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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A garden for all seasons

Your landscaping choices can have meaningful effects on the populations of birds and the insects they need to survive. As you look at making changes to your landscape, consider our Top 5 suggestions:

  1. Choose the right plant for the space. Be mindful of sun or shade requirements, drainage, amount of horizontal and vertical growing space.
  2. Use native plants whenever possible. They’re adapted to local precipitation and soil conditions and they generally require less upkeep, therefore helping the environment and saving you time, water and money.
  3. Aim to have something in bloom spring through fall – at least 3 different types in bloom each season. This will help provide a continuous food supply for pollinators.
  4. Think diversity of species. Include plants that mature at different heights, produce flowers and fruits throughout the growing season, and include both deciduous and evergreen species.
  5. Consider the vertical layers in your landscape. This includes different plant heights, from tall canopy trees to low-growing groundcovers. Designing layers where each is represented with native plants supports the widest array of species.

Great Resources:


A nesting Carolina Chickadee will collect more than 400 caterpillars each day. The bugs are packed with nutrients like carotenoids that growing chicks need to thrive. Photo: Doug Tallamy

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

Summer officially arrives on June 20! Get ready for hotter temperatures!

🌷It's time to remove leaves that have turned brown on most spring bulbs.

🌷Fertilize roses after the first blooms with a rose fertilizer or slow release tree/shrub fertilizer. Continue to remove dying leaves and stems.

🌷It's also time to plant warm season crops -- like sweet potatoes and okra. Wait until after June 20 to plant peas and fall tomatoes to avoid certain pests that attack these plants. Lightly side-dress vegetables that are beginning to yield produce with a complete fertilizer.

🌷Monitor your plants for any garden pests! That includes scale, spider mites, lacebugs, leaf miners, spittlebugs or leaf hoppers.

🌷Prune non-blooming evergreens by July if they need to be reshaped.

🌷Japanese beetles will begin to appear. You can either ignore some damage or apply a pesticide (please follow label directions).

🌷Trees and shrubs planted within the past couple of years may need additional watering during our hot summer months.

See our complete list of garden tasks for June. You can also find this on our website.


Beware the sap!

When you’re outdoors, beware of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens), and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix).

The plants aren’t really poisonous. They have a sticky, long-lasting oil called urushiol that causes an itchy, blistering rash after it touches your skin. Even slight contact, like brushing up against the leaves, can leave the oil behind.

🌾Poison ivy and poison oak grow as vines or shrubs. Poison sumac is a shrub or tree.

🌾Poison ivy is the only one that always has three leaves, one on each side and one in the center. They’re shiny with smooth or slightly notched edges.

🌾Poison oak looks similar, but the leaves are larger and more rounded like an oak leaf. They have a textured, hairy surface. There may be groups of three, five or seven leaves.

🌾Poison sumac leaves grow in clusters of seven to 13 leaves, with one by itself at the end.

What can you do?

🌾Learn to recognize these plants. Avoid any contact with these plants when possible.

🌾Cover your skin when gardening, working in your yard, hiking, camping; wear long sleeves, long pants, gloves and closed shoes if you’re in an area where they grow. Wear gloves when you handle bagged mulch or bales of pine straw.

🌾Try a lotion that has bentoquatam. It acts as a barrier between urushiol and your skin.

For more information...


Lace Bugs vs Lacewing

Confused as to which is which? Lace Bugs are known for primarily attacking your azaleas (Stephanitis pyrioides). Green lacewings (Neuroptera chrysopidae) are the superheroes that fly in and take care of aphids, mites, thrips, lepidopteran eggs, and other soft prey. Let's focus on the bad guys, lace bugs! 

You know when you have lace bugs because the leaves are discolored, yellowed and mottled in appearance. They hang out on the underside of the leaves where they are protected from weather and predators, and suck essential juices out of the plant. Eggs will show up along the midrib of the leaf. Adults have wings that resemble lace. 

Lace bugs use azaleas, as well as hawthorn, cotoneaster, pyracantha and Japanese quince as host plants. Also, rhododendron and mountain laurel, as well as sycamore, ash, hickory and mulberry trees. So, some lace bugs are always hanging around but azaleas planted in full sun are more susceptible to an infestation.

What can you do?

Your first line of defense is to spray the entire plant with the hose and try to knock the bugs off the plant. If that does not control them, insecticides can be applied when eggs hatch and nymphs appear in spring. Make sure the undersides of the leaves are covered or consider a systemic product. An insecticidal soap, pyrethrin or neem oil can be used. Keep in mind that insecticides will kill nymphs and adults but not eggs. Follow directions accordingly.


Azalea lace bug on lower surface of azalea leaf. Photo: NCSU


Photo: NCSU

Mosquitoes vs Pollinators?  

As the weather gets warmer, do you want to reduce your exposure to mosquitoes? 

🦟All insecticides meant to target adult mosquitos actually kill or harm all insects -- this includes bees, butterflies, fireflies and ladybugs. These chemicals are not selective even at lower doses. 

What can you do?  

🦟In addition to wearing long sleeves, natural bug repellants are readily available and effective when applied often. 

🦟The best and safest solution for controlling mosquitoes is to eliminate standing water on your property, which reduces their habitat for breeding and prevents their larvae from developing.

🦟Preventing standing water, draining gutters correctly and screening water storage tanks and French drains are examples of how to decrease mosquitoes’ breeding grounds. Likewise, ponds and other water features should always have fountains as moving water deters mosquitos from breeding.

🦟English ivy, an invasive exotic plant, retains moisture particularly well and provides all the ingredients needed to let mosquitoes both reproduce and stalk food. Its leaves hold shallow pools of water that provide ideal breeding places for mosquitoes.

🦟Larvicides are specially designed for use against mosquitoes in water. The bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (known commercially as Bt) acts as a stomach poison and kills mosquito larvae within a few days. It also affects fly larvae, but overall harms many fewer insects.

Please, let's balance protecting pollinators with reducing the mosquito population!


Master Gardeners in the Community

People who become certified Extension Master Gardeners bring a diversity of backgrounds. For Cheryl Palmer, it was a stellar 35-year career with the Mint Museum -- a career that made her a nationally respected leader in museum education.

Before retiring, she knew she wanted to do a 180. “I was an amateur gardener tinkering in my yard and probably making a zillion mistakes. Gardening marries my background in art, design and history with science and math, subjects I find challenging. I saw the Master Gardener program as a way to keep learning, become more proficient at gardening, and meet a neat group of volunteers.”

Since receiving her certification in 2015:

  • Cheryl led the training program for the new class of students in 2016 after the original chair stepped down due to family issues.
  • Since mid-2017, she has co-led the group of volunteers who work twice a month at the Freedom Park Demonstration Garden. When you’re one of those volunteers, you can expect an email from Cheryl before each session outlining the tasks to be completed, an update on any weather concerns, and a reminder to bring your own tools. When you work at this garden, you’re guaranteed to learn a lot. Cheryl loves sharing what she knows about plants there while learning from other Master Gardeners who have much more experience with gardening in sun!
  • Since 2019, Cheryl has also led a small team addressing Fund Development. The group started by interviewing program leaders (e.g., for community/school gardens, our vegetable garden, and a pre-school education program) to develop a wish list of short- and long-term goals. Based on that information, the committee has applied for free packets of seeds for community gardens and for tools that can be used with children and teens. “As budgets get slashed, grants are a way to extend the small financial resources we have,” she said.

“Gardening is such a joy. It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes, it’s a way to be in touch with nature and the changing seasons.”

Cheryl’s advice to new gardeners: “Enjoy it, soak it up, embrace it!”


Take note...

  • Interested in possible alternatives to turfgrass? See our handout on clover
  • The NC Dept. of Agriculture is now accepting residential soil samples to test for nutrients. The analysis is free through November. The process time will be a bit longer due to COVID-19 impacts. You can pick up soil kits from the Mecklenburg Extension office at 1480 Armory Dr. in Charlotte or at many Park & Rec Centers. A soil test is the best way to determine the health of your soil. More info...

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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.