Growings On: Open house planned for UGA's Durham Horticulture Farm

Roger Gates

The University of Georgia’s Durham Horticulture Farm is a 90-acre facility that is a living laboratory for faculty, graduate students and undergraduates to conduct research in horticulture and other disciplines including plant pathology, entomology and soil science. Some of the larger components of the farm’s land use include: pecan breeding and evaluations; disease management of peaches; ornamental breeding and evaluations; and more than six acres certified organic production area in support of an organic certificate program.

An important aspect of current research is the evaluation of new varieties of ornamentals, bushes and landscape plants before public release. The “Hort Farm” is closed to the public except during scheduled events. In several weeks landscapers, gardeners and homeowners can observe some of the new plants during the 2019 Durham Horticulture Farm Open House.

This year’s field day and open house is Oct. 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the farm at 1221 Hog Mountain Road, not far from Athens.

“The Durham Horticulture Farm Open House is an opportunity for both the general public and industry to visit the farm and gain a better understanding of the exciting work happening at the farm,” said associate professor Matthew Chappell, event coordinator and UGA Cooperative Extension coordinator for horticulture. “At any one time, there are dozens of ongoing projects, from vegetable and ornamental breeding to disease and insect trials.” According to Chappell, this year’s event focuses on ornamental and viticulture research at the horticulture farm.

Several presenters will cover the latest research developments during the half-day event: Woody plant and shrub breeder and professor Donglin Zhang will present his latest varieties; viticulture assistant professor Cain Hickey will talk about muscadine and wine grape cultivars; Chappell discusses the partnership between CAES and the Center for Applied Nursery Research and its new varieties of gardenia, loropetalum and camellia.

Horticulture associate professor Tim Smalley presents his latest research into cultural practices that can make landscape plants more vigorous and resilient, including studies that could help boxwood shrubs survive boxwood blight. Smalley has experience working as a student gardener at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland; a tree farmer at Walt Disney World; and assistant director of the botanical garden at Cornell University. He conducts research in the effect of soil amendments (biostimulants, porous ceramics, hydrogels, mycorrhiza, bark, poultry litter, municipal solid waste) on growth and water stress tolerance of ornamental plants.

Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) shrubs have been fixtures in gardens for centuries. Fine-textured evergreen foliage and a compact growth habit have made it an excellent choice for borders, hedges and even topiary. Boxwood blight, a fungal disease, was first identified in North Carolina and Connecticut in the fall of 2011. Since then, it has been identified within nurseries and/or landscapes in numerous states. In July 2014, boxwood blight disease was confirmed in the Buckhead area of Georgia and additional samples of the disease have since been identified in other parts of the state.

Boxwood blight cannot be controlled with curative fungicide applications. Fungicides are only effective when applied preventively. If Boxwood blight is detected, infected plants and all fallen leaf debris should be bagged on-site and removed from the area to be buried in a landfill to prevent its spread. Transport plants in closed bags. Leaf litter blowing from open trucks could spread the disease to plantings along the roadway. Fallen leaf debris should be vacuumed and bagged, burned on-site or buried. Debris should not be composted. Removal of existing garden soil and replacing with new soil is an option, but there is no guarantee that this will completely remove the pathogen.

Given the popularity and widespread use of boxwood in landscapes, the disease has become a major concern of homeowners as well as nurseries and landscape businesses. Smalley’s studies on procedures to enhance the survival of boxwood are important. His presentation during the open house will be both timely and welcome.

Roger Gates is the agricultural and natural resources agent for University of Georgia Extension, Whitfield County. Contact him at roger.gates@uga.edu.

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