Welcome to Garden Zone, a monthly newsletter for anyone interested in gardening. ​​It's produced by Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Mecklenburg County.

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Veggie gardening tips & tricks  

Gardeners like to share tips and tricks. Here are a few we hope are helpful!

Water slow and low

🌾 Three inches of water once a week is best.

🌾 Avoid getting leaves wet. Early morning is optimal: less evaporation.

🌾 Night watering promotes mold and fungus growth.

Lay newspaper or cardboard between plants

🌾 Cover paper with mulch or hold down with rocks. This smothers weeds and holds in moisture.

🌾 Paper degrades into compost.

🌾 Leafy veggies stay cleaner for harvest.  


🌾 Determinate tomatoes are short and bushy. Since they produce fruit all at once, stagger planting times to extend harvest time. No need to remove suckers.

🌾 Indeterminate tomatoes grow continuously producing throughout the summer. Remove some or all suckers.

🌾 Suckers will root to make a new plant.

🌾 Keep base of tomato mulched to keep roots cool and moist.

🌾 Clip base branches to allow 8 inches of space for air circulation and to deter fungus.

🌾 Watering evenly prevents splitting fruit and black spot.


🌾 Wrap a gloved hand with wide sticky tape, like duct tape, sticky side out.  Brush both sides of leaves to catch pests. Replace tape as needed. This will quickly reduce the number of offenders.

🌾 Don't squash stink bugs. They release an odor that attracts more stink bugs. 

🌾 Marigolds and zinnias attract pollinators and predatory insects to your garden.

🌾 Marigolds kill or repel nematodes that attack plant roots.

🌾 Nasturtiums repel the squash bore.

🌾 Wrapping the base of zucchini stems in foil helps deter squash bores.  July is the worst time for squash bores.

Pesky birds and squirrels

🌾 Cover your larger fruit with the toe part of a nylon footie.

🌾 Buy fruit bags to cover your fruit.

Pick often

🌾 Picking veggies often encourages more fruiting.

🌾 Pick veggies after plants have been watered.

🌾 Frequently clipping herbs encourages new growth and deters seeding.

🌾 Do not handle plants when they are wet because it encourages transfer of disease and fungus.

Journaling -- keep notes for future planning

🌾 Which varieties are doing well? Do you want to plant them again?

🌾 Where are plants located for crop rotation next year?

🌾 What problems and successes did you observe? 


Nasturtium, of the genus Tropaeolum, are loved for their rich, jewel-toned colors. Both the flowers and the leaves are edible, with a peppery taste similar to a radish. Photo: Eden Brothers

Summer officially arrives June 20

Get ready for hotter temperatures! 

✳️ It's time to remove leaves that have turned brown on most spring bulbs.

✳️ For perennials, such as phlox, shasta daisy, purple coneflower, and rubeckia, remove old flowers to encourage rebloom.

✳️ Fertilize roses after the first blooms with a rose fertilizer or slow release tree/shrub fertilizer. Continue to remove dying leaves and stems. 

✳️ It's time to plant warm season crops -- like sweet potatoes and okra. Wait until after June 20 to plant peas and fall tomatoes to avoid certain pests that attack these plants. Lightly side-dress vegetables that are beginning to yield produce with a complete fertilizer.  

✳️ Treat now if you see scale, spider mites, lace bug, leaf miner, spittlebug, or leaf hoppers on euonymus, azalea, camellia, pyracantha, gardenia or photinia.

✳️ Monitor your plants for Japanese beetles. You can either ignore some damage or apply a pesticide (follow label directions).

✳️ Prune non-blooming evergreens by July if they need to be reshaped.

✳️ Watch for powdery mildew on crepe myrtles and roses, and apply an appropriate fungicide when needed (follow directions). 

✳️ Trees and shrubs planted within the past couple of years may need additional watering during our hot summer months.

See more gardening tasks for June.


Spigelia marilandica (Indian Pink) makes a truly stunning perennial! It begins flowering in mid-spring. If old flowers are removed, the clump will flower again into the summer. It is a southeast native plant and is blooming at our two demonstration gardens at Independence and Freedom parks.

Yes, you might see a snake!

That’s right. As you tend to your garden this season, you may come across a snake! Let's shed (sorry!) some light on this subject to help you have a better appreciation for these slithering creatures. 

🐍 Many of us are fearful of snakes. We get that but that’s no reason to harm them. If you don’t like snakes and come across one, back away. Most times they will move on.

🐍 Their activity is dictated by temperature. You are more likely to see a snake in the mornings and evenings. During the heat of the day, they like to hide away in cool, shady areas.

🐍 Typical places in your yard where you may encounter them unexpectedly include wood piles, under leaves or mulch… in undisturbed areas.

🐍 If you antagonize them, they will defend themselves.

🐍 While working in the yard, it’s always a good idea to wear boots and long pants for safety.

🐍 If you encounter one, take a picture and try to identify it and understand it. Share that knowledge with neighbors and kids.

So, what might you see? 

Several types roam Mecklenburg County but only one is the true villain:  Copperhead or Highland Moccasin (Agkistrodon contortrix). They’re not aggressive and unless you accidentally step on one, they only bite as a last resort in self-defense. The dark brown, hourglass-shaped cross bands and heat-sensing pit organ in front of each eye aid in identification. Their bite is going to hurt but is not life threatening for adults; pets and small children will need immediate medical attention.

The rest that you may encounter in our area are beneficial and should be left alone. They primarily eat rodents and are a great form of natural pest control. See this list of NC snakes with photos; it's good. 


Copperhead; Photo: Pixabay

Learn to recognize these plants!

When you’re outdoors, beware of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens), and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix).

The plants have a sticky, long-lasting oil called urushiol that causes an itchy, blistering rash after it touches your skin. Even slight contact, like brushing up against the leaves, can leave the oil behind.

🌾Poison ivy has three leaves, one on each side and one in the center. They’re shiny with smooth or slightly notched edges.
🌾Poison oak looks similar, but the leaves are larger and more rounded like an oak leaf. They have a textured, hairy surface. There may be groups of three, five or seven leaves.
🌾Poison sumac leaves grow in clusters of seven to 13 leaves, with one by itself at the end.

What can you do?
🌾Avoid any contact with these plants when possible.
🌾Cover your skin when gardening, working in your yard, hiking, camping; wear long sleeves, long pants, gloves and closed shoes if you’re in an area where they grow.
🌾Wear gloves when you handle bagged mulch or bales of pine straw.
🌾Try a lotion that has bentoquatam. It acts as a barrier between urushiol and your skin.

🌾 If you're highly allergic to these plants, consider hiring a lawn service to remove these plants from your yard.  


Blooms, Bees and Birds! 

Join us on Mon., June 28 at noon for an online presentation on Blooms, Bees and Birds -- how native plants can create healthy, beautiful Carolina gardens that host and attract birds and other pollinators.

Presenter: Margaret Genkins, an Emeritus Extension Master Gardener volunteer with Mecklenburg County. 

Sponsors: Myers Park Library Garden Club in conjunction with Matthews Library.

We guarantee you'll learn a lot! You can register here


Photo: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Want to be an Extension Master Gardener?

Classes will be held on Tuesdays, from 9 am until 12:30 pm, from January-May 2022. You'll receive a total of 60-70 hours of in-person classroom training after which you'll be required to perform 40 hours of volunteer service to earn your certification. Here are more details; applications are due no later than Aug. 31, 2021. It's an amazing experience! 


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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.