to think that soil testing was developed for making recommendations about application rates of commercial fertilizers. However, soil testing was used prior to the civil war. Techniques and equipment have certainly changed since 1845 but the essential elements necessary for plant growth have always been the same. Soil testing then and now is an attempt to identify which elements are deficient and determine how much. Once that is determined organic or inorganic (manure or commercial fertilizer) is up to the individual preference.


The Cherokee County Extension office runs on average about 500 soil samples each year. The results are as varied as they can possibly be. On a rare occasion, a soil sample results show soil to be almost perfect from a fertility standpoint and no additives are recommended. Often times something has been added to the soil in quantities that have messed it up. It is the time of year to test the soil. A soil test costs only $10.00. If fertilizer is added without a soil test at very best you will waste money on fertilizer by adding something that isn’t needed. There is the possibility that you will apply or fail to apply nutrients that are  desperately needed to grow your crop.



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