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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Are you water-wise? 

Whether starting a new landscape or maintaining a well-established one, implementing environmentally friendly gardening practices will help you do your part to protect our natural resources. Plus, your garden and yard will demand less time and be healthier, more attractive and productive!

1️⃣ Mulch your plants to control weeds and also reduce water loss from the soil due to evaporation.

2️⃣ Water deeply and less frequently. Lightly watering plants every day does not encourage a deep root system that plants need to better withstand dry periods. Instead, soak the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches to encourage root development that reaches deeply into the soil.

3️⃣ Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses in vegetable, shrub and flower beds. This type of irrigation is 20 to 40 percent more water efficient than sprinklers. Much of overhead watering is lost to evaporation before it even reaches the plant’s roots.

4️⃣ Fertilize appropriately. Don’t guess – get a soil test. A soil analysis will tell you the amount of fertilizer needed for healthy plant growth in your landscape. Young and new landscape plants require more fertilizer, while established and mature landscape plants may require little to no fertilizer.

5️⃣ Use slow-release fertilizers. Nutrients in this form are available to plants over a longer period of time and fewer nutrients are wasted or lost as pollutants.

6️⃣ Plant drought-tolerant plants when possible. Once established, these plants will not need regular watering and will thrive during hot, dry weather. Check this comprehensive list of plants that can take the heat! 

7️⃣ Install a rain sensor or soil moisture sensor on your irrigation system. This will prevent having your irrigation system running when we’ve had plenty of rainwater.


Photo: Shain Rievley

Garden tasks for July

With hotter temperatures, many plants will continue to grow and bloom. You'll also see an increase in insects. Here are some things to consider:

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.
🏡 Through August, start seeds indoors for collards, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
🏡 Plant tomatoes for fall.

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 back 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.

Don't forget to wear a hat and sunscreen when you're working outside!

See our comprehensive list for July! It's also on our website


Photo: You’ll find ‘Ascot Rainbow’ (Euphorbia x martini) at our Extension Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at Independence Park. It’s a heat-tolerant, fuss-free, water-wise choice for containers and mixed beds. It's evergreen​, and so pretty! 

Rain barrels make good sense

Did you know nearly 30% of daily residential water use is attributed to lawn and garden care? What about one inch of rain on a 1,000 square foot roof is equal to over 500 gallons? That’s a lot of water that can be collected and reused in the garden. 

There’s ample information on the web about rain barrels. This fact sheet is particularly good. If you want to build your own, it tells you how. The fact sheet includes maintaining and use tips. Or, you can purchase kits online with all the components necessary to set up a rain barrel. 

Starting July 1, Mecklenburg Soil & Water Conservation District will resume selling 60- and 80-gallon rain barrels to the public -- at very reasonable prices. More details

Rainwater is good for watering potted plants, flower gardens, shrubs, trees and lawns. It can also be used on vegetable gardens, just direct the water at the root zone, and not the plant. 


Rain barrel installed by Barry Pettinato at his house. Barry is an Extension Master Gardener in Mecklenburg Co.

How to propagate your favorite plants

July is a great month to start propagating your favorite plants for fall sharing. It’s easy to do.

Walk through your garden to identify this year’s best plants for vigor and color. They could also be plants that have just about outgrown their space.

Plants are separated into 3 categories: herbaceous, softwood and semi-hardwood. Coleus and mums are examples of herbaceous. Evergreens, roses and azaleas are examples of softwood (new growth of softwood bends and the new leaves are smaller than older leaves). Forsythia and figs represent semi-hardwood and cuttings are taken from this year's growth of new wood. 

Here are some basics:

🌱 Choose the healthiest plants.

🌱 Take cuttings early in the morning when plants are well-hydrated.

🌱 Keep cuttings moist with wet paper or in a cooler as you gather them.

🌱 Remove flowers and leaves from the lower third of the cutting.

🌱 Treat the cutting with root-hormone by dipping in rooting medium and tapping off excess.

🌱 Plant the cutting in loose, damp and sterile medium such as a mixture of perlite, sand and peat moss. Keep the cuttings at least 3 inches apart.

🌱 Keep the cuttings under plastic and indirect sun. And don’t forget to label your cuttings!

🌱 When new growth begins, transplant them to small pots to allow maximum root growth before transplanting them to permanent beds.

🌱 Bonus: Make a plant tag with the plant’s name, light requirements and any other notes. 

The fall is the best time to divide spring and summer blooming plants and bulbs. Mark the location of bulbs so you can find them later.

🌱 Dig up the plant or bulbs with a garden fork. Remove loose soil from roots. 

🌱 Gently separate bulbs from the largest bulb. Replant as you wish or share.

🌱 Separate parent plant from smaller plants by pulling apart with your hands, cutting with a sharp knife, or separating with large forks. For example, daylilies, hostas, irises.

🌱 Be sure to work in the shade so roots do not dry out. Wrap in damp paper if gifting.

🌱 Trim away any flowers or dead leaves. Replant and water thoroughly.

Seed gathering

🌱 Collect seed heads from your most colorful and vigorous blooms once they have completely dried on the stem and are almost crumbly. For example, zinnias, basil, marigolds.

🌱 Store in a paper envelope or bag, or a zip plastic bag with paper inside to absorb any moisture.

🌱 Mark the name of the plant along with any other specific information.

🌱 Store in a cool, dry place.


Photo: NCSU

18.3 million new gardeners!

That's the number of people who started gardening in 2020 for the first time ever! Top reason why: For the good of their mental health (49%). Another popular response: More available time to garden (43%). Survey highlights

Let's keep it up in 2021!


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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.