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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How does your garden grow? 

Do you practice sustainable gardening? The definition we like best is "gardening practices that cause no harm to the earth and its inhabitants while attempting to actually enhance it."

One of our go-to educational sites is the Missouri Botanical Garden. It recommends six general practices:

Conserve water and control water runoff; reduce fossil-fuel energy use; deal with yard and garden “waste” in a sound way; select plants wisely; examine your garden design; practice good plant and soil maintenance. 

There are specific steps you can take for each of those areas. Maybe you can put some (or many) into practice!


Master Gardener Barry Pettinato recently installed a rain barrel at his house

February in the garden 

February is for planning and seeing the first signs that spring is around the corner! Don’t forget:

General landscape 

  • It’s a chance to reassess your garden. Consider adding plants or replacing ones that are underperforming.
  • Limb-up or “tree-form” large shrubs that may be out of scale with their neighboring plants.
  • Mow Liriope and cut back ornamental grasses this month.

Perennials, annuals & bulbs  

  • Plant seeds of Columbine, Foxglove, Coreopsis, Phlox, Daisies and Blackberry Lily.
  • Feed pansies in late February.
  • Wait until new growth emerges before cutting back Lantana and Salvia.
  • Trim away dead leaves and stems from Asters, Coreopsis and Rudbeckia.
  • Clean-up Lenten Roses and Epimedium. Remove old, dead and dying leaves to reveal the flowers.

Edible gardens 

  • Sow seeds of cool-season vegetables, like kale, chard, spinach and peas, after the 15th.

See our complete list of garden tasks for February!


Get your pruning shears ready!

Do you ever wonder what you should prune this time of year? Lots of people do!

  • February is the time to prune fruit trees such as apple, pear, plum, cherry, peach and nectarine. It's important to trim the previous year's growth before the spring growth begins.
  • Prune overgrown broadleaf shrubs in late February to their desired size. This includes Ligustrum (privet), boxwood, osmanthus, photinia (red tip), holly, cleyera, and viburnum. As a general rule, try not to cut more than 1/3 of a shrub in any one year.
  • Camellia (japonica and sasanqua) can be pruned any time after they flower (but not later than mid-July).

You can find more details on the pruning calendar. Not sure what's the right tool for your pruning needs? See this guide

Remember to get your pruning tools cleaned, oiled and the edges sharp and ready to use. Dull pruners can mash the plant's limbs and also increase the chance for disease infection. Make us proud!  

Ready to rethink the use of pesticides?

Many homeowners are looking for alternative ways to control pests in gardens and landscapes. What about you? We encourage you to read this handout. It's one of the best educational, fact-based write-ups we've seen -- and it's in plain English! 

Remember these basics when managing a garden:

  • Select well-adapted, disease-resistant plant varieties.
  • Choose the right plants for the location and soil conditions.
  • Buy healthy and pest-free transplants.
  • Avoid under- or over-watering, since both make plants vulnerable to insects and disease.
  • Improve the soil by adding organic amendments. A soil analysis helps to evaluate soil type and fertility.
  • Change the location of annual plants from year to year to disrupt the life cycle of pests.
  • Remove infested plant residue from your garden in the fall, so that pests do not over-winter there.
  • Incorporate a wide variety of plants to disperse potential pest problems and to provide diverse habitat for beneficial insects.
  • Keep your vegetable garden clean of rocks, wood and debris that provide hiding places for slugs or damaging insects.

By the way, it's National Pesticide Safety Education Month. Take a moment to learn more about what is a pesticide. They're not just insecticides, herbicides and fungicides sprayed on crops or pests. If you use insect repellents, ant baits, ‘weed and feed’ lawn products, pet flea collars, sulfur dust on your garden, disinfectant wipes, swimming pool treatments... you are using a pesticide. 


Photo from Seattle Rose Garden, which is pesticide free

Are those underground tunnels in your yard?!

Perhaps our New Year’s resolution should be about trying to be more intentional. We can all do that! This also applies in our gardens. Voles and moles... Are they both bad? Voles are a pest! Let’s just put that out there. However, moles always get a bad rap too, but are they really all that bad? Do they serve a purpose in our gardens? Let’s take a closer look.

Both moles and voles are small mammals that tunnel around our yards. Moles will tunnel and rarely come above ground. Voles will use existing tunnels of moles (slackers!) but will also spend time above ground. A good way to tell if you have moles and voles is to walk along the tunnels and see if there are any exit holes. If so, you also have voles.

The tunneling can be annoying but also serves to help aerate our yards. How do you identify these critters? Moles have little digging appendages, a long snout, very small eyes and no visible ears. Voles resemble a small mouse. Moles eat meat like worms, insects, spiders, grubs and slugs. Voles are vegetarians and will feast on flower bulbs, gnaw on plant roots, decapitate hostas and other perennials and just wreak havoc on your garden beds.

Think voles, “V” for vegetative, and moles, “M” for meat. Moles eat more than 70% of their weight each day! That’s a lot of grubs! Also both mammals are food for owls, other predatory birds and snakes.

Voles are considered a rodent and can be controlled by setting mouse traps baited with apple or peanut butter near the exit holes. Moles, however, are protected by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. In order to try to trap them, you must apply for a permit. The best way to control moles is to reduce their food supply, specifically grubs. The best time to treat grubs is in April when they are coming closer to the surface. However, chemical controls are indiscriminate and can impact those beneficial insects and earthworms.

The good news is that moles are solitary creatures so you will usually have only one in your yard. Is that really a problem that you want to tackle?

As you enter another gardening season, consider stepping back from taking drastic measures for small issues. Let the diversity of nature in your backyard assist you and make chemical controls a last resort.


Vole; photo from Pixabay


Mole; photo from Pixabay

Master Gardeners in the Community

The Master Gardener program in Mecklenburg County has gone international! Kind of... Alessandra Viale (better known as Yaya) is from Italy. She came to the U.S. in 2016 after her husband was transferred here for work.

In Italy, Yaya worked at the Botanical Society in Milano where she collaborated with nurseries, venders and the park to organize spring plant sales every year. During the weeklong sale, Yaya would be up before dawn and ride her bike to the park where she would stay until 10:30 p.m. working to make the sale a success. Yaya feels at home in nature but it was at the plant sale where she began to learn about plant care and discovered her passion for gardening.

Once settled in Charlotte, Yaya looked for ways to get out into her new community. With the help of Google searches and meeting new friends, she found herself volunteering at Wing Haven and the Duke Mansion.

In 2018, she was selected for the Master Gardener classroom training program. Yaya was excited and determined to learn as much as possible. Yaya didn’t speak much English, let alone read it. She took a table at her house and filled it with translation dictionaries, the huge Master Gardener manual and her laptop and began to work.

In class, her notes were taken in Italian and at home she spent hours literally translating the manual from English to Italian in order to learn her lessons.

She graduated with flying colors and found like-minded gardening souls, and has been volunteering with the program since then. Yaya wants to find a way to share this experience and new-found knowledge with others when she returns home to Italy.


2020 Master Gardener class is underway! 

We're excited about the 2020 Class of Extension Master Gardener volunteers! This year's class of 26 students met for the first time in early January.

The class meets weekly until May 27 at the completion of 70 hours of classroom training. The students will then finish 40 hours of volunteer requirements before receiving their certification as Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Interested in applying for the 2021 program? We'll have updates on our website in late spring.  


Upcoming events! 

  • Create a pollinator paradise. Thurs., Feb. 6, 7:15 p.m. Free event. Speaker: Debbie Roos, Chatham Co. extension agent; creator of Chatham Mills Pollinator Paradise Garden. Sponsor: Mecklenburg Audubon Society. Tyvola Senior Center, 2225 Tyvola Rd. For details
  • Introduction to pruning. Sat., Feb. 8, 11 a.m. -12 p.m. Free event. Speaker: Master Gardener Emeritus Hallie Walker. Sponsored by Mecklenburg Master Gardener program and Matthews Public Library. 230 Matthews Station St., Matthews. For head count purposes, please RSVP
  • Annual Orchid Sale. Feb. 8-14. McMillan Greenhouse at UNCC-Botanical Gardens, 9090 Craver Rd. Also, check out Ganache in the Gardens on Feb. 8. It's free. For details
  • Rain gardens: How to build & what to plant. Sun., Feb. 9, 2-4 p.m. Free event. Sponsored by Native Plant Society -- Southern Piedmont Chapter. Reedy Creek Park, Shelter #3, 2900 Rocky River Rd. See newsletter for details.
  • Southern Spring Show. We're pretty pumped to have a booth at the 2020 Southern Spring Show. If you go, stop by and say hello! It's Feb. 28-March 1 and March 6-8 at Park Expo and Conference Center, 800 Briar Creek Rd., Charlotte. See details about the show.  

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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.