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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Thumbs up to North Carolina!

In late July, North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill that will result in more native plants along state highways. This law requires the NC Dept. of Transportation to select plants with "a strong preference" for native species when landscaping highway rights of way. The transition will be gradual. Existing landscape will remain until it's removed by a road widening (or similar change). Still, it's a great step that recognizes the importance of native plants to our ecosystem.

Already, North Carolina's roadside wildflower program is the largest planted wildflower program in the nation. Covering 1,500 acres across the state, it uses one-third each of annuals, perennials and North Carolina native wildflowers. 100% of these wildflowers are grown from seed, not plugs or root stock. 

The program is funded primarily from the sale of personalized license plates. Direct contributions also support the program. No taxpayer dollars are involved. 

See this booklet, which lists plants used in the roadside program. It also provides wildflower planting instructions, growing tips and information on pollinators in the state.


September tasks in the garden 

September can be one of the busiest months in the garden. With cooler temperatures headed our way, September typically brings relief to gardens and signals the start of a new season. Keep your fingers crossed!

Tasks to consider for your home garden:

Perennials & annuals

  • Fertilize annuals: give them one last feeding to keep their blooms coming as long as possible.
  • Divide spring- and summer-blooming perennials and keep them well-watered
  • Order bulbs and garlic while the selection is good. Keep them cool until time to plant in October or November, once soil temperatures drop. 


  •  Plant broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, radishes and spinach.
  • Continue to monitor your garden for pests, including whiteflies and tomato hornworms.  

Trees & shrubs

  • Do not prune shrubs or trees in late summer or early autumn (September-October). Pruning stimulates new growth that may not have time to harden off before frost. Prune only diseased or dead limbs.
  • Please water your trees to ensure they don't experience drought issues. 

For a complete list, see our garden tasks for September.


A word about lawns... 

  • Cool-season lawns (e.g., fescue) are best fertilized in the fall in mid-September and again in November. (Warm-season grasses, like Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass, can be seeded successfully between March and July.)
  • Begin fall seeding or sodding of cool-season grasses. Seedbeds should be raked, dethatched or core-aeriated, fertilized and seeded. Keep newly planted lawn areas moist, but not wet.
  • Newly seeded lawns should not be cut until they are at least 2 or 3 inches tall.

For more info, see NCSU's Carolina lawn care publication.


Pest of the Month: Grasshoppers

Grasshoppers (Melanoplus spp.) were in the news last month as millions of them descended on Las Vegas. They're now in our backyards, but hopefully not in as great a number (What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!).

Grasshoppers have mandibles and chew on a variety of plants, most prevalent being corn. The eggs of grasshoppers spend the winter just below the surface and will come to fruition in May or June if not disturbed by digging or tilling.

Winged adults develop over the summer and then begin feeding through early fall. The worst area of destruction in cornfields will take place around the perimeter (undisturbed areas). Hence, chemical treatments should be limited to these outside areas, if at all.

Grasshoppers can jump 20 times their body length; their eardrums are located beneath their wings on their abdomen (Can you hear me now?!); they have 5 eyes (“I got my eyes on you!”); and they’ve been jumping around our planet for over 3 million years. In our backyards, damage should be minimal, they don’t bite or sting, birds eat them… so just observe them and respect their longevity!


Melanoplus is a large genus of grasshoppers. They are the typical large grasshoppers (and in some cases migratory "locusts") in North America. A common name is spur-throat grasshoppers (also "spurthroat" or "spur-throated grasshoppers"). Photo: Kansas State U

What's bugging you??!!

Have you heard of the new trend of insect friendly gardening? It’s actually an idea that has been around for a while. Planting to attract beneficial insects and minimize harmful insects yields a landscape that is both beautiful and healthy.

A beneficial insect is one that helps keep the bad insect population in check. Beneficial insects include parasitic wasps, ground beetles, lady beetles, lacewings and more. Parasitic wasps lay eggs on or in the bodies of pests such as hornworm and aphids. Ground beetles love to feed on slugs. Lady beetles feed on common pests such as aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, and even scale insects. These are just a few examples of beneficial insects at work.

So how do you attract and maintain a beneficial insect population? Plants in the carrot family, such as dill and fennel, will attract parasitic wasps and flies. Plants in the aster family, such as sunflower and coneflower, are very attractive to lady beetles. Ground beetles will find a friendly habitat in your garden mulch. Be sure to leave an undisturbed area in your perennial garden or woodland edge for beneficial insects to overwinter.

If you still have periodic problems with pest insects, try to use a pesticide with minimal residual impact such as insecticidal soap. Apply it in the evening and try to keep it off the flowers and mulch areas that attract our beneficial friends. Here's more information.


Ground beetle. Photo: Pixabay

Master Gardeners in the Community

Growing up on a farm, Jennie Torgler developed an appreciation for plants at an early age.

Later, marrying a minister meant frequent moving, and with it she shared her expertise in gardening and landscaping with each congregation. In fact, one of the churches named a memorial garden in her honor.

After moving to Matthews, Jennie completed the Extension Master Garden program in Mecklenburg County in 2009. Sometime afterwards, raised beds were built for the program’s vegetable garden, and Jennie volunteered to lead the group of volunteers tasked with planting, maintaining and harvesting the garden. Her one stipulation: Produce from the gardens would be donated to the Urban Ministry Center’s soup kitchen. This nonprofit serves hot, nutritious lunches 365 days a year to those in need of a meal, regardless of the person’s situation. With a 35-year history, it remains the largest, oldest soup kitchen in Charlotte.

Later, Jennie mentored Master Gardener Joe Swift as he transitioned to lead the veggie garden, allowing Jennie to focus on the herb garden nearby. To this day, all produce from the gardens is given to the soup kitchen.

If you want to be wowed, see Jennie’s silversmith pieces, which she designs and fabricates in her shop. She attended the Fletcher Farm Arts and Crafts School in Vermont for two weeks every summer for five years before earning a certificate as a Master Silversmith. And her work is amazing – just like her.


Jennie Torgler (above); some of her hand-crafted jewerly (right)


School's in session, let's get down and garden 

Did you know our Master Gardener volunteers provide guidance to organizations -- such as schools, churches, communities, nonprofits and businesses -- interested in developing successful vegetable, sensory/herb, or pollinator gardens? Before reaching out to us, we encourage organizations to:

  • Use the checklist on our web site to help focus on the goals and details of starting a garden
  • Identify one or two volunteers dedicated to take the lead in ensuring the garden's success
  • Have adequate funding for installation and ongoing maintenance and support
  • Organize volunteers to sign up to do the physical labor
  • Select a site that receives a minimum of 8 hours of full sun per day and has a convenient water source.

We hope to hear from you! 


School garden at Grand Oak Elementary

Check these upcoming events! 

  • Asters Aren't Disasters. Sun., Sept. 8; 2-4 p.m. Southern Piedmont Chapter/NC Native Plant Society. Reedy Creek Native Center, 2900 Rocky River Rd., Charlotte. Free; see Facebook details.
  • Earth-friendly ideas to green your lawn. Sat., Sept. 14, 1-2 p.m. Sponsors: Extension Master Gardeners of Mecklenburg & Matthews Public Library. 230 Matthews Station St., Matthews. It's free but please register so we have a headcount. 
  • Food+City EduFest (gardening tips, food hacks for healthy living and info about our food system)Sat., Sept. 14; 10 a.m.-3:45 p.m. Sponsored by Mecklenburg County Cooperative Extension; 1480 Armory Dr. Preregistration is required

Mark your calendar! Fall plant sales are right around the corner!

  • Native plant sale. Sat., Sept. 28, 8 a.m.-2p.m. Reynolda Gardens, Winston-Salem. See Facebook details
  • Fall Plant Sale. Thurs.-Sat., Oct. 3-5; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Members only day, Oct. 2) Wing Haven, 260 Ridgewood Ave., Charlotte. More details
  • Fall Plant Sale. Fri.-Sat., Oct. 4-5; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (Members only day, Oct. 3) UNCC-Botanical Gardens, 9090 Craver Rd., Charlotte. For details.

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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.