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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Don’t make these (summertime) mistakes! 

Spring and fall are busy times for gardeners. Summer seems to be a time where things can get a little lax. Are you guilty of any of the below?

✳️​ Great plant, wrong spot
Do you have plants that are getting scorched by the sun? Make sure you have the right plant for the right place. Read the plant label or description before purchasing a plant, and have an appropriate spot in mind.

For the record, full sun means 6+ hours of direct sunlight, part sun means about half that. Full shade means no direct sun.

✳️ Under watering
During extended periods of dry weather, be sure your plants are watered. If in doubt, simply put your finger into the soil. Is the soil dry?

Lightly watering plants every day does NOT encourage a deep root system that plants need to better withstand dry periods. Instead, soak the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches to encourage roots to seek water. Soaker hoses are great for this purpose. They keep evaporation to a minimum, and can be laid around the root zones easily. 

✳️ Over fertilizing
Over fertilizing your vegetable garden can actually lead to less fruit. Plants use the excess energy to create new stems, branches and foliage, cutting down on new blooms. 

✳️ Volcano mulching
Mulch retains moisture around a plant’s roots, but avoid having a volcano-shaped mound of mulch against the plant’s base or the tree trunk. That invites insects and disease. Use a 2-3 inch deep layer, and pull it away from the trunk or base (so it’s more like a donut than a volcano).

✳️ Where are the pollinator-friendly plants? 
Plants need pollination to produce fruits and seeds. Some plants are self-pollinated, but many edible plants (including blueberries, apples, tomatoes, squash, and watermelon) need bees, ants, flies, beetles, wasps and butterflies to carry pollen from plant to plant

A reminder about your soil
Healthy soil is the foundation of your garden. If you haven’t done a soil test in 2-3 years, add it to your list (the analysis is free through November). The test will tell you your soil’s acidity or alkalinity. With that information, you’ll know how to accurately amend your soil as needed. 

August in the garden

Gardens may move more slowly in August and immediate gardening tasks, like watering and weeding, may be all you think you really need to do. But smart gardeners (that's y'all!) know August isn’t a stand down month!

Perennials & annuals
✳️ Did you know ferns can become dormant if they get too dry? Check the soil regularly for watering needs.
✳️ Renew annuals by pinching leggy growth and deadheading. Fertilize with a liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, to encourage blooms through the fall. 
✳️ Continue to prune perennials to keep in a desired space and for air circulation. 

✳️ Start seeds now for fall and winter vegetables.
✳️ Pinch the stems of basil regularly to prevent flowering, and harvest about once a week. Gather herbs for drying as they mature.

Trees & shrubs
✳️ No fertilizing is necessary this month.
✳️ Trees and shrubs should NOT be pruned after Aug. 15.

Lawn & landscaping
✳️ Watch out for yellow patches, leaf curl or poor growth. You may need to increase watering if you see these signs.
✳️ If you have tall fescue: Mow to 3.5 inches. Do not fertilize, use herbicides or aerate now. For more information, check NCSU's lawn care calendars. Simply find your turf type and check that calendar. It's wonderful! 

Watering tips
✳️ Water outdoor container plants daily, if needed, as they dry out quicker than plants in the ground. Water early morning to prevent mildew from occurring.

✳️ BEWARE: Have you received unsolicited seeds in the mail? Read this! ​

See our complete list of gardening tasks for August.


Grateful dead(heading) 

Deadheading is nothing more than the removal of dead or spent flowers from living plants. What does it accomplish?

  • Makes the plant look neater: Dying flowers tend to turn brown and appear dry or mushy. This can detract from the overall look you've worked so hard to achieve in your garden.
  • Encourages plants to set more flower buds: Plants flower to set seed. If their flowers are constantly being removed before they mature and go to seed, many plants, although not all, will simply set more. This will extend the length of the blooming season. Most annual flowers -- such as petunias, zinnias, and marigolds, as well as many perennial plants -- will continue to bloom throughout the growing season if they are deadheaded. Rudbeckia and Echinacea are good examples of perennials that benefit from deadheading. 
  • Helps plants conserve energy: Removing dead blooms allows the plant to direct its energy toward improving its general health. Perennial flowers, such as Astilbe and peonies, bloom only once per year, even with deadheading. However, cutting back the flower stalks allows all the plant's energy to be put back into its roots and foliage, allowing it to regain any energy it lost to flowering and making for a generally hardier plant.
  • Prevents seed formation: Some plants self-sow aggressively, and deadheading prevents them from forming seed in the first place. Plants such as chives and garlic chives can quickly outgrow their space if allowed to self-sow. Of course, self-sowing can be a welcome attribute with desirable plants such as columbines and butterfly weed.

Do all flowers need deadheading? No.

  • Some plants are "self-cleaning," dropping their flower heads after they bloom (e.g., angelonia, lantana, some varieties of petunias).
  • Some gardeners choose not to deadhead perennials so they self-seed (e.g., hollyhock, foxglove, lobelia).
  • And don't forget that wildlife appreciate some seedpods during the winter months for food (like coneflower, rudbeckia). 

A Grateful Dead Flower pin! Who knew? Photo: Etsy

It's back!!! Nutsedge (cyperus)

You mowed a few days ago and then it appears.  What is it and how can it be controlled?

It’s called nutsedge or nutgrass, and it’s a pesky grassy weed that shoots up in our yards this time of year. Don’t even think about hand weeding because it will only cause it to spread. How? It contains tubers called “nutlets” that when pulled, separate from the roots and scatter.

The only mechanical method of removal would be to dig up the impacted area (width and depth) to capture all of the nutlets. As far as chemical control for the lawn, spot-treating with products containing imazaquin, bentazon or halosulfuron will decrease the weed over time. Always follow directions on product packaging.

If nutsedge is found in garden beds or vegetable gardens, digging it out is probably the best approach. Avoid the use of herbicides and pesticides around edible plants.


Master Gardeners in the Community

Sometimes a flame torch does more than kill weeds! ​A few years ago, Natalie Potter met Master Gardener Bill Sloan who was using a flame torch at the Freedom Park Demonstration Garden. It caught her attention! Afterwards, she talked with Bill about the Master Gardener program. “I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to do, but I figured it would have to wait until I retired,” Natalie said.

The next year, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. “After my diagnosis, I was reminded how little time we have on this earth. I stopped using phrases like ‘when I retire,’ and I made a promise to myself that I would find a way to complete the program after my cancer treatment.” Her law firm was fully supportive, allowing Natalie to complete the classroom training and volunteer requirements to be certified as an Extension Master Gardener.

“The program has enhanced my life in so many ways. Instead of using lots of herbicides, I now use cardboard and mulch to control weeds and create new garden beds. I’ve stopped using pesticides, except to treat the occasional fire ant mound. Instead, I opt for more environmentally friendly means to control unwanted pests, such as manually removing them.

“Being part of the program has introduced me to plants I never knew existed and to people I would otherwise have never met. The program has taught me to think about how my garden decisions affect nature on a local, national global scale.”

Natalie’s advice for new gardeners: “Don’t let a failure or two -- or 40 for that matter -- discourage you. Keep trying. Trying new things is half the fun.”

Natalie is part of the team responsible for speakers at the monthly EMG meetings and also serves on the Fund Development Committee. She has played a key role in responding to many plant and pest questions submitted to the Help Desk since COVID-19 began.

“If you have a strong interest in learning about nature and a willingness to give back to the community, you’re a good fit for the program,” Natalie added. “We all learn from each other and all levels of experience are welcome.” 


Natalie around age 3 in her grandparents' garden.


Yes, she actually has a flame torch that she uses in her garden.

About the flame torch: Natalie uses it only when the ground is wet or moist. "I like to use it for weeds that have long taproots that are otherwise too difficult to dig up. I've also used it on liriope that has spread over my yard. There are several sizes of torches. The kind I have is best for small areas as it holds a small propane tank." See this article on flame weeding

Glyphosate: Is it safe to use? 

Glyphosate is a common herbicide that's available for agricultural and home use. It was first registered in the United States in 1974 as the active ingredient in Roundup but is now available in many commercial herbicide products.

There continues to be concern about glyphosate impacts on human health, including risks of cancer, despite reports indicating it's safe if used as directed. 

Several Extension Master Gardeners in Mecklenburg recently participated in a two-hour session on glyphosate taught by Joe Neal, professor of Weed Science and extension specialist at NC State. EMG Stacy Hodes compiled key points for your review. We hope you'll read it!


Some great virtual events!

  • Aug. 25; 7-8:30 pm – Beyond Daffodils and Tulips (a review of all geophytes, including bulbs, corms, tubers, rhizomes, and tuberous roots). Sponsor: Durham Garden Forum. Check the list of upcoming topics. These are FREE to attend through February 2021!
  • Have you been to the Elizabeth Lawrence Home & Garden in Charlotte? During COVID-19, garden curator Andrea Sprott is hosting virtual Imbibe and Inspire Tours. See the videos from the May and June tours. They're free to view. You can also join the tour on Aug. 20 ($15 for members; $20 for nonmembers). 
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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.