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.  

View in your browser

Gardening for sanity 

Gardening may be a rare positive trend to emerge from the crippling pandemic, says Diane Blazek, executive director of the U.S. industry group National Garden Bureau. “Hopefully everyone will be eating better and gardening more and becoming more self-reliant.” 

We can help!


It's time to spring into action (in the garden)

The start of May means more tasks in the garden, for example:

🌷Don't remove the leaves of spring blubs; instead, let them die-back naturally. This helps them manufacture enough food for next year's blooms.

🌷Have you already put mulch around your plants? Applying 1-3 inches can help plants conserve moisture during the heat and humidity we'll soon see in the Piedmont.

🌷By the end of May, pinch back perennials to delay flowering and encourage more compact growth and blooms. This may not be your favorite activity, but it will get you the results you want to see in your garden.

🌷Also pinch back the first flowers of summer annuals. Pinching off spent blooms will encourage more blooms later.

🌷Prune early flowering trees and shrubs (azaleas, forsythia, spiraea, etc.) as soon as the blooms have faded. Also prune deciduous vines (wisteria, Lady Banks roses) after flowering.

🌷Remember to water low (vs watering overhead), or use drip irrigation.

For more gardening tasks in May, check our comprehensive list, which is also on our website.


A word (or two) about lawn care...

Lawn maintenance in May is relatively minimal. Remember:

Do NOT... 
Fertilize fescue (cool-season grass) during late spring or summer. Water more than 1 inch per week. Mow grass when wet, as it may spread diseases.

Mow frequently, removing less than 1/3 of the height each time you mow. Leave clippings on the ground unless you have too many. Keep mower blades sharp to ensure a clean cut.

A lush, green lawn is beautiful to look at but time-consuming and costly to maintain. If you want a green lawn with less effort, consider replacing your turf with a ground cover. It requires some initial work, but little if any attention once it matures. Just do your homework to identify options that are best for your landscape! 

Two good resources on ground covers: this University of Maryland Extension fact sheet and a Clemson Extension fact sheet


At Tom Nunnenkamp and Lib Jones' house, you'll find a combination of different mosses, dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) and mazus (Mazus reptans), which provides beautiful white blooms in the spring. Tom and Lib are both Master Gardeners Emeritus.

Beware of aphids!

They're everywhere! Aphids are the most common insect found in gardens. They're small and come in all different types and colors. They may or may not have wings.

Aphids attack plants that are under stress or have received nitrogen fertilizer.  They have piercing-sucking mouth parts that suck the juices (phloem) out of plants as well as inject saliva into plant tissue that distorts the growth of the plant. Some feed on woody stems and a few feed on roots.

Aphids excrete a sweet, sticky liquid called honeydew that can coat the leaves and result in sooty molds.

The good news is that in most cases the aphids will not kill your plants and their infestation will only last a couple of weeks; they will either move on or be eaten by predators (ladybugs, green lacewings, and the ever popular, parasitic wasps)! (See this YouTube video on Black wasps and Aphids).

If you find a plant with a cluster of aphids on its stem, simply prune out that part of the plant or spray it with the water hose. For larger infestations, see the North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual for insecticides labeled for aphid management in landscapes.


Can you see the aphids? Photo: Pixabay


Sooty mold on a leaf. Photo: Pixabay

So many seeds, so much time! 

If you’re like most Master Gardeners, you have scads of seeds that have accumulated over the last several years. You know you should just throw them away. Or should you? Perhaps now is the perfect time to do a little experimenting.

Our last frost date was April 15, so gather up all your old seeds and, for the fun of it, plant them outside in different containers or in different areas of your garden and see what percentage sprouts. Use one pot or one area for one type of seed. If the seeds are more than a few years old, scatter whatever is left. Follow the seed packet instructions as a guide for depth of planting, days to germination, etc.

The upside is that you will get more than you need and can share with friends and neighbors. There’s really no downside as you were thinking of throwing them away. This is also fun to do with kids.

Label everything, keep a log of how many seeds were planted (or estimate for the really small seeds), date planted, date sprouted, how long it took to sprout, how many seeds sprouted or any other information from the seed packet that may be of interest. When the seeds have true leaves (see photo), they are ready to be transplanted into larger pots or directly into the garden.

Think outside the box if you need containers. Check your recycling bin. As long as you can poke holes in the bottom, it can be used as a transplant container.

When ready, find the right spot in your garden that allows for their height at maturity and provides their light requirements (sun or shade).

This is a great way to learn about seed starting, engage the kids and possibly add free flowers, herbs and/or veggies to your yard! Ready, set, go!


A new way to create a garden

Foodscaping is a way of integrating vegetables, fruits, herbs and other edibles into our landscape. Rosalind Creasy started the edible landscaping movement back in the 70s and more recently, Brie Arthur has made it her goal of keeping the momentum and information surrounding this topic going.

Brie has become synonymous with the term Foodscaping. She has written a book called The Foodscape Revolution, has taught numerous courses through NC State and given an abundance of talks around the country on this topic. She is hoping to spread the message that those underutilized areas of our garden space can be filled with edibles year round. Gone are the days for most of us of expansive backyards with room for large vegetable gardens. Why not use the space you have and intersperse edibles? 

Envision strawberries, cucumbers, melons or nasturtiums as ground covers, blueberries with azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas (acid lovers), and lettuces along borders, grape arbors, tomatoes, colorful peppers and eggplant mingled in sunny spaces, and vegetables and herbs in flower gardens. 

If you are replacing a tree in your yard, why not consider a dwarf fruit or nut tree (this benefits you and wildlife). Embrace the ability to interact more with the space you've been given and reap the benefits of growing your own food!  

Interplanting also brings a diversity of plants to your garden and should eliminate the need for pesticides, inviting a variety of insects including the predatory insects (the good guys) that take out the pests (the bad guys). Why not make the ordinary extraordinary. This may be just the year to try this new approach.


Edible landscape of Will Hooker, retired Professor of Landscape Design at NC State University.

Master Gardeners in the Community

Growing up, Rozanna Lawing was surrounded by farm land. At home, her mother grew flowers and her father grew fruits and vegetables. While Rozanna was no stranger to gardening, she wanted to learn more. With the support of a dear friend, she applied to the Extension Master Gardener program in Mecklenburg County, completed 70 hours of training and received her certification in May 2019. 

Since graduating, Rozanna helps lead volunteers who maintain the Indy Demonstration Garden at the Cooperative Extension office near downtown Charlotte.

She also maintains a very large garden at her home. Some of the plants are ones she bought. Others are ones given to her by friends. Others are plants she harvested from gardens of several of her mom's friends. 

Rozanna has been able share some of these flowers with the children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren of those who have since passed. Rozanna says, “As long as we are remembered, we live on.” See some of the plants she grows in her garden. 


Rozanna in her garden.

Need a hug?

In the age of social distancing, are you missing hugs? We're sending you a Bud Hug! The photo was taken by Master Gardener Joe Swift. We love it! Hope you will, as well. 


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.