Welcome to Garden Zone, the monthly newsletter produced by the Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener program. You'll find information ranging from lawn care and native plants to garden pests and emerging issues. 

If you find this information helpful, share it with friends and neighbors! If you'd like to be removed from future communications, you can unsubscribe (at the bottom of the newsletter), or send us an email

Protect your plants in cold weather 

Our Help Desk is getting a lot of calls about how the cold weather will affect plants. 

  • The Piedmont area is within the USDA hardiness zone 7b-8a, with an expected average minimum temperature of 5 degrees.
  • If the soil is dry, be sure to water the garden and/or landscape well a few days before extreme cold sets in.
  • Plants growing in containers are at higher risk from colder temperatures than plants rooted in the ground. Consider moving the containers into a garage or, at a minimum, pushing the containers up against the eaves of the house. If a container is too big to move, you can surround and cover it with several layers of insulating materials.
  • Figs and gardenias are the plants most frequently damaged by single-digit temperatures in the Piedmont. Consider taking extra steps to protect special varieties you don't want to lose. 
  • Resist the urge to go out and prune cold-damaged plants. There's more cold weather ahead and the browned leaves and damaged stems can actually protect the rest of the plant.

Read this article for more details


Photo: Pixabay

February tasks in the garden

​The Master Gardener program offers a monthly to-do list of things to check in your yard and garden. You can find these on our website. In February, it's a good time to: 

  • Reassess your garden. Identify plants you want to add and underperforming ones you need to replace.
  • Focus on plants that grow well in our USDA planting zone (7b-8a).
  • Get a soil test done to assess soil quality and identify amendments needed to improve the quality. 
  • Watch for signs of growth in early spring bulbs. When about 1-inch high, start removing mulch. Fertilize emerging bulbs. 
  • Resume a fertilizer schedule for indoor plants. 

Check other gardening tasks for February


Photo: Pexels

What should I prune this month?

Do you ever wonder what you should prune and when? Lots of people do! In February:

  • Prune ornamental grasses, like liriope, pampas grass and mondo grass. It's important to trim the previous year's growth before the spring growth begins.
  • Prune overgrown broadleaf shrubs in late February to their desired size. This includes Ligustrum (privet), boxwood, osmanthus, photinia (red tip), holly, cleyera, and viburnum. As a general rule, try not to cut more than 1/3 of a shrub in any one year.
  • Camellia (japonica and sasanqua) can be pruned anytime after they flower (but not later than mid-July).

See this pruning calendar for more detail.


Photo: Pixabay

Say "NO!" to crape murder!

It's that time of year. Landscaping crews have already begun topping crape myrtle trees in some areas of Mecklenburg County. Granted, there are instances in which heavy pruning is necessary, but typically, only light, if any, pruning is needed for crape myrtles.

Crape myrtles bloom on new wood, the growth that comes out each spring and summer. Many homeowners mistakenly think the topping will increase the amount of new growth and number of blooms. Some may have the wrong size tree for the space, and some may see others topping the tree and think it's necessary.

Please don't top crape myrtle! When given a suitable location, crape myrtle trees should be allowed to develop their natural style without whacking off their tops.

Here's a good resource on pruning crape myrtles. Check it out and share it with others, including your lawn service company! 



Don't top crape myrtles!


Photo/Illustration: Melissa Lucas

We grow veggies year-round!

Master Gardener volunteers in Mecklenburg County maintain vegetable and herb gardens at the Extension Services office near CPCC's downtown campus. In 2018, the team harvested 170 pounds of vegetables.

  • Vegetables are grown in 7 raised beds built by Master Gardener volunteers.
  • All produce is donated to the soup kitchen operated by the Urban Ministry Center, an interfaith organization that provides hot, nutritious lunches 365 days a year to those in need.

So far in 2019, we've harvested Early Jersey cabbage, Cheddar Orange cauliflower, radishes, scallions, broccoli and collards. As many gardeners can attest to, vegetables can be grown almost year-round in the Piedmont area! 


Growing winter vegetables at your place

Check this clever sign at Renfrow Hardware on winter vegetables.

If you're interested in more detail about what to plant and when, see the planting calendar for central North Carolina. The section on Planting Dates covers vegetables, fruits and herbs. You'll find:

  • number of days it takes to harvest each plant
  • the planting distance needed between each plant
  • whether you need to start with seeds indoors for later transplant in the garden.

These are great resources for vegetable gardeners!


Master Gardeners in the Community

​For three years, Angela Johnson has implemented a gardening program for students at Eastover Elementary School using lesson plans modeled from NC State’s 4-H website growforit.org. Topics shared with the children include the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, vermicomposting, beekeeping and soil solutions.

Johnson's ongoing work, supported by teachers and the PTA, has fostered 12 raised beds where students grow plants like fennel, rosemary, blueberries and sage. A monarch highway butterfly garden and a bog garden for carnivorous pitcher plants also thrive. 

"Gardening helps children learn hands-on skills that broaden their awareness of the world around them," said Johnson. "They learn how butterflies and bees help pollinate plants, which gives the children a greater connection to nature. Gardening teaches kids biology, math, history, and nutrition and we have fun learning."  

Johnson has been an Extension Master Gardener since 2018. 


Above: Angela Johnson next to the compost bin maintained by the students. Top right: Student team assembles dirt, fertilizer and seeds in small containers. Bottom right: A student checks the containers under the grow lights.


Check these upcoming events! 

  • Annual Orchid Sale. Feb. 9-14, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays; 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Sponsored by UNC-Charlotte Botanical Gardens. More details.
  • Ganache at the Gardens: a Chocolate Celebration. Sunday, Feb. 10, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sponsored by UNC-Charlotte Botanical Gardens. See details
  • Orchid Sale 2019. Feb. 15-17, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sponsored by Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. More details.
  • Introduction to Pruning. Saturday, Feb. 16; 1-2 p.m. Sponsored by Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardeners and Matthews Public Library. More details.
  • Open Nursery & Garden Dates / Winter 2019. Feb. 22-24 & March 1-3. Sponsored by Plant Delights in Raleigh. See website for details

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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.