Welcome to Garden Zone, a monthly newsletter for anyone interested in gardening. ​​It's produced by Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Mecklenburg County.

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January Garden Tasks

Start off the new year by making a list of gardening tasks you need to accomplish. Here's a list to get you started:

Perennials, annuals & bulbs

✳️ Don’t forget to water! Winter drought can be just as severe in the winter as it is in the summer.

✳️ Pay close attention to newly planted shrubs and trees. The roots need to stay hydrated so they do not become brittle over winter, leading to a shock for the plant when spring showers come and roots are not able to take up the needed water for new growth. Check the soil by digging or probing the bed.

Lawns & landscaping

✳️ Eliminate hard-to-mow spaces, like sharp angles or bed borders, to decrease lawn maintenance.

✳️ Avoid heavy traffic on dormant lawns. Dry grass is easily broken and the crown of the plant may be severely damaged or killed.

Trees, shrubs & groundcovers

✳️ Prune fruit trees and woody ornamentals that bloom on new growth, such as althea, buddleia, crepe myrtle, hydrangea and vitex. Don't prune spring-bloomers until just after they’ve bloomed.

✳️ Protect broadleaf evergreens with blankets or burlap during periods of extreme cold. Fertilize them in winter or early spring before growth begins.


✳️ Don’t over water; wait until the soil surface is dry. Keep winter fertilizing to a minimum as plant growth has slowed considerably.

Don’t forget the birds!

✳️ Feed them regularly. See this list of the top 10 foods for winter bird feeding. 

✳️ Keep birdbaths free of ice; here are tips. Continue adding fresh water every week. 

See our complete list of tasks for January.


Who wouldn’t want an evergreen shrub that blooms beautiful white, pink or red flowers in the winter? The early ones are already putting on a great show and more is to come. In Charlotte we grow two main species, japonica and sasanqua. The japonicas need shade to partial shade and the sasanquas will also grow in shade but can take quite a bit more sun, once established, especially morning sun. “The larger the leaf the more shade they need”, is a good rule to follow when selecting a planting site.

They are rumored to require a lot of water and to be somewhat fussy, but in actuality they are quite tough once established and only require extra watering for the first year or two. They do need good drainage and not to be soggy, so don’t water too much!

When planting, older instructions say to amend the planting hole with lots of organic material. However newer studies have shown that too much amending encourages the plant’s roots to stay within that amended area and prevents the development of an extensive root system. This could result in the plant continuing to need extra water. When planting, you may find that the camellia was planted too deeply in the nursery pot and adventitious roots have developed above the major root flare. Cut those off and shake the potting mix off the roots and spread the roots out so they aren’t circling. Combine the potting mix you shook off with your natural clay soil in the hole and plant the camellia leaving the root flare at least an inch above the surrounding soil after everything is tamped down and watered in. Surround the root area with good mulch, in a donut shape, not touching the trunk of the plant.

As your camellia grows it can send up long stems that look like orphans and the temptation is to prune them off. Wait until after the plant blooms in the spring to prune, but no later than May or you will lose the next year’s buds.

Photos by EMG Jean Wilson

Winter Gardening


With our warm fall passing, January promises frost and colder days.  Even now, the garden still beckons for our attention.  Here are some ideas.

Tuck in sleeping garden beds:  Cover bare areas with 1-3 inches of mulch to prevent erosion, add nutrients to soil, conserve moisture and prevent weeds from popping up in spring.  A layer of newspaper or cardboard covered with compost, leaves, or organic purchased mulch is super.

Prune and dispose of any diseased stems or plants.  Diseases can overwinter in the garden.  Leave some withered flower stalks and flowerheads for beneficial insects. You can prune those in the spring.

Time to Sow:  While planting flower seeds is mostly in spring, many wildflowers require cold stratification, especially in our zone that tends to heat up quickly in late spring. For example, seeds for Echinacea, Lupine, milkweeds and poppies along with Nettle, Yarrow, Catnip, Sage, and Lavender have greater success if they experience alternating freezing and less cold temperatures. The most recommended method to achieve this cold stratification is seeding directly in beds and very lightly covering with soil or seeding in pots. The first option is the easiest. Just remember to mark where you have planted and don’t let the seeds get smothered with leaves.  If you choose to plant in pots, leave the pots outdoors in the ground or a sheltered area so they remain dormant or germinate slowly. Keep a watch on the pots, as critters like to cause chaos. Lidded salad containers can help solve that issue. 

Of course, it is important to put your feet up so you can Review and Reflect on problems and successes of past years, then Dream up new ideas.  Look for new ideas in seed catalogues and garden magazines.  Scroll through the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (ncsu.edu).  Sketch ideas in your garden journal. Then, you can start seed shopping! 

Winter in the Carolinas is short lived.  Rest up and prepare for Spring. 

Photos courtesy of Pixabay


First to Bloom

January’s first blooms give us something to look forward to during the longer, colder days of winter.  Hellebores are one of the earliest risers in zones 8 and 9, blooms lasting up to 10 weeks. These beauties start blooming in mid-January and bring us right into March where we will start seeing other early risers brightening up our gardens. 

Crocus, Daffodils, and Candytuft all start to make their presence known in March as the Sun starts to defrost the Earth reminding us of the beauty to come. Creeping Phlox, Virginia Bluebells, Bloodroot and Prickly Pear are also early risers to consider which bring pops of color to your garden in early spring.   

Photos from: pxfuel and Google

Do you need a break?

Once the last holiday decoration is stored safely in the attic and the last visitor has left, we can now collectively sigh, another year done!  And what could be more perfect than beginning the new year with a quick weekend getaway ... but where to go in January?  Just south-east in Garden Zone 8b/9a, the historic city of Charleston, SC, is the perfect answer with its amazing restaurants, historic buildings, great shopping, small courtyards, and window boxes in bloom.  And there is a little-known gem in the middle of the city to delight any gardener.  

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) has an Urban Garden, tended by volunteers, that is bursting in January with raised beds of flowers, vegetables, culinary herbs, a bee campus, clay pizza oven, eating areas, exhibits on rain gardens and rain water harvesting, and so much more!  This perfect example of a winter vegetable garden teaches us various methods of growing and caring for cool season crops - and it is absolutely beautiful!  

A short distance away on campus is the Porcher Medicinal Garden.  While some plants are green and flowering in January, spring and summer is the best time to get the full effect of this garden.  During the Civil War when medicines were unable to get through the Union blockade at the port, the university’s Dr. Francis P. Porcher was commissioned by the surgeon general of the Confederacy to identify substitutes for the manufactured drugs.  All of the plants are detailed in his book, ‘Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests.’  Next to each plant there is a sign with its scientific and common name, description and habitat, and its nineteenth-century therapeutic uses.

We have included a few photos with this article but many more can be seen on our FaceBook page.  Please check us out at:  Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener Volunteers.  

Photos by EMG Sylvia Hindman

Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Management’s Compost Central & Recycling Center

Graphic courtesy of Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Management

We encourage homeowners to compost all of their leaves and yard debris but sometimes it’s just too much to handle and it ends up being brown bagged, stacked or bundled for pickup. We get that! So, what happens to those leaves and yard waste left at the curb each week?  They are now banned from landfills, so Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Management runs a 60-acre site it calls Compost Central & Recycling Center.

The county operates five compost facilities to serve our more than 1 million residents. Compost Central, the largest of the sites, accepts and processes yard waste from six municipalities within the county, including the city of Charlotte, the facility’s largest customer. 

They process your leaves, brush, grass and other yard waste to create high-quality mulch and compost products.  (Yard waste does not include dirt, mulch, and rocks.) 

Do the sites smell?  No, a complex odor elimination system has been installed to eliminate odors from these sites. What about weed seeds?  The compost is heated to 140 degrees or higher which kills the seeds. 

They are meticulous in their methodology, As the director stated “I have a technician on staff that records the age of the piles and the temperature and moisture within the piles. It’s a more technical approach these days. It’s not just going out and turning the piles when you think you want to.” The entire composting process, from when material arrives at the facility to when it is ready as a finished product, takes about six months. 

Compost Central sells the mulch and certified compost (at a very reasonable price!) for your plant beds, flower gardens and lawns.  They have a saying, “If you don’t have a truck, you’re not out of luck,’ because we have compost for sale by the bag.” Check the website below for availability. 

Need more information?

Compost and Mulch Information and Pricing

Inside Mecklenburg County's Composting Operations

City of Charlotte Yard Waste Collection

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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.