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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November in the garden

November is the time to enjoy fall leaf colors. It’s also the time when we see our first frost. Here are some tasks for your garden:

✳️ November is an ideal time to plant or transplant trees, shrubs and groundcovers. Be sure to water thoroughly, then mulch the new plants with a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch.

✳️ Newly planted evergreens should be checked regularly during the winter to ensure they are getting enough water.

✳️ Mulch existing trees and shrubs to reduce weeds, provide insulation from freezing temperatures and conserve moisture.

✳️ It’s a good time to check trees and shrubs in your yard for volcano mulching -- mulch piled high around the base or trunk of the plant. If found, pull back the mulch from the trunk and create a donut instead with little or no mulch against the base or trunk of the plant. A heavy layer of mulch around the base can lead to girdling roots as well as foster insect, disease, and rodent problems.

✳️ Take root cuttings now of woody shrubs and evergreens, like azaleas, hollies and hydrangeas.

✳️ Cut back peonies after the first frost. It’s also a good time to plant asparagus crowns and strawberry plants. Finish planting onion sets and garlic.

✳️ Cut cannas above ground level and remove the debris to avoid over-wintering leaf rollers.

✳️ Don’t forget to remove all dead foliage and clean up vegetable and flower beds after the first killing frost. Apply new mulch or plant a cover crop, if desired.

✳️ Fescue lawns (a cool-season grass) should be fertilized mid-month (about the time the grass is green but not actively growing). If you have Bermuda (a warm-season grass), and if the lawn is not over-seeded in the winter, raise the mowing height 1⁄2 inch to protect it from winter kill.

See our complete list of garden tasks for November. ​​


To prune or not to prune

Are you confused about when to prune flowering shrubs and trees?  Let’s break this down into 2 important clues: 

  1. When does this plant usually bloom, and
  2. When do the buds set for the following year’s display?

If your plant blooms in spring, the flower buds have usually been set now in the fall on its old growth. So pruning now will eliminate any chance of getting flowers next year. These plants can be pruned right after they have finished blooming next season.

But there are some plants that bloom on new growth, which means that you can prune them now and the plant will happily blossom next season. The following lists were prepared by Steve Bender, Southern Living’s “Grumpy Gardener,” and will simplify this dilemma.   


Growing herbs this winter

Many of us wish to grow windowsill herbs in the winter but are often disappointed with the results. Some herbs do not adapt well to being moved indoors, but there are several that can be grown successfully.

🌿 Basil: Sow seeds and place pots in a south-facing window as it needs lots of sun.

🌿 Bay: Perennial that grows in containers year-round. Place the pot in an east- or west- facing window. Bay needs air circulation to remain healthy so do not crowd.

🌿 Chives: Dig clump of chives and pot up at the end of the growing season. Leave outside until leaves die back. In early winter, move the pot to your coolest indoor spot (crawl space or garage) for a few days and finally move to your brightest window.

🌿 Oregano: Start with a tip cutting from an outdoor oregano plant. Place the pot in a south-facing window.

🌿 Parsley: Start from seed or dig a clump at the end of the season. Parsley likes full sun, but will grow slowly in an east- or west-facing window.

🌿 Rosemary: Start with a cutting and plant it in moist soil-less mix until it roots. Then water only when the top of soil becomes dry to the touch. Needs strong sun in a south-facing window.

🌿 Sage: Take a tip cutting from outdoors and plant it in moist soil-less mix until it roots. It tolerates dry, indoor air well but it needs strong sun in a south-facing window.

🌿 Tarragon: Pot a mature plant from outdoors and leave it outside until the leaves die back. Bring it to your coolest indoor spot for a few days. Then place it in a south-facing window. Feed well with an organic liquid fertilizer.

🌿 Thyme: Start thyme indoors by rooting a soft tip cutting or by digging up and potting an outdoor plant. Prefers full sun but will grow in an east- or west-facing window.

Cool-weather pests can be so uncool

One visitor you don't want in your house is the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys; BMSB). It's an invasive pest native to eastern Asia and was first detected in North Carolina in 2009 near Winston-Salem.

BMSB overwinter in dry, confined spaces. In nature, dead trees or fallen logs serve this purpose, but if homes and other buildings are available, BMSB will aggregate in attics, garages, behind picture frames, in tarps and curtains, and in other dark spots.

If you spot these in your house
The best method is to remove them with a vacuum as they appear in living spaces and discard them after placing them in a freezer or drowning them in a dish of soapy water.

When all BMSB have left the structure in spring, seal all entry points (torn screens, cracks and gaps in window frames, etc.) so bugs cannot return in autumn.

There are other cool-weather pests you may spot in or around your house, but BMSB is at the top of the list! 


Characteristics of BMSB. Photo: NCSU

The houseplant craze

There is a serious resurgence in a love of growing plants indoors, and those plants need good care. Our top tips:  

1️⃣ Don’t over (or under) water. This is probably the No. 1 reason why houseplants are killed. In general, flowering plants need more water than foliage plants of the same size. Never water any plant unless it needs it.

2️⃣ Provide the right light requirements. This is probably the No. 2 reason for houseplant failure. A plant in proper light is better able to withstand the high temperature and low humidity of many homes. 

All flowering plants need moderately bright light. South, east or west windows are excellent for most flowering potted plants, with the possible exception of African violets and related plants, which prefer a north window.

3️⃣ Provide the right temperatures. Flowering potted plants do best in temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F during the day and 55 to 60 degrees F at night. To extend the bloom of flowering potted plants in the home, move them to a cool spot at night. Foliage plants are more tolerant of high temperatures, but they thrive at temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees F.

4️⃣ Hold the fertilizer. Fertilizing once a month is adequate for most houseplants that are producing new growth or flowers. However, plants do not need fertilizer in winter when no new growth is apparent.

For more tips, see this resource. It’s excellent! It also lists durable houseplants, and includes cultural preferences of plants often grown in the home (e.g., light and temperature requirements; maintenance needs). 

Master Gardeners in the Community

Jean Wilson is one of the strongest advocates for using native plants than most any gardener you’ll ever meet. It’s in her DNA! Growing up in Long Island, her grandparents would take her to  natural areas and discuss the plants growing there. Her grandmother had a garden of native plants collected from the wild, as they were not available commercially at that time. Her great aunt, a botany professor at Brooklyn College, was another strong influence.

Years later, after moving to Charlotte from Florida, one of the first things Jean did was sign up for the Mecklenburg Master Gardener training program to learn more about plants that grow well in North Carolina. She also signed up for the Native Plant Certificate program at UNC-Charlotte.

When moving into their new home, Jean and her husband focused on removing invasive plants on the property – like Chinese privet, Japanese honeysuckle, English ivy, and periwinkle. Today, the landscape is full of native plants, including Eastern columbine, trillium, ragwort, and milkweed. You’ll even find some native azaleas that Jean grew from seeds.

Jean’s advice to other gardeners:

✳️ Take every class you can. Thanks to COVID19, more groups, including county extension offices, are offering zoom sessions on various topics. Most are free. Many are mid-day or in the evening making it easier for anyone anywhere to participate.

✳️ Visit the Van Landingham Glen at UNC Charlotte’s Botanical Gardens. It’s a beautiful woodland garden full of native plants. In the spring, it features wildflowers, unlike any other Charlotte garden.


Jean completed UNCC’s program in native plants last year. A student must complete 100 hours of classroom training to receive the certification.


Jean's garden in spring

Take note...

  • Fall planning to prepare for spring gardens: Fall is the perfect time to evaluate your garden successes and failures, while also preparing for the upcoming year ahead. Our new fact sheet outlines key steps to consider.
  • Banding trees for cankerworms: It's not necessary to band trees for cankerworms this year. In the last three years, cankerworm populations in Mecklenburg County have plummeted. Local arborists believe an extended frost killed the newly hatched caterpillars. You'll want to band your trees ONLY IF you had a particularly bad infestation last year. If in doubt, call a certified arborist in your area. 

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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.