Welcome to Garden Zone, the monthly newsletter produced by Extension Master Gardeners of Mecklenburg County. ​​We encourage you to share Garden Zone with friends and neighbors! They can subscribe here.  

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Charlotte offers urban refuge for pollinators 

Did you know the city of Charlotte has created nearly a dozen butterfly gardens, providing refuge for bees, butterflies, moths, birds and other pollinators? Kudos to four groups that are leading this effort: Landscape Operations, the City Arborist group, Charlotte Area Transit System and Charlotte Water.

The gardens are diverse. You’ll find formal gardens at the old City Hall building and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. Meanwhile, the pollinator garden at Elmwood Cemetery in uptown is a large parcel full of wildflowers, while CATS-sponsored gardens along the light rail offer a prairie feel with lots of grasses, coneflowers and bee balm. 

There’s also a large pollinator garden recently installed near Johnson & Wales University by Charlotte’s Tree Canopy Preservation program that includes apple, fringe and black gum trees – as well as flowering plants.

“These gardens offer pockets of native plants that provide food and shelter as pollinators travel through our urban environment,” said Vicki Aguilar, field operations supervisor with Landscape Operations, which created and maintain six of the gardens. “We hope the gardens show others what’s possible in their own backyard or on their balcony.”  

Interested in attracting pollinators to your garden?

Check this handout for basic tips and examples of native plants they love! We also like this handout which provides a comprehensive list of plants for specific seasons and the color they provide. Scroll down the document to see the list.


Char-Meck Government Center


The garden at Johnson and Wales was recently planted

Summer in the garden

Whoever coined the phrase “lazy days of summer” probably wasn’t a gardener! The growth of many plants and insects can increase with the temperatures, and watering becomes even more of a priority! Here are some things to consider:

Perennials, annuals, bulbs
🏡 Inspect your plants regularly. Aphids, beetles, thrips and white flies are at their worst in July. You can hand pick and drown them in a bucket of soapy water.
🏡 If needed, divide and transplant daylilies, irises and peonies after they bloom.
🏡 Remove spent flowers from perennials and annuals to promote plant growth.
🏡 Remove one-third of growth off fall-blooming perennials to encourage abundant flowers and compact growth.

🏡 Plant beans and carrots now. Collard plants and brussel sprouts can be set out mid-July.
🏡 Through August, start seeds indoors for collards, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
🏡 Plant tomatoes for fall.

Trees, shrubs and groundcovers
🏡 Fertilize trees and shrubs for the last time this year.
🏡 Do not prune spring flowering shrubs after July 15.
🏡 If shrubs need light trimming, do it now. Otherwise, the tender regrowth could be killed back over the winter.
🏡 Hot, dry weather fosters powdery mildew. Once spotted, spray every 7-14 days. Spider mites are another problem during hot, dry weather. Reduce their numbers with horticulture oil or spray with insecticidal soap.

Don't forget to wear a hat and sunscreen when you're working outside!

See the full list for July!


What needs pruning? 

Here are some pruning needs for July/August to consider for your garden:

“Bleeder” Trees: maple, birch, elm, styrax & dogwood
🌳Perform light pruning as desired. (Light pruning involves branches of 18 inches in length or less.)
🌳 Dogwoods look best left in their natural form. Prune only when grown out of their natural shape.

🌳 Prune leggy plants only and fertilize after pruning for fall flowering.

🌳 As needed, keep bottom branches wider than top.

Brambles: blackberry & raspberry
🌳 Prune out the wood that bore fruit, cutting canes near ground level.

Other tasks
🌳 Remove one-third of growth off fall-blooming perennials to encourage flowers and compact growth
🌳 Prune hydrangea macrophylla and gardenias as their blooms fade
🌳 Do not prune spring flowering shrubs after July 15
🌳 If shrubs need light trimming, do it now. Otherwise, the tender regrowth might be killed back over winter.

If you have questions about plant or pest problems, you can always contact our Help Desk.

Brown spots in the lawn? Ugh...

Brown patch in turf is most severe during extended periods of hot, humid weather. The disease can begin to develop when night temperatures exceed 60°F, but is most severe when low and high temperatures are above 70°F and 90°F, respectively.

The blades of grass must be continuously wet for at least 10 to 12 hours for the brown patch fungus to infect. Poor soil drainage, lack of air movement, shade, cloudy weather, dew, over-watering, and watering in late afternoon favor prolonged wetness and increased disease severity. Brown patch is particularly severe in turf that has been fertilized with excessive nitrogen. Inadequate levels of phosphorus and potassium also contribute to injury from this disease.

Some things you can do: 

✅ Avoid applying nitrogen to cool-season grasses (e.g., tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass) in late spring or summer, or use very low rates.

✅ Avoid prolonged periods of wetness to drastically reduce the severity of brown patch. That wetness can originate from irrigation, dew or guttation (which is the water that is sometimes exuded from the blades during the night). To minimize wetness, do not irrigate daily.

✅ Good surface and soil drainage will also help reduce the incidence of brown patch.

✅ Turf surrounded by trees, shrubs, buildings or other barriers will remain wet for extended periods of time due to reduced air movement and sunlight.

✅ Removal or pruning of trees and other barriers will help minimize wetness of the grass and discourage brown patch development. In shady areas, plant turfgrass species that are tolerant of low light levels, such as hard fescue, chewings fescue, or strong creeping red fescue.

Here's more information.


Photo: NCSU

What’s bugging you? 

Three tiny pests that are in action right now are aphids, thrips and spider mites. With the onset of consistently hot days, those eggs laying in wait are now hatching and developing quickly into adults and they are hungry! In all three instances, these insects have piercing-sucking mouthparts that suck the juices (phloem) out of plants, as well as inject an enzyme into plant tissue which distorts growth of the plant. The good news is that in most cases these insects will not kill your plants and their infestation will only last a couple of weeks; they will either move on or be eaten by predators. Insecticides may be needed as a last resort but allowing predators to do the dirty work is a best practice.

Aphids are the most common insect found in our gardens. They are lime green in color and excrete a sweet, sticky liquid called honeydew that can coat the leaves and result in sooty molds. If you find a plant with a cluster of aphids on its stem, simply prune out that part of the plant or spray it with the hose.

Thrips are orange and have slender bodies with wings. They prefer roses and can be found at the base of the petals. Evidence of thrips activity is deformed buds and blossoms that prematurely turn brown. Remove any affected blossoms and discard in the trash.

Spider Mites have eight legs (spider), and can be green, yellow or brown with two black spots on their backs. They basically like most of the plants in your yard (not so much trees and woody shrubs). Their damage is evidenced by stippling of the leaves which gives them a lighter green, mottled appearance. Look on the underside of the leaves for webbing, eggs, skins and mites. They can easily travel to other plants by wind.


Aphids. Photo: Pixabay


Frankliniella tritici (Fitch); the eastern flower thrips. Photo: University of Florida Entomology


Twospotted spider mites on the underside of their host leaf. Photo: David Cappeart, Buggwood.org

Master Gardeners in the Community

What is it like to have over 500 people go through your garden? Cindy Trlica knows first-hand! Her garden was on the Wing Haven Garden Tour in 2010. After she retired from Bank of America in 2015, she signed up for the Master Gardener training program.

Today, her garden is a 180 from when Cindy and her family moved into their house. “I’ve applied basic design principals to my garden – repetition, variation, color, balance and interest. I also use native plants as much as possible. They work hard, are less work and help our pollinators, birds, and wildlife.

“My gardening knowledge, including the importance of good soil, has expanded greatly thanks to the Master Gardener program,” she said. “I’ve also learned the importance of fact-based research to solve problems.”

Cindy holds several leadership positions in the program:

  • She consults with schools and neighborhoods interested in starting gardens. Several businesses have also requested garden consultations to explore how to use gardens for team-building experiences.
  • In 2019, Cindy led a team of Master Gardeners that provided horticulture-related educational materials to 16 library branches. The team distributed 24,800 pieces of literature in just six weeks. In addition, 1,300 handouts were displayed at 23 Park and Recreation Centers and 3 Nature Centers.
  • In the fall, Cindy and extension agent Steven Capobianco hope to have Master Gardeners at select Home Depot garden centers on several Saturdays to provide extra guidance and education to customers planning gardens. It’s part of an exciting partnership with Bell Nursery, the largest wholesale nursery grower in the mid-Atlantic. 

Cindy’s recommendations to other gardeners:

  • Be knowledgeable about what you’re planting – including sun requirements and size. Otherwise, you may need to pull those plants up years later.
  • Practice “Right Plant Right Place.” It’s a gardener’s mantra.  
  • Get excited about native plants! They’re good for the environment, and they’re also pretty cool.


Cindy and the yellow buckeye (Aesculus pavia) that is in her garden

Take note...

  • If you're responsible for maintaining your lawn, see these lawn care maintenance calendars! Find your grass type. The tips are to-the-point. Thank you NCSU!   
  • The NC Dept. of Agriculture is now accepting residential soil samples to test for nutrients. The analysis is free through November. The process time will be a bit longer due to COVID-19 impacts. A soil test is the best way to determine the health of your soil. More info...
  • Interested in applying for the 2021 Master Gardener program? For details...
  • Don't forget our free, online classes! Thurs., July 2: Gardening 101.  Tues., July 7: Pesticides 101. Fri., July 10: Landscaping for sloped areas. Each class runs from 12-1 p.m. RSVP here..

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The Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener Volunteer (EMGV) program operates under the Mecklenburg Center of the NC Cooperative Extension Service (NCCES), a part of NC State University and NC A&T State University. 

NCCES is a part of Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation.

NC State University and N.C. A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity and prohibit discrimination and harassment regardless of age, color, disability, family and marital status, gender identify, genetic information, national origin, political beliefs, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation and veteran status. NC State, N.C. A&T, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.