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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Say 'hello' to the Dog Days of Summer! 

Known as one of the hottest times of the year, "dog days" run from July 3-Aug. 11. While you might want to stay inside on hot, muggy days, don't forget the pollinators! 

When you look at our ecosystem, it’s all about the bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, birds, flies, beetles, and even bats. A third of all of the food we eat exists because of the efforts of pollinators. 

Things you can do to help pollinators:

** Use native plants
** Choose a variety of plants that will bloom throughout the season
** Use a mix of nectar and host plants
** Cluster plants of the same species
** Include various colors of flowers
** Provide water -- e.g., a fountain, a bird feeder or a birdbath
** Don't use insecticides

For more info, see this brochure from the North Carolina Botanical Garden that includes a list of native plants for any garden.

No effort is too small: The National Wildlife Federation states even a couple of pots with a diversity of seasonal blooms can provide food and pollen for strong fliers like honeybees, bumblebees and carpenter bees.  


Bees love tall vervain (Verbena bonariensis) at our Indy Demonstration Garden

Get your garden ready: hot times are ahead

In spite of the hot weather expected in July, there's a LOT to do in a garden! 

Perennials, annuals, bulbs

  • Inspect your plants regularly. Aphids, beetles, thrips and white flies are at their worst in July. You can hand pick and drown them in a bucket of soapy water. 
  • If needed, divide and transplant daylilies, irises and peonies after they bloom. 
  • Remove spent flowers from perennials and annuals to promote plant growth.
  • Remove one-third of growth off fall-blooming perennials to encourage abundant flowers and compact growth.


  •  Plant beans and carrots now. Collard plants and brussel sprouts can be set out mid-July. 
  • Plant tomatoes for fall.
  • Through August, you can start seeds indoors for collards, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.  

Trees, shrubs and groundcovers

  • Fertilize trees and shrubs for the last time this year.
  • Do not prune spring flowering shrubs after July 15. 
  • If shrubs need light trimming, do it now. Otherwise, the tender regrowth could be killed over the winter. 
  • Hot, dry weather fosters powdery mildew. Once spotted, spray every 7-14 days. Spider mites are another problem during hot, dry weather. Reduce their numbers with horticulture oil or spray with insecticidal soap. 

For a complete list, see our gardening tasks for July.  


Adult whiteflies resemble tiny moths. They’re rarely more than 1-3 millimeters long and are typically found on the undersides of leaves. Photo: NCSU

It was green in the spring but brown spots now

Brown patch in turf is most severe during extended periods of hot, humid weather. The disease can begin to develop when night temperatures exceed 60°F, but is most severe when low and high temperatures are above 70°F and 90°F, respectively.

The turfgrass leaves must be continuously wet for at least 10 to 12 hours for the brown patch fungus to infect. Poor soil drainage, lack of air movement, shade, cloudy weather, dew, over-watering, and watering in late afternoon favor prolonged leaf wetness and increased disease severity. Brown patch is particularly severe in turf that has been fertilized with excessive nitrogen. Inadequate levels of phosphorus and potassium also contribute to injury from this disease.

Some things you can do: 

  • Avoid applying nitrogen to cool-season grasses (e.g., tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass) in late spring or summer, or use very low rates.
  • Avoid prolonged periods of leaf wetness to drastically reduce the severity of brown patch. Leaf wetness can originate from irrigation, dew or guttation (which is the water that is sometimes exuded from turfgrass leaves during the night). To minimize leaf wetness, do not irrigate daily.
  • Good surface and soil drainage will also help reduce the incidence of brown patch.
  • Turf surrounded by trees, shrubs, buildings or other barriers will remain wet for extended periods of time due to reduced air movement and sunlight. Removal or pruning of trees and other barriers will help minimize leaf wetness and discourage brown patch development. In shady areas, plant turfgrass species that are tolerant of low light levels, such as hard fescue, chewings fescue, or strong creeping red fescue.

For more information, see this fact sheet

Pest of the Month: Tomato Hornworm

Your tomatoes are looking great and then you notice a big, green, sci-fi looking caterpillar munching on the leaves! It’s called a hornworm and there are two common types: the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) and the tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata). Either will eventually turn into a brown moth.

This short video from NC State will help you identify which type you have.

They both start out as a tiny white caterpillar but quickly grow up to 3-inches long and mirror the color of your tomato leaves. Both types need to be removed once they are found. The easiest method is just to pick them off by hand and put them in a bucket of soapy water. There are a few organic methods, as well, that will kill the caterpillars when they are small: products that contain spinosad, B.t., neem oil or azadirachtin as the active ingredient. Just make sure you read and follow the directions and apply in the evening to protect pollinators.

If you happen to see a hornworm with little white specks of white on them (like grains of rice), don’t kill it. They are harboring braconid wasp larvae which is a beneficial insect. The larvae will feed off of the living hornworm eating it from the inside out until the wasps hatch. It's gross but so cool!


Tobacco hornworm on tomato; photos: Debbie Roos, NCSU Extension


Tobacco hornworm covered with the pupae of the parasitic Braconid wasp

There's a pH in my beer! 

We've all heard about pH, which is a way of measuring the potential of hydrogen in a substance. The pH scale allows us to define the acidity (low pH) or alkalinity (high pH) which is present. But do you know how the pH scale was created? It's quite an interesting story!

Dr. Soren Sorensen was a Danish chemist who led the laboratory of the Carlsberg Brewery in 1909. He was responsible for understanding the chemistry of the brewing process, which was vital to the flavor of the finished product. Sorensen became frustrated that there was no accurate way of describing acidity, when just a small difference in acidity could have a huge effect on how the beer tasted. Trying to determine acidity with colors of litmus paper was the only measure available at the time, and was not precise enough for brewing purposes. Sorensen determined that acidity could be expressed as the concentration of hydrogen ions, and he came up with a simple measurement scale that we still use today. He was nominated for a Nobel prize for his work, but did not win.

As it turns out, the pH of beer is typically from 4.1 to 4.5, making it a slightly acidic substance (a pH of 7 is neutral). So, the next time you visit your local brewery, raise a toast to Dr. Sorensen. The creation of his pH scale has contributed to the great flavors we enjoy today!


Did you know that Charlotte’s craft breweries together occupy nearly 400,000-sq. ft.? That’s roughly the size of the NASCAR Plaza tower Uptown. Source: JLL Carolinas. Photo: Pixabay

Master Gardeners in the Community

Marybeth Cherry has gardening and teaching in her DNA. In 2018, she became a Certified Extension Master Gardener in Mecklenburg County. Immediately after that, she volunteered to co-lead the training program for the 2019 class with Sally Graham. As a trainer, that entailed about 25 days and over 120 hours of prep work, planning and classroom training. She not only helped the students grow their knowledge of horticulture but also build strong friendships. 

Part of her inspiration for gardening was her father who was a master gardener in Forsyth County. Her teaching skills were honed by home schooling all four of her children. She also served as coordinator for the home school group in their area.

As a mortgage loan officer, she educates home buyers in one of the biggest purchases of their lives, buying a home. Marybeth has also been involved in one of Charlotte’s efforts to examine food insecure areas, also called food deserts. “We did research to see how the lack of fresh food and vegetables in parts of Charlotte and other urban areas contributes to health issues, including lifelong diabetes, heart disease and obesity,” she said. “If another opportunity becomes available to get involved in addressing this issue, I’m in!”

Marybeth’s love of gardening brings a sense of peace and connection with nature. It has also provided her a vehicle to help others learn and grow.


Marybeth Cherry


Marybeth with the 2019 class of Master Gardeners.

Efforts to develop fruit orchards wins award!

Efforts over the past year to develop fruit orchards in Mecklenburg County, especially in areas without adequate food resources, has won an award from the National Association of Counties.

Those involved include: 
** Tim Turton, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation
** Bill Sloan, an Extension Master Gardener in Mecklenburg County. Bill has been instrumental in teaching neighborhood residents best practices for planting and caring of trees. 
** Chuck Cole, executive director, TreesCharlotte 
** Reggie Singleton, Mecklenburg County Health Department. Reggie is a Master Gardener and community leader and spearheaded this initiative.
** Steven Capobianco, horticulture extension agent for Mecklenburg County Extension Services. Steven provided technical guidance and resources.

It's a strong collaborative effort that's producing great results!


Photo: Courtesy of TreesCharlotte

Check these upcoming events! 

  • Guided phenological tour of RibbonWalk Nature Preserve. Sat., July 6; 10 a.m.-noon. 4601 Nevin Rd. Free; please RSVP online or call 980-314-1119.
  • Bee Wild -- learn more about bees and pollination. Sat., July 20; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, Belmont. See details
  • Reynolda Gardens and Historic Greenhouse: Free, Guided Garden Tour.  Thurs., July 25; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. Winston Salem. More info
  • Frog Walk along the Greenway with Birding Guru Taylor Piephoff. Sat., July 27, 7:30 p.m. $5. If interested, pre-register asap by sending an email to [email protected].

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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.