Welcome to Garden Zone, the monthly newsletter produced by the Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener program! ​We encourage you to share Garden Zone with friends and neighbors! 

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When you're buying plants 

​As you're considering adding perennials and annuals to your landscape, remember the basics: 

  1. Measure your space -- Keep the mature size of the plant in mind when you plant. It will help avoid crowded roots or having to do constant pruning. 
  2. Check your soil -- Is it clay? Do you know if it's acidic or basic? Do you need to add nutrients? Consider taking a soil test and submitting it for analysis (see below for more details). 
  3. Determine the exposure -- How much direct sun does it get? What about full or partial shade? 
  4. Consider your neighbors -- Planting a shrub or tree at the property line that has berries or flowers that will end up on their property may not be the wisest of moves. We're just saying...

    Are deer-resistant plants important?

    • See this comprehensive resource, which covers landscape trees, evergreen shrubs, deciduous shrubs, vines and groundcovers, perennials, annuals and others plants. 

    Need ideas for perennial plants for shade? for sun?

    • This fact sheet by Clemson Extension is good. Scroll down and you'll see suggested plants based on specific characteristics, like: 

      • Perennials for shade (e.g., ferns, astilbe, hardy begonia, lenten rose)
      • Perennials for hot, dry conditions (e.g., coreopsis, bearded iris, lantana, black-eyed susan)
      • Perennials that can be invasive (e.g., ajuga, bamboo, ornamental grasses).

    We hope these resources help you decide what's best for your garden and landscape. 


    Loves shade: Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum); Photo: Pixabay


    Loves hot, dry conditions: Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia); Photo: Pixabay

    #PlantsDoThat Inside

    Indoor plants where we live, learn and work have far-reaching positive effects on our well-being and indoor environment, according to a report from the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH).

    According to scientific research from NASA and others, plants clean indoor air, stabilize carbon dioxide and create comfortable ambient air humidity. Plants also boost healing, happiness and productivity.

    • Rooms with plants have fewer pollutants like VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
    • Plants in our homes increase room humidity by 10%.
    • Plants remove up to 90% of formaldehyde in a room.

    This may be another (good) reason to buy more plants! 


    We're doing a 'happy dance' for spring!

    We're glad it's spring, but what about gardening tasks for April? The weather will be getting warmer and there will be lots to do! Don't forget the southern Piedmont can still experience frost up until about mid-April. Gardening tasks to consider:

    • Plant carrots, celery, collards, lettuce, parsley, radishes and turnips now.
    • Set out warm season vegetables, such as corn, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes, after the threat of frost is past.
    • Plant seeds or seedlings of annual vines, such as morning glory, moonflower and passion flower, after the danger of frost has past.
    • Mow cool-season lawns (tall fescue) at least weekly, to a height of 3 inches.
    • Check your lawn for white grubs by using a spade to turn back a square foot of sod 2 or 3 inches deep.
    • Fertilize spring flowering shrubs and vines after they bloom. Lightly fertilize blueberries a second time when they bloom.

    For more suggestions, see the list for April


    Master Gardener volunteers Sandy Fussell and Gary Bromberger prune shrubs at our Freedom Park Demonstration Garden.

    Do you know your soil's pH level?  

    Healthy soil is the foundation of successful gardening. Soil testing is the only way to know if your soil is too acidic, if you need to add lime to raise pH and, if so, how much. Soil test results will also tell you which nutrients you need to apply for the type of plants you're growing. 

    Samples submitted between April 1 and November are analyzed free of charge. North Carolina is one of the few states to offer soil testing at no direct cost to its residents most of the year because of funding derived from a statewide fee on commercial fertilizer. A peak season fee of $4 per sample is charged for each sample submitted between December 1 and March 31. The only charge to you: mailing the boxes.

    Boxes and forms for sampling are available from the Mecklenburg Extension office at 1418 Armory Drive in Charlotte. Several other locations, like Park & Rec centers, also have these supplies. Completed samples should be mailed to the N.C. Department of Agriculture’s soil testing lab in Raleigh.

    For information on how to take samples, see this short, 2-minute video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3XSlRN7rYU


    You will need a box for your samples. Also, there is a form to complete to indicate how the soil is used (e.g., flower garden, vegetable plot, turf, etc.)

    Look out for aphids

    If you have a garden of any size, you’ve probably dealt with aphids at some point in time. The tiny insects are usually found on the backs of leaves, bases of stems, on flower buds and fruits, and sometimes roots, depending on the species. Here's a good overview of ways to keep aphids in check and avoid using dangerous chemicals in your garden. The good news: 

    • There are natural predators -- like lady beetles, green lacewings and bug-eating birds, like wrens and chikadees -- that can help get rid of or at least reduce the aphid population in your garden. 
    • There also are easy ways you can remove these pests. Just use soap and water. Make a homemade aphid spray by mixing a few tablespoons of soap in a small bucket of water and apply with a spray bottle directly on aphids and the affected portions of the plant. 
    • Neem oil is another option. The organic compounds in neem oil act as a repellent for aphids, as well as many other insects, including mealy bugs, cabbage worms, beetles, leafminers, ants and various types of caterpillars. 

    Aphids are small but usually easy to see. Photo: Pixabay

    Not all bugs are bad

    As we head toward warmer temperatures, be prepared to see more bugs in your landscape and in your home. There are bad bugs where you'll want to take action, but there are also good bugs in your garden that you need to protect!

    See this resource, which includes photos to help you identify what's in your garden. It also offers advice on how you can treat the situation. Keep this handy! 


    GOOD: Mason bees prefer the pollen of early flowering plants like forsythia, pieris and fruit trees. Photo: Pixabay


    HARMFUL: Slugs feed on the foliage and fruit of garden plants. They are particularly fond of low-growing leafy greens and ripe fruit. Photo: Pixabay

    Is glyphosate safe to use? The debate continues

    Glyphosate is the key ingredient in many common herbicides, including Roundup. It's the most widely used postemergence herbicide in landscape plantings. However, the toxicity of glyphosate is increasingly being questioned. In January 2019, Health Canada concluded, "No pesticide regulatory authority in the world currently considers glyphosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed." 

    Does this mean glyphosate is "safe"? Researchers at NCSU say, "...we must limit our exposure to all pesticides, including glyphosate.

    "When using any pesticide: wear appropriate protective clothing, use it carefully to avoid off-target deposition, store the pesticide in a safe and secure site, and follow all label directions."

    Many gardeners use glyphosate to kill weeds in turf. Our suggestions:

    • The key to minimizing weeds is to maintain a healthy lawn. Soil testing will tell you exactly what your lawn needs. Choosing the right turf for your location, mowing at the proper height, leaving clippings on the lawn, and fertilizing at the proper time of year are all practices that will strengthen your turf and improve weed resistance.
    • Other alternatives include hand weeding, flame weeding and the use of natural products such as vinegars and botanical oils.

    For more information about glyphosate and the alternatives, see this write-up by NCSU Extension.  


    Hand weeding is one option to remove weeds from your landscape. Photo: Pixabay

    Master Gardeners in the Community

    When Reggie Singleton joined the Health Department over 25 years ago, he wanted to make a difference. He had grown up in the low country of South Carolina and did seasonal farm work when he was a kid to bring more money into his household. He knew the importance of hard work and finishing what you start.

    That experience contributed to the creation of The Males Place, a nonprofit focusing on developing leadership skills in young boys to help them be successful. 

    The program focuses on mentorship, agriculture and social justice. Ten adults serve as mentors to youth in the program. There are weekly homework assignments, followed by group discussions. The program has played a major role in increasing the perspective of the boys to get involved at a community and civic level.

    Since its creation, this nonprofit has helped over 3,000 young people between 12-18 years old in Charlotte's Westside neighborhood. Reggie went through the Master Gardener program several years ago to hone his knowledge in horticulture to help the program.

    It's a great success story! Learn more


    "Our kids take great pride in what they do," Singleton said. "They know it's important to finish what you start and sow good seeds every day."

    Check these upcoming events! 

    • Wing Haven Spring Plant Sale. April 4-6; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Member's Only Day, April 3. More details.  
    • Selecting, Planting and Maintaining Woody Ornamentals. April 11, 1-2 p.m. Sponsored by Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardeners and Matthews Public Library. The session is free. See details
    • UNCC Botanical Gardens' Spring Plant Sale. April 12-13; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Fri. & Sat. Member preview sale, April 11; 12-3 p.m. More details
    • CPCC Spring Plant Sale. April 12-13; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Fri; 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on Sat. Cato Campus. For details
    • 25th Annual Gardeners' Garden Tour. May 4-5; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sat.; 1-5 p.m. on Sun. Sponsored by Wing Haven. See 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.