Have garden questions? Stop by our display at select Home Depot stores on Saturday, May 8. Our volunteers can help you with any garden questions. See locations here.

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Floral gifts that keep on giving  

Many of our holidays are celebrated by giving plants as gifts. No matter the season, they fill our homes with color, scent and beauty … and often end up in the trash or compost bin within a few weeks.

But that doesn’t have to be the case as our Growing Zone 7b/8a in Mecklenburg County is suited to planting these gems outdoors to be enjoyed for years to come. Let’s stroll through the year and learn which of these beauties can survive but also thrive!

🎁 Mother’s Day is May 9 so that is a great place to begin. Hydrangeas, azaleas, gardenias, miniature roses, and peonies are on full display in garden centers, supermarkets, and florist shops right now. Each can be transplanted into the garden and will grow into their natural size and shape with time.

🎁 Thanksgiving is traditionally colored by the yellows, oranges, rusts, and reds of late fall. Chrysanthemums often line entrance steps and fill planters outdoors. Indoors they take center stage on the dining table surrounded by gourds and brilliant leaves. After they have faded, trim the blooms off and replant them in sun to grow and bloom again next year.   

🎁 Christmas is universally represented by the poinsettia and the amaryllis.  While the poinsettia is often kept as a houseplant for months before being quarantined in a dark, cool garage or crawlspace to pamper it back to blooming the next year, it can occasionally be planted outdoors here. To survive, it needs just the right micro-climate to keep it a bit warmer than what we are normally.  But the amaryllis happily makes the transition from potted plant to the garden and will grow and multiply well.

🎁 St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with shamrock-like plants called Oxalis (there are green- and burgundy-leafed varieties). These lovely plants have thin, tuber-like roots which naturalize well and grow into an almost groundcover patch outdoors. They can be dug and divided into hundreds of roots to share. 

🎁 Easter is personified by the white lily but other spring flowering bulbs (hyacinths, daffodils, crocus) also fill gift arrangements. All of these bulbs will thrive when planted outdoors (tulips do not reliably bloom the next season).  

Hopefully you will save your gift plants from being discarded and give them the opportunity to delight you time and time again in the garden!  


May's to-do list

Get ready to pinch, prune and weed! The start of May means more tasks in the garden. Here are some:

🌷Have you already put mulch around your plants? Applying 1-3 inches can help plants conserve moisture during the heat and humidity we'll soon see in central North Carolina.

🌷By the end of May, pinch back perennials to delay flowering and encourage more compact growth and blooms. This may not be your favorite activity, but it will get you the results you want to see in your garden.

🌷Also pinch back the first flowers of summer annuals. Pinching off spent blooms will encourage more blooms later.

🌷Prune early flowering trees and shrubs (azaleas, forsythia, spirea, etc.) as soon as the blooms have faded. Also prune deciduous vines (wisteria, Lady Banks roses) after flowering.

🌷Remember to water low (vs using an overhead sprinkler) on your plants, or use drip irrigation.

🌷 Lawn care: For tall fescue, remember not to fertilize in late spring or summer. For bermudagrass, apply post-emergence herbicides in May, as needed, to control summer annual and perennial broadleaf weeds. In late May, start replanting bare or worn areas using sod or sprigs. See    NCSU’s lawn maintenance calendars    for details. 

For more gardening tasks in May, check our website!


Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) at our Independence Demonstration Garden near uptown Charlotte. A native shrub. Hummingbirds and butterflies love it!

Essential care for spring bulbs

Remember your excitement as crocuses, tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils began their ascent, even though it was still cold?  Soon, those leaves revealed flowers in all colors! Spring had indeed sprung.

We need to hold that memory as we now deal with the sprawl of long dangling daffodil and tulip leaves after flowers are spent. The leaves must stay even though we are tempted to trim them down to start our summer plantings.  The green leaves feed the bulb so it can set the flowers for next year.

A DO list to ensure next year’s parade of colors:

🌷 Let the leaves grow freely until they start to turn brown and dry.

🌷 Snap off the dead blossoms to keep the garden tidy, if needed.  

🌷 Sweep leaves out of the way without bending or cutting, so summer flowers can show off.

🌷 Plant summer perennials around the daffodils to hide the leaves.

🌷 Feed the bulbs 10-10-10 or 10-15-10 slow-release fertilizer after they are done blooming.

🌷 Water regularly, about an inch of water a week.

When the leaves are dry:

🌷 Gently remove the dead leaves, or leave them for compost.

🌷 Check bulbs to see if they are crowded and need to be divided, which is usually a 5-year cycle.

🌷 Now is the time to dig up bulbs to replant immediately, or to store at 65 degrees for replanting in November. 

🌷 Lightly cultivate the soil around the bulb to be sure no holes have formed.

🌷 Mulch, mulch, mulch.

Be sure you DON’T: 

🌷 Cut the leaves, braid them, or bend them over and tie or band them.

🌷 Let the bulbs get soggy.

🌷 Forget they are in the bed as you dig holes for summer plants.

Spring bulbs pretty much take care of themselves. With just a little attention, they will come back to make their stunning spring entrance. 


Photo: Diligent Gardener

Ground covers: tough and low maintenance

Ground covers can add color, form, texture and beauty to your landscape. They can be low growing perennials, shrubs, herbs or vines. They spread rapidly and grow close to the ground covering up problem areas. Perhaps you have:

✳️ A shady area where you can’t get grass to grow

✳️ A hillside that stays too dry and has poor soil conditions

✳️ A place where you need to prevent erosion

✳️ A steep slope that is dangerous to mow

✳️ Spaces around stepping stones and cracks in garden paths

✳️ An empty corner

✳️ An unsightly area that needs to be covered up.

Grounds covers are a good option for these problem areas. They can also be used to transition from a grassy area to a garden or to highlight other elements in your landscape. Your choice can be something that will stay green all year (evergreen) or die back in the winter (deciduous).

The North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox is a great place to get started. Also, Favorite Ground Covers for NC Gardens provides information on native ground covers to attract more pollinators to your garden.


Shade: Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)


Shade: Mazus (Mazus reptans)


Sun: Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)

Mosquito control: What can you do?

Be on the lookout for mosquitoes! They're annoying, painful and can transmit disease. Nothing about them earns an invitation to our yard or party.

Where are they coming from during the day, and especially when the sun is setting? 

Mosquitos need water to breed, so do some hunting around your property for any standing water: gutters, empty pottery, bird baths, standing water in the lawn or around the foundation of your home, stored or covered objects that can hold any amount of water, and rain barrels.

Routinely check for possible breeding grounds, then dump out the water, or treat the water with Bacillus Thuringiensis israelensis (also referred to as Bti or more popularly, Dunks). This will kill the larva, reducing the mosquito population. Bti also comes in a granular form so you can sprinkle it in wet areas of your lawn and damp mulch. Ivies and ground cover plants can also be a breeding ground.

Mosquitos can fly 100-300 yards so while you might be vigilant, what about the neighborhood? Perhaps a neighborhood newsletter or neighborhood app (like Nextdoor) could help educate and create some diligence about how to reduce the larvae population.

How about other preventions? Make sure windows and doors have tight-fitting screens. Personal repellant on the skin as well as repellent fabrics are helpful. Citronella candles and burning oils can keep mosquitos away if the air is still. 

Bug zappers and other devices have little scientific evidence for their effectiveness. Bug zappers often zap beneficial insects. Mosquito traps can be overwhelmed; then you are just attracting all the mosquitos to your site.


A Bti dunk can be used to control mosquitoes. Photo: CDC

Mosquito control: If you hire an exterminator

Chemical treatments are risky to homeowners, pets and beneficial insects.  Any drift of pesticides is illegal, even a small amount. Children, pets, water and food bowls, bee hives, fish ponds, and vegetable gardens can all be adversely affected by chemical drift.

If you hire an exterminator: 

🦟 Find out what chemicals are going to be used. Beware of the “it’s natural” sales pitch. It's true that the pyrethrum plant (aka, chrysanthemums) repels mosquitos. The oil of the chrysanthemum affects the nervous system of insects causing their death. However, most pyrethrum ingredients used by professionals are synthetic and quite toxic not only to mosquitos, but beneficial insects as well. 

🦟 Insist that they treat very early in the morning and late in the evening when pollinators are not out and about. Insist that they spray low to the ground and on a non-windy day. Keep sprays away from flowering plants.

🦟 Alert your neighbors for the time and day so they can cover their flowers, crops, pet bowls and keep their children and pets indoors. 

Warding off mosquitos is a multi-faceted approach that includes:

🦟 Choosing a level of tolerance. There will always be a few bites in the summer.

🦟 Reducing breeding grounds in the neighborhood.

🦟 Using personal repellents such as skin products and treatment for clothes.

🦟 Using fans and citronella oils to divert mosquitos from your personal zone.

🦟 Using Bti in any continuously standing water.

🦟 Being extremely responsible and holding others to being responsible for sprays and fogging which might involve innocent neighbors and pollinators, which are crucial to fruit production.

Happy summer!  Let’s be sure to take care of one another! 


It's the perfect time to visit a garden

Consider visiting MapleWalk, the private garden of Lib Jones and Tom Nunnenkamp, both Master Gardeners Emeritus. It's free to tour. The garden is about 2.5 acres. Location: 4255 Kingswood Rd., Charlotte. Park on the street. Here are two plants we spotted over the weekend.


'First Arrival' Itoh Peony


'Purple Passion' Rhododendron

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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.