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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Why mow? Smell the roses instead!

For many homeowners, weekends are synonymous with mowing, fertilizing and watering. Across the U.S., there are 45.6 million acres of lawns and it’s growing by 500 square miles each year. That’s an area 8 times the size of New Jersey.

Doug Tallamy, a noted author and professor at the University of Delaware, says perfectly manicured grass does not benefit the climate or biodiversity. He suggests cutting the area of lawn in half and putting native plants into that space to provide food and habitat for pollinators and other wildlife -- and adding shrubs and trees that will absorb and store more carbon.

We recognize that may not be easy for most homeowners to do, particularly those living in an HOA. But we know some Mecklenburg Master Gardeners who have taken a “no-mow” approach. Check it out! 

We hope what they’re doing provides inspiration and ideas for your landscape.

Don't touch those bird feeders! 

As cooler weather comes our way, should you put your hummingbird feeder away? No, there are hummingbirds that over-winter in the Carolinas. Here's advice from the Carolina Bird Club:

  • It's not common to see hummingbirds during colder weather, but it does occur. While many may be Rufous hummingbirds, there are also a variety of western species.
  • No special care is required for these hardy winter hummingbirds. The birds will appreciate a feeder with the usual 4:1 (water: sugar) nectar solution.
  • The solution will not freeze unless the air temperature around the feeder drops below 27 degrees F.

Be sure your feeder is placed so that you can monitor it easily -- especially early in the day when hummingbirds are most active.


Photo: Rufous hummingbird; taken by Lexi Meadows

October in the garden 

It’s time for spring-flowering bulbs to go in, trees and shrubs to be planted, perennials divided, and mulch applied to beds to protect and build soil. October is also a month to take pause. Soak up the fall colors and the changing sunlight!


  • Plant onion sets, garlic, cabbage, collards, swiss chard and kale. Watch for green worms on broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and collards.
  • Here's a great resource from NCSU on planting a fall garden

Perennials & annuals

  • Continue to dig and divide spring- and early summer-blooming perennials before the foliage dies back. Daylilies, hostas and shasta daisies are some examples.
  • Place identification markers next to your herbaceous perennials before they die back for the winter so you won’t disturb them when planting in the spring.
  • Leave seed-bearing perennials -- ornamental grasses, coneflower, sunflowers, black-eyed Susan -- to feed the birds and provide cover for beneficial insects over the winter. 


  •  Plant spring-blooming bulbs from late October through December. Keep your bulbs in the refrigerator until you’re ready to plant them.

Trees & shrubs

  • It’s the best time to plant new trees and shrubs! Also, watch for lace bugs on azaleas and pyracantha.


  • Aerate your lawn. Coring lawns can help to minimize compaction and improve rooting. Be sure to break up plugs.
  • Plant cool-season grasses like tall fescue.

There's more to do! See our complete list of garden tasks for October


What are those weeds telling you?

Did you know the weeds in your lawn can help you hone-in on specific problems you’re having, and also guide you in next steps? Before using chemicals to control weeds, take the time to determine why the weed problems exist.

  • Moss indicates too much shade, infertile soil, low soil pH, or poor drainage.
  • Chickweed, ground ivy and violets tolerate areas that are too shady for turf.
  • Violets indicate moist or poorly drained soil.
  • Yarrow indicates soil is too dry for grass and has low fertility.
  • Red sorrel indicates very acidic soil.
  • Goosegrass indicates compacted soil.
  • Crabgrass and annual bluegrass indicate high fertility soil.
  • Dandelions are opportunists. They grow in a wide range of environments. All they need is space to germinate in a weakened turf.

Some overlap occurs with many of these weeds, so you may see some or all of them in your lawn.

The best weed control method for your lawn is to keep the grass stand healthy. That means maintaining an environment that helps turf compete against the weeds by maintaining proper soil pH and using proper fertilization, watering and mowing practices.

A good place to start is by testing your soil. Testing is free until Dec. 1, so pick up a soil test kit from the Mecklenburg Cooperative Extension office (1418 Armory Dr.) and get started. The kits are also available at many Park & Rec centers.


Red sorrel / NCSU

Pest of the Month: Yellow Jackets

The heat is starting to break and you can finally sit outside in the evening... until the yellow jackets arrive. Why are they so aggressive this time of year? Yellow jackets (Vespula maculifrons) feed on foods rich in sugars and carbohydrates, such as nectar and fruit, as well as protein such as insects and fish. This time of year, those sources become scarce so they look for alternatives like sodas, various meats and sweets. Yellow jackets have been known to attack honey bee hives to rob them of their honey. 

What to do if you're stung?
A yellow jacket sting is painful and, unlike honey bees that die after they sting, yellow jacket stingers are smooth so they can sting multiple times.

  • Open soda containers should be checked carefully prior to consumption. 
  • If stung, quickly cover the area with a paste of table salt or baking soda and a few drops of water to help draw out or neutralize the venom.
  • Vinegar could also help with the itching and swelling.
  • Of course, if allergic, seek medical attention immediately.

The good news is, newly fertilized queens are the only members of the colony that overwinter; the rest die either after mating or with the first frost -- whether they live under the ground or around your house.  

How can you find their nest?  
Let them take a tiny piece of your food and then watch them literally “bee line” to their nest. Nest sites could be in the ground, a hollow tree or on your house. If spraying the nest with an insecticide, wait until late evening or night when they’ve all returned home.  Spray the opening with a back and forth motion to also take out any yellow jackets coming after you. Do not use a flashlight while spraying as yellow jackets are drawn to the light.  Check the nest the next day for activity and reapply again, if necessary.

Saying "no" to peat

There is growing concern about the use of peat-based materials for gardening. Peat may not be a sustainable resource as we once assumed.

Peat bogs are a carbon sink, which means peat bog areas store large amounts of carbon in the form of decaying organic materials. Wetlands play an important role in reducing the impact of global warming by capturing carbon and lowering the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. When the peat is harvested and used, the sequestered carbon is released back into the environment, thus creating a larger carbon footprint.

Wetlands are fragile ecosystems and sustainable peat harvesting is difficult to achieve. After peat is harvested, restoration of the ecosystem back to the original carbon sequestration status can take as long as 20 years. In addition, most peat used in the U.S. is harvested in Canada, and transportation to the end user after harvest can be costly.

So, what are viable alternatives to peat?  
Two options currently being researched are Pine Tree Substrate (PTS) and a material called biochar.

** PTS is manufactured by grinding pine trees to various particle sizes and the size can be adjusted to fit the requirements of the plant or container being used. PTS can be used without composting and can be made from lumber industry waste materials.

** Biochar is created by heating organic materials to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. Biochar can be made from any organic material and is a great way to recycle waste from both the greenhouse and lumber industries.

We can all contribute to a better environment by using peat materials judiciously and looking for alternatives when possible.

Master Gardeners in the Community

After completing the Master Gardener class in 2018, Connie Rothwell was looking for a way to merge her love of gardening and the desire to make a positive impact in the community. While meeting with fellow parishioners from St. Gabriel’s church, Connie came upon Cochran schools.

She now runs a volunteer gardening and mentoring program working with the kids at Cochrane Middle School and Cochrane Collegiate Academy. The two schools share a campus and many of the children are economically disadvantaged. 

Connie has been fronting this volunteer effort for two years and loves it. It can be challenging at times but when she sees the joy in the faces of the kids, she knows it’s worth it.

Connie wrote and received a grant through Lowe’s to help get funding needed for supplies to build new gardens and spruce up the old ones.

Connie and her group of volunteers meet in the fall to build and maintain the gardens. Connie also meets with the children and teachers to teach gardening skills, as well as offering one-on-one mentoring during the school year. 

If you're interested in starting a school or community garden, let us know. We provide free consultation on best practices! 


Connie Rothwell

Upcoming events! 

Fall plant sales

  • Wing Haven Fall Plant Sale. Thurs.-Sat., Oct. 3-5; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Members only day, Oct. 2), 260 Ridgewood Ave., Charlotte. More details
  • UNCC-Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale. Fri.-Sat., Oct. 4-5; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (Members only day, Oct. 3), 9090 Craver Rd., Charlotte. For details.
  • Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale. Sat. Oct. 12; 3-5 p.m. (Members only day, Oct. 11). 6500 South New Hope Rd., Belmont. See details

Free presentations

  • Best composting techniques. Free presentation by Master Gardener Tina Brownlie. Mon., Oct. 7; 6-7 p.m. Steele Creek Library. 13620 Steele Creek Rd. Registration encouraged.  
  • Selecting, Planting and Maintenance of Trees and Shrubs. Free presentation by Master Gardener Haller Walker.

      1. Sat., Oct. 12; 1-2 p.m. Matthews Library. 230 Matthews Station St.,              Matthews. Registration encouraged​. 

      2. Sat., Oct. 19; 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Mountain Island Lake Library. 4420            Hoyt Galvin Way, Charlotte. Registration encouraged

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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.