NC Cooperative Extension in New Hanover County located at the arboretum is a partnership between North Carolina State University and New Hanover County. We work together to bring research-based information and services to our local customers in areas of youth development, food and nutrition, natural resources and horticulture.
A N.C. State University research station is also in New Hanover County. The Horticultural Crops Research Station at Castle Hayne aspires to give growers in the Coastal Plain region of North Carolina the tools they need to improve the quality and increase the yield of the crops they produce. The station boasts greenhouses with state-of-the-art environmental control systems, a modern blueberry packing line and an expanded irrigation system that protects tender crops from late frosts and tackles droughts.
NC State researchers based at the station breed blueberries, strawberries and muscadine grapes. This work includes testing cultivars — plant varieties created by humans through selective breeding techniques such as clones, grafts and hybrids — and evaluating their characteristics to create new varieties with ideal characteristics including color, taste and texture. Scientists also run field tests for the best way to control disease, insects and weeds when growing these types of fruit.
Last month, our staff hosted a “gleaning” to harvest the researched blueberries for distribution by the local food bank. In another session, our team picked berries to deliver to our county department partners as a healthful “thank you” for yearlong support. We enjoy this NC State partnership to turn the results of research, those amazing blueberries, into human nutrition.
Also, a benefit of our affiliation with NC State University, our arboretum grounds are serving a research-station of sorts for a delicious berry-like fruit, the thornless blackberry. The United States Department of Agriculture released three new erect thornless “eastern” blackberry cultivars. As part of a coordinated on-farm trial in this region, these 3 cultivars were planted along with standard cultivars on locations throughout the state to determine if they are adapted and productive in the state; the arboretum is one of those locations with varieties Von, Oauchita, Galaxy, Caddo, Ponca, and Eclipse trellised near the vegetable garden. Our team is privileged collect data on taste, appearance and more.
If you haven’t considered growing blackberries at home and have a sunny spot with room for a trellis, consider it for some summer sweet treats. Here is a guide: Blackberries for the Home Garden. My personal observations suggest that the varieties Caddo, Ponca, and Oauchita are the most vigorous and productive of the five we are trialing. Come visit the arboretum and see for yourself.
Lloyd Singleton is the county extension director, NC Cooperative Extension – New Hanover County Center and Arboretum, located at 6206 Oleander Drive, Wilmington. The gardens are free and open daily 8 a.m.– p.m. Singleton can be reached at 910-798-7660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.