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

March Garden Tasks

Spring is on the way!

The spring equinox occurs March 20, however, the central area of North Carolina is not home free from frost until sometime around mid- April. Here are things to do in March to get ready for warmer weather.

✳️ Fertilize your perennial beds; slow-release organic fertilizers work best.
✳️ Divide and replant daylilies, hostas and peonies when new growth is 1-2 inches high.
✳️ Cut back plants that were left for winter interest, including grasses and seed heads. Also, cut back dead and old foliage from ferns and liriope monkey grass before new growth begins.
✳️ Deadhead daffodils when the blooms fade, but allow the foliage to die back naturally to store nutrients for the next growing season. Pansies benefit from deadheading, as well.
✳️ For vegetable gardens, plant cool season crops – like lettuce, kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and carrots. Start tender vegetables, like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, indoors.
✳️ For lawns, fertilize cool-season lawns like tall fescue. Don’t fertilize again until September. Be sure to add pre-emergence herbicides by the time dogwoods bloom.


Photo courtesy of NC State

Invasive Alert - Butterfly Bush

As Joan Rivers used to say, “Can We Talk?”.  The Butterfly Bush, Buddleia davidii, is beautiful and adds color to our landscapes but is considered invasive. What exactly do we mean by invasive?  It is non-native to our ecosystem, is likely to cause environmental harm and may impact biodiversity and habitats. How?  Although it thrives in our climate, it is from central China and, as it migrated to our country, it evolved into over 140 species as it spread. Buddleia davidii is the most common species. It can grow up to 15 feet high and has long, usually purple spiked blooms. It reproduces easily through seed dispersal through wind and water. Seeds can stay viable in the ground for 3 or more years.  It can also be easily propagated through cuttings.

Doesn’t it help pollinators?  Somewhat.  It provides nectar to adult butterflies but is not a host plant. Butterflies need host plants on which to lay eggs and on which their caterpillars feed. Not a single native caterpillar eats Butterfly Bush leaves. As these plants multiply, they replace native shrubs in surrounding woods, roadsides and other natural areas. The native shrubs are essential and provide food for the butterfly caterpillars. Birds eat caterpillars so without a food source, birds lose habitat. And on it goes…

So what can you plant instead? Here are a few suggestions:   Sweet Pepperbush, also called Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) or Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica).  You can also plant a variety of perennials in its place:  Blazing Star (Liatris); Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea); Giant Hyssop (Agastache); Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium) species and Milkweed (Asclepias) species.  Here are further suggestions from the Xerces Society.

If you remove your butterfly bush, it’s best to put it in the trash and not compost.

Laying Sod Successfully


Sod can add an instant improvement to your landscape design; however, this expensive option requires preparation and careful follow-up.

Preparing the soil for sod is the first step.  Remove all grass and weeds, including their roots. Amend the soil according to the latest soil test, and spread two inches of compost.  The level of the ground needs to be lower than the desired finished height to accommodate the root mat.  Be sure the soil is roughed with a garden rake or lightly tilled.

Sod must be fresh and installed no more than 36 hours after harvesting.  Keep sod rolls in shade as much as possible.  Be sure your first roll is perfectly lined up with your desired edge. Roll all other pieces in the same direction, butting the edges as close to each other as possible to prevent drying out and invasion of weeds.  Keep the soil raked, in case there are foot or wheel barrow compactions. 

A best practice is to roll the sod with a heavy hand roller to be sure it is level with the soil and there are no air pockets. 

Now, water, water, water to a depth of about 4 inches.  Peek under an edge to make sure the water has penetrated to the soil level.  Then, water every 2-3 days so that the sod is consistently moist, but not soggy.  It is best to water in the morning to prevent mold or fungus.   While sod can be installed any time of year, spring cool weather is an ideal time to retain moisture.


Ecological Turf Tips: https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/landscaping/ecological-turf-tips-how-to-select-and-install-sod/

Establishing a Lawn from Sod: https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/ay/ay-28-w.pdf

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Nectar-Rich Plants

Looking for a few easy to grow, nectar-rich flowers to attract more butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden or patio?  Then try a few of these bloomers: Salvia, Impatiens, Calibrachoa, Flowering Tobacco and Nasturtium for starters.

Salvia: this beauty adds a vertical pop to any sunny garden or potted arrangement coming in a range of colors from white to red to purple and many hues in between. Salvia grows from 8” to 3’ tall and has nectar-rich tubular flowers that cover their stalks drawing in hummingbirds and other pollinators.

Impatiens: are great in containers and along boarders in your shady spots. They don’t need deadheading and the rainbow of color they offer will invite beautiful winged creatures your way.

Calibrachoa: you’ll find that these fast-growing, all-season bloomers offer much nectar to your winged friends and an abundance of color to your window boxes and hanging baskets. You’ll often find bees napping in these petunia-like flowers that trail up to 16”.

Flowering Tobacco: is another vertical beauty growing from 10” to 5’ with star shaped flowers covering their stalks. Some species have a lovely fragrance making them a nice addition close to a doorway. Also known as Nicotiana, it comes in a number of colors including pink, maroon, lavender, white and green.

Nasturtium: requires regular watering and adds vivid color all season long. Some Nasturtiums are climbers while others mound and the nectar these colorful flowers offer attract a number of fliers. While caterpillars and songbirds enjoy their leaves, the flowers are also yummy in our salads.

Try something new by adding few of these nectar-rich flowers to your outdoor spaces. Choosing plants that bloom from spring through fall will help provide the maximum hummingbird and butterfly traffic to your garden or patio.

Pictures: EMG Gina Tadle

Rules for City Trees in the Right of Way

Street trees shade our streets and beautify our neighborhoods and increase our property values. Like any trees, they must be taken care of properly to remain in good health. Something that is not always considered is that they belong to the city and not to the homeowner. What most of us don't realize is that we are not allowed to do anything that might damage the street trees in front of our houses. 

"Any pruning, removal or planting of trees in the right of way without a permit will result in a notice of violation and a monetary fine."

If the street tree needs to be pruned, you must call the city and they will send someone to prune it. Do not let your lawn service prune them and do not do it yourself, you can be fined!  If you want to remove a healthy but undesirable street tree, like a Bradford Pear, and replace it with a better one, Charlotte will issue a permit for a certified arborist to remove it at your expense and
issue for a permit you to replace it.  

It is also valuable to know how far into your yard the right of way
extends so that you will know which trees belong to the city.  The
county you live in can provide that information. 


Pictures: EMG Jean Wilson

Time To Clean the Garden


It’s finally time to clean our gardens and get them ready for spring. I don’t know about you but it’s been a long time coming for this gardener.  Sometimes leaving the leaves, faded flower heads, dead stems and other “garden waste” over winter can be difficult. However, it is an essential part of survival for birds, insects, and other garden dwellers.

Around mid-March, break out the rakes, snips, and paper lawn and leaf bags and get busy! Cut back the spent flowers and faded ornamental grasses can be cut back to 6 inches or so (be sure to check the variety, some grasses need to wait until April before getting a trim).  Remove fallen branches, plants that may have died, and brush piles. You can also give your non-flowering shrubs a trim, i.e., Box Shrubs. Lastly, consider replacing plants, getting creative with a little whimsy, prepping your tools and enjoying your clean gardens! Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Gardening During Pandemic

We, as a people, are resilient.  Many of us spent months in lock down due to this pandemic and had to figure out how to cope… physically and mentally!  Gardening has been the answer for many. 

Some started vegetable gardening so they can grow their own food. Some are now raising chickens for their own access to eggs. Some have designed and installed new garden beds, patios and decks. Gardening supplies such as seeds and landscaping materials have been flying off the shelves and pressuring seed companies to maintain inventory.  Gardening has turned into a great family activity to get the kids outside and learn a new skill (and they love it!). House plants have taken center stage again, improving air quality and boosting moods. 

A study conducted by Urban Forestry and Urban Greening during the pandemic “showed that the mental resilience of those who gardened was statistically significantly higher… in specific areas of “emotional regulation”, “relationship”, “confidence”, “positive thinking” and “spirituality.” 

So, will this trend continue? A study by the American Society for Horticultural Science shows that the trend may die back a bit as people return to offices and spend more time away from home.  However, we hope the therapeutic seeds planted during this time will continue to provide the benefits we all enjoy.

The ASHA website: https://journals.ashs.org/horttech/view/journals/horttech/32/1/article-p32.xml

Photos courtesy of NC State




Parsley, curly (Petroselium crispum cripsum) or flat (P. crispum neopolitum), is a desired culinary herb in many gardens.  Parsley is rich in vitamins A, C, along with K, B, calcium and iron.  A third variety is root parsley (P. crispum tuberosum), grown for its large white tap root. 

It is easiest to purchase starter plants and set them 6” to 8” apart.  Parsley grows in sun and part shade. Since it is a biennial, it will grow through the winter and continue to thrive into spring.  In the second year, the plant will “bolt” and create hard stems.  This is why many gardeners replant each year, treating it more as an annual plant.

Parsley likes well-conditioned soil to start, and then fertilizer once in mid-season. 

Starting with seed can seem frustrating because germination takes almost a month. A few tricks might bring more success.  Soak the seeds overnight before planting.  Sow seeds thinly and shallowly, then thin to 6 inches as they germinate.  Keep the soil consistently moist.  Try planting a row of radishes next to the parsley so you don’t forget them as you wait for them to appear.  Be careful of the tap root if you transplant seedlings.  Damage to the tap root harms the plant.

Bonus or bust?  Parsley, as well as carrots, dill, and fennel are host plants to the Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar.  The butterfly lays its eggs on the underside of the host plant in spring and early summer.  Then, something happens quite suddenly: one day you have lush parsley plants, and the next they are covered with large green and yellow caterpillars that are devouring and stripping the plants.  Live and let live. The best solution is to plant extra parsley so there is plenty for the Swallowtail and for the kitchen.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay


Parsley: https://www.wifss.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Parsley_PDF.pdf

Swallowtail Butterfly: https://uwm.edu/field-station/black-tiger-swallowtails-family-papilionidae/

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.