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

View in your browser

Gardening in a warmer world

Thirty years ago, most of North Carolina was in plant hardiness zone 7. Today, most of the state is considered zone 8, meaning average winter lows are 10 degrees higher. Our nighttime lows in summer are also higher. Higher temperature trends mean that periods of overabundant rain are often followed by prolonged summer droughts.

What are practical things a gardener can do to respond to these changes? Paula Gross, coauthor of the book, "The Southeast Native Plant Primer: 225 Plants for an Earth-Friendly Garden," offers these suggestions:

  1. Increase your garden diversity, and include a good assortment of native species. A mixture of plant species, rather than just a few, supports a variety of wildlife. Continue to avoid invasive species, as they ultimately reduce the diversity of plant and insect life. A diverse system has more resiliency on the whole.
  2. Keep mulching (following best practices). Mulch mitigates extremes of both moisture and root zone temperature.
  3. Respect the soil and drainage you have and make plant choices accordingly, rather than attempting to force a plant into a less-than-ideal situation. This will avoid much frustration when faced with weather extremes beyond your control.  Look carefully at your beds and get to know the microclimates in your garden. You can’t effectively take water away. While you can add it, consider if you are really willing to spend valuable water resources under drought conditions.
  4. Stay observant and curious. The closer you look, the earlier you may spot changes and can adjust your gardening to suit. Looking closely also means you’ll see much that will thrill you! Consider shifting from expectations of perfection and ultimate control in your garden to ones of appreciating resiliency, seasonal changes, and those small details, that when focused in on, inspire joy and hope.  

Need more ideas of what you can do? See this


Paula is the former associate director of UNCC Botanical Gardens.

February in the garden

February is for planning. Reassess your garden. Identify plants you need to replace and ones you want to add.

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.

Lawn care
✳️ If necessary, apply broadleaf herbicides NOW for control of chickweed, henbit or other weeds. Winter annual weeds will begin rapid growth and flowering in March. So don't wait! 

See NCSU's lawn maintenance calendars for more details. Check our complete list of garden tasks for February!


Daffodils are in bloom at our Freedom Park Demonstration Garden.

Is it time to prune? It depends...

✳️ 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 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 no later than mid-July).

✳️ Limb-up or “tree-form” large shrubs that may be out of scale with their neighboring plants.

You can find more details on NCSU Extension's 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.


Photo: NCSU

What's blooming?  

No need to hurry spring in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. There are winter-blooming plants with spectacular blooms this time of year.

Daphne odora or winter daphne is an evergreen shrub that takes center stage. It has glossy green or variegated leaves and rose-colored buds that open into light pink/white flowers with a heady scent (similar to Osmanthus). It typically grows 3-6' tall with a 2-4' spread and prefers part shade. It’s important to provide good drainage and avoid over-watering daphne. It’s a good specimen plant (set off by itself) and can be grown in containers. More info…

Witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) is a native plant that blooms in late winter. The flowers, which have thread-like petals somewhat akin to bee balm, vary in color from tinges of yellow to red to orange. The flowers also offer a pleasing fragrance. Another native variety, Hamamelis virginiana, blooms in the fall.

Witchhazel is considered a shrub or small tree and can reach 10-15' in height and width. Add it to an existing garden as a focal point specimen of winter bloom. More info…


Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata' in Lib Jones/Tom Nunnenkamp's garden


Hamamelis vernalis; Photo: Pinterest

The secret to fabulous roses

Pruning is one of the most important steps in growing roses. It can improve the overall shape, promote new, healthier growth, and eliminate dead, broken, or diseased canes.

Most of the annual pruning in North Carolina should be done as the buds break dormancy (around the time forsythia blooms). The most important thing is to look at the buds: when they begin to swell, go ahead and prune.

Pruning cuts should be at a 45-degree slant about ¼ inch above the leaf node. Choose an outward facing node to make the cut so new growth will be headed outward vs inward. You’ll want to cut branches about 24-30 inches in height.  

See the section on pruning in this article. Also, here’s a good video.


Photo: U of Illinois Extension

Plant ID Apps Throw Down! 

There are several phone apps for identifying plants. Mark Weathington, director of JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, recently tested 10 of them to see how well each one identified six plant photos on his phone. The top three:

  1. Seek by iNaturalist
    ​Easy to use
    No cost to use
    No signup
    4.7 w/ 7k ratings
    Joint initiative of: Calif. Academy of Sciences and National Geographic
  2. Plant Id
    Gives a confidence level
    $39.99/year (3-day free trial)
    Not intuitive at all
    Connects to a Wikipedia article
    4.3 w/ 508 ratings
  3. Picture This
    7-day free trial then $29.99/year
    Fairly intuitive
    Gives one answer right or wrong
    4.8 w/ 284k ratings

No plant ID app is full proof. Consider using a couple to help verify a plant.

You can view his 30-minute presentation here. It’s pretty interesting. Clemson Extension also has an overview of plant ID apps.​


Mark's survey results

Need some gardening inspiration?

Some of what you hear about Homeowners Associations (HOA) is not exactly glowing. That didn't stop Bonnie Thompson who transformed her front yard, installing native plants and creating a garden that's pollinator friendly. Bonnie lives in an HOA community in Pittsboro, NC. 

She worked with a landscape designer and submitted his design to her HOA. Guess what? It was approved!  Below are before/after photos. 

"The good news is so many people have stopped by and asked for advice," she said. "Little by little, change is happening in this neighborhood."


Like our content? Share it with friends and neighbors! They can subscribe here.  

Follow us on Social media


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.