Gene Fox: Where do you go to learn?

Published 5:39 pm Thursday, January 13, 2022

I am the expert…well no, not really!

Every day I try to learn more and more about horticulture. There are so many crops from vegetables to fruit trees to turf to ornamentals and even house plants. I cover all of the diseases, viruses, pests, and even the abiotic (non-biological problems) within these plants. I even get to identify and diagnose house insect problems that have nothing to do with plants! It isn’t possible to know it all so I have to rely on specialists both regionally and on campus and I try to bolster my knowledge by attending conferences like the annual Green and Growing Show in Greensboro.

This conference is the product of the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association. Industry folks from several states attend this conference to earn continuing education credits in their field. There are several different learning tracks and even specialized training in subjects like Irrigation and Pesticide Training. While I’m here, I like to hop around a little to learn a little about everything. I attended educational sessions like Weed Control in Color Beds, Pesticide Issues in the Spotlight, Common Arthropod Pests Affecting the Landscape, Management of Phytophthora Using an IPM Approach, and Recognizing and Avoiding Herbicide Injury in Landscape Planting. The second day of the conference, I devote entirely to turf. I learned about turf diseases, turf insects, dominant and problematic turf weeds, and challenges ahead with turf pesticides.

These educational sessions help me learn many of the things I diagnose in your home lawns or trees when you call for a site visit. They talk about the things to look for different pests and diseases. The most crucial time within the life cycle of a pest or weed when it is most susceptible to treatment. I get to see new cultivars being introduced and learn from several keynote speakers. This is like a refresher course in horticulture to jump start the year!

There is another very notable reason to attend these conferences, networking. I listen and speak with industry professionals from across the state about the challenges they are facing. We are looking at climate change in North Carolina and what that means for our nursery industry and even our homeowners in what weeds and pests may increase. I also get to hear about pests that are expected to be big this year, new treatments for things like ground pearls. Which, consequently have been found on several occasions now in Beaufort County. There is still no registered treatment but they have a few promising leads to a mix of chemistries and cultural practices that lessen their detriment to our turf.

Possibly the biggest thing I learned was that Atrazine and Simazine, two active ingredients that comprise nearly all of the recommendations for centipedegrass, have proposed new rules that would not only make them unavailable to homeowners but also drastically reduce how we can use them on residential lawns in general. Under the proposed new rule atrazine would be allowed for spot spraying by backpack sprayer only (less than 30% of the total area of turf) and simazine would not be allowed on residential lawns at all.

Lastly are the keynote speakers. The speaker on Tuesday was Charlie Hall from Texas A&M. He is an economist that focuses on the Green industry. This year his address was on inflation and post-covid economics for the landscape and nursery industries. On Wednesday the speaker was one of my favorites, Bryce Lane. He focused on leadership in times of uncertainty. Both were great talks and gave an eye into what the year will look like for the green industry as a whole.

Interested in being a Master Gardener? There is going to be an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer training series this Spring. Sign-up for our information list at to receive updates. Call the Extension center today at (252)946-0111 to learn more or visit the Blacklands Area Horticulture page on Facebook! There is an NC State Pesticide School coming up on February 15th and 16th at the Vernon James Center in Plymouth, sign-up now to get your pesticide license!