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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Take a migration road trip!

Each year, monarch butterflies migrate from the northern reaches of the continent down to central Mexico. It's a bit of a mystery. Five generations of monarchs are born each summer; most only live a few weeks. It's the last-born of the summer that make this 2,000- to 2,500-mile migration trip.

How do they do it? The adults can live eight to nine months. The longevity is due to a process called “reproductive diapause,” a delay of reproduction until February or March. By delaying reproduction, the overwintering monarchs conserve energy, allowing them to live much longer than other generations.

NC route: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and parts of North Carolina are on one of the natural migration routes. Monarchs are typically seen from mid- to late September to early October.

There are several locations along the Blue Ridge Parkway, especially the Mount Pisgah and Black Balsam areas, that are good places to spot these beautiful butterflies. One of them is Cherry Cover Overlook (Milepost 415.7). At 4,327 ft., it's a well-known spot for viewing the monarchs. You'll also find an interpretive sign about the monarch migration.

Explore Asheville offers top viewing areas

What can you do to attract monarchs to your garden?

Plant milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.) and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. Here's a list of native milkweed plants.

Plant nectar plants. Adult monarchs will drink the nectar of many flowers in addition to milkweed. In fact, they need sources of nectar to nourish them throughout the entire growing season. Examples include Monarda punctate (Spotted bee balm) and Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan). See this list for a few nectar-rich flowers for butterflies

Here’s a great FAQ on monarchs.


Monarch butterfly; photo by Master Gardener Jean Wilson

September in the garden

September can be one of the busiest months in the garden. With cooler temperatures headed our way, September typically brings relief to gardens and signals the start of a new season.

Tasks to consider for your home garden:

Perennials & annuals

  • Fertilize annuals: give them one last feeding to keep their blooms coming as long as possible.
  • Divide spring- and summer-blooming perennials and keep them well-watered. 
  • Order bulbs and garlic while the selection is good. Keep them cool until time to plant in October or November, once soil temperatures drop.


  • Plant broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, radishes and spinach. Here's a planting calendar to keep on hand (scroll mid-way down)! 
  • Continue to monitor your garden for pests, including whiteflies and tomato hornworms.  

Trees & shrubs

  • Do NOT prune shrubs or trees in late summer or early autumn (September-October). Pruning stimulates new growth that may not have time to harden off before frost. Prune only diseased or dead limbs.
  • Water your trees to ensure they don't experience drought issues.

For a complete list, see our garden tasks for September.


 A word about lawn care...

  • Cool-season lawns (e.g., fescue) are best fertilized in the fall in mid-September and again in November. If you didn't have a soil test done, use a fertilizers with a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio with one pound actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. 
  • Check for white grubs and control, if needed.  
  • Begin fall seeding or sodding of cool-season grasses. Seedbeds should be raked, dethatched or core-aeriated, fertilized and seeded. Keep newly planted lawn areas moist, but not wet. (Warm-season grasses, like bermudagrass and zoysiagrass, can be seeded successfully between March and July.)
  • Newly seeded lawns should not be cut until they're at least 2 or 3 inches tall.

For more info, see NCSU's Carolina lawn care publication.

We also recommend a Sept. 3 session on lawn care offered by Union County Extension. It's at 7 p.m. via Zoom, and a great chance to ask questions!   


Harvest seeds from your best performing plants

Fall is the perfect time to save seeds. If you grow and save your own seed, you will end up with a better seed, unique to your specific garden and its growing conditions. You’ll take the best of what you have in your garden and carry it forward to the next season. 

Is there a risk of cross pollination with seeds? It could happen and that’s Ok. A genetic mistake causes diversity and you'll still eat yummy vegetables. 

It’s still gardening. You may create new opportunities. That’s exciting news!  Don’t get overwhelmed with saving seeds from every vegetable and flower in your yard. Start with a few that you really like and master that. 

Here are the basics; we've also included some good resources for additional information.


Master Gardener Les Davis harvests seeds from nearly 10 different plants in his garden, including okra.

Blame it on the humidity!

Powdery mildews are characterized by spots or patches of white to grayish, talcum-powder-like growth. They’re one of the most widespread and easily recognized plant diseases.

Humidity is an important factor related to the onset and spread. High relative humidity favors spore formation, and low relative humidity favors spore dispersal, which explains why powdery mildew tends to be a problem when the days are cool and the nights are humid.

Abnormal growth, such as leaf curling, twisting and discoloration, may be noticed before the white signs of the fungus are visible. 

What can you do?

  • Select plants that are healthy; plant them in the right location, giving attention to requirements for light, soil and moisture. If needed, selectively prune overcrowded plant material to help increase air circulation.
  • If powdery mildew is noticed on a few leaves, simply removing them will help with control. (Do not compost infected debris; put it in your trash bin.)
  • At the end of the growing season, prune out infected stems and remove fallen leaves, which can serve as a source of further infection. (Do not compost the debris.)
  • Suckers are common on crape myrtle, dogwood and other plants. These should be pruned as they develop because they are especially susceptible and the disease will spread from them upwards to other plant parts.
  • Avoid late-summer applications of nitrogen fertilizer as it stimulates young, succulent growth that is more susceptible to infection.
  • Plants with a severe infection should be monitored closely the following spring so that if infections reoccur, they can be treated early.

Here's more information, including chemical control for severe infections. 


Photo: NCSU

Master Gardeners in the Community

Ask any Mecklenburg Master Gardener to describe Joe Swift and you’ll get words like “mentor” and “teacher.” Joe completed the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) training in 2017 after retiring from a career as a news and corporate photographer. He has always loved nature, and is applying that to the EMG program.

✳️ For three years, Joe has served as a mentor to individuals going through the training, answering questions, giving advice and offering students a chance to get to know other EMGs.

✳️ For two years, Joe has been responsible for the vegetable gardens at the Mecklenburg Extension office where he taught new gardeners how to grow various kinds of vegetables successfully. All produce generated at the garden -- over 200 pounds each year – has been donated to the Urban Ministry’s soup kitchen, which provides hot, nutritious lunches 365 days a year to those in need.

✳️ Since late 2019, Joe and two other Master Gardeners have been responsible for the care and maintenance of the Indy Demonstration Garden at the Extension office. Earlier this year, the team developed plans for renovating the garden (there are 5 large beds). COVID19 has delayed the implementation. Still, EMG volunteers meet there twice each month to weed, rake, divide and – come this fall – thin out some of the perennials and install new plants.

“Every work day, I learn something new,” Joe said. “I also meet some great people who bring a lot of enthusiasm.”

✳️ When working with Joe, you’ll learn the background of a plant, including its botanical name. “The botanical name ensures accuracy, and helps you provide the right growing conditions for a specific plant.”

Joe’s advice for new gardeners:

  • Think of your garden in the long term so you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Know the quality of your soil – and add compost, more compost and more compost.
  • Having plants that attract pollinators will make your garden much more interesting.
  • Make sure your garden has a diversity of plants that offer blooms year-round. Pollinators and your neighbors will thank you!
  • Don’t take it too seriously. Have fun!

✳️ Joe can also be described as a nature nerd. He has used his photography skills to capture pollinators and plants to remind people of a garden’s power to inspire.


Ruby-throated Hummingbird visiting a petunia; photo by Joe Swift


A green anole on Euphorbia Milii (Crown of Thorns); photo by Joe Swift


Joe in his garden. The pink blooms are Kosteletzkya virginica (Seashore mallow)

Take note...

  • Plant Delights' Open Nursery/Garden Dates: If you've never been, it's time for a road trip! This highly regarded nursery is offering two weekends in September when you can visit (and find plants to purchase!). Check their website for dates/times. It's well-worth a visit! 
  • UNCC-Botanical Gardens' Fall Plant Sale: Online ordering for members will take place Sept. 19-23, with pickups scheduled on Sept. 24-26 and 28. For nonmembers, online ordering will take place Sept. 16-30, with pickups in early October. The staff expect to have details available on the website soon.  

🐝 We are buzzing with excitement about the new bee hotel at our Freedom Park Demo Garden! It was designed and built by a team of scouts, led by Grant Larson, a junior at Charlotte Country Day School. The project helped Grant earn the rank of Eagle Scout. Come fall, our Master Gardener team will install native plants around the base. 🐝

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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.