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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You are nature's best hope!

In 2018, American gardeners spent $47.8 billion on lawn and garden retail sales, the highest ever, with a record average household spend of $503 -- up nearly $100 over the previous year. That’s a lot of moolah!

What would happen if most of those dollars were redirected toward native plants? By planting natives, you’re helping to restore the health and function of your local ecosystem. You’ll see more pollinators, like hummingbirds, native bees, butterflies, moths, and bats.

Try a tool on the National Wildlife Federation website called Native Plant FinderIt’s designed to help you find the best native plant species for your area to attract butterflies, moths and birds.

Simply enter your zip code and you’ll see the best plants for your area. Click on any individual plant to find the species of butterflies and moths that use it as a host plant.

You’ll also find other good details on that site.  

The quick results seem magical, but the site uses extensive, historic data from the US Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Database. Give it a try! 


Photo: National Wildlife Federation

March in the garden 

The Piedmont region is not home free from frost until around April 15; however, there are several things you can do in March to get your gardens 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. 
  • 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.
  • Repot houseplants and begin putting them outside on warmer days.
  • For vegetable gardens, plant cool season crops – like lettuce, kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and carrots. 
  • Remove tree banding in mid- to late March so beetles can climb the trees and eat any cankerworms.    
  • Don't forget to clean and sharpen your garden tools before spring arrives!

Check other gardening tasks for March.


Plants that are ready to prune 

March is the time to start shaping up!

Roses: Prune annually for best flower production. Trim early in the month before new spring growth begins.

Nandina: Prune as needed. Cut the leggy and oldest canes near the ground. New shoots will develop at the location of your pruning cuts.

Abelia: Shape plants to desired form early in March.

Spring Flowering Shrubs: Prune IMMEDIATELY after flowering, but not after July 10th. In general, cut oldest limbs near the ground level for constant rejuvenation of shrubs. This includes shrubs like spirea, forsythia (yellow bells), flowering quince, loropetalum, breath-of-spring (winter honeysuckle), weigela, lilac, etc.


This forsythia is a good candidate for rejuvenation pruning.

What's in your lawn? 

Many of you may be wondering about lawn care to-dos. 

When to apply weed control

  • Spring is the best time to prevent weeds by using pre-emergent weed control to prevent weed seeds from germinating. Both cool-season lawns (like tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass) and warm-season lawns (like Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass) can benefit from this. Your first application should occur now.
  • Pre-emergent herbicides work for about three months, so plan on a second application during the summer.
  • Keep in mind that pre-emergent herbicide products are effective for controlling summer annual grassy weeds such as crabgrass. They do not control perennial weeds such as dallisgrass or dollarweed. They will also have no effect on winter weeds such as chickweed or henbit, which are already growing.

Should you fertilize? 

  • If you have a cool-season lawn (tall Fescue, Kentucky bluegrass), don't heavily fertilize your lawn, if at all, in the spring. Spring feeding encourages growth that will struggle to survive the summer, particularly in drought-prone areas. Save the heavier feedings for fall.
  • For warm-season grasses (Bermuda grass, zoysiagrass), fertilize in late spring as soon as the lawn greens up and begins actively growing. This is usually in April or May.
  • Avoid ‘weed and feed’ products that contain fertilizer in addition to herbicide. If the weed-destroying chemicals build up, they can harm turfgrasses. Read the product label carefully and follow the instructions.

Great resource

The right way to mulch your trees 

Mulch can be applied to landscape trees at just about any time of the year. However, the best time to apply mulch is in the middle of spring, once soil temperatures have warmed enough for root growth to begin.

  • Mulch as much of the area as possible, preferably to the outermost edge of the tree’s canopy, referred to as the drip line. Keep in mind, the drip line moves out as the tree grows.
  • Apply a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch and no more; use less if the soil is poorly drained. More than 4 inches may harm the tree’s root system. If using finely textured or double-shredded mulch, use 1 to 2 inches since these materials allow less oxygen through to the root zone.
  • For tree health, keep all mulch material away from the trunk. Allow the root flare (where the trunk meets the soil) to show. The root flare is at or near the ground line and is identifiable as a marked swelling of the tree’s trunk where roots begin to extend outward.
  • Don't over mulch! Pull excessive mulch back from the trunk of the tree and redistribute to the tree’s drip line.

No space? Try container gardening!

Container gardening is ideal for those with little or no garden space. It can also add color and a focal point to a landscape without all the care and maintenance required for a traditional garden. 

There are four important aspects to consider: drainage, container material, size and color. Don't forget about potting mixes, water and fertilizing needs. 

We have everything you need to know in a great handout produced by our Master Gardener team!


Photo: Pinterest

Master Gardeners in the Community

In 2008, when Cathy Hunter and her husband moved to Charlotte, she looked for ways to scratch her gardening itch as they had decided to rent while looking for a place to eventually settle. Cathy first volunteered as a cashier during Wing Haven’s annual plant sale, thinking her accounting skills could help. Little did she know how her involvement would expand! 

  • Cathy works with PEEPS, the Preschool Environmental Education Program that Wing Haven offers at no cost to all Title 1 Pre-K classrooms. Each classroom visits Wing Haven once a month, from October through May. The children learn about birds, worms, habitats, pond life, trees, and other cool stuff.
  • Cathy has taken on a new position as Adult Education chair where she’s involved in the various programs at Wing Haven, and there are a lot! If you attend a session, you may see Cathy behind the registration table or leading a tour of the garden!  

“The adult education classes are a way I can continue to learn about gardening. This is one of the many things I love about Wing Haven.”

Cathy became a certified Extension Master Gardener volunteer when she lived in Fayetteville and transferred to the Mecklenburg program.

  • Each spring, Cathy and other Master Gardener volunteers work with five classes of first-graders at Smithfield Elementary. The children learn about plants, garden tools and garden safety. They also plant seeds -- from moonflowers, zinnias and blackberry lilies to celosia and marigolds. It's a blast!

Cathy’s advice to new gardeners: “Be yourself. There’s no formula for being a gardener. Just don’t be intimidated. You can learn from others, but don’t be reluctant to follow your own path.”


Upcoming events! 

  • Weeds, seeds & plant families. Sat., Mar. 7, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Free event. Speaker: Master Gardener Kim O'Shea. Sponsored by the Mecklenburg Master Gardener program and Matthews Public Library. Location: 230 Matthews Station St., Matthews. For head count purposes, please RSVP
  • Annual Camellia Fair. Sat., March 7, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Free drop-by event. Location: MapleWalk, the lovely garden of Tom Nunnenkamp & Lib Jones, Master Gardeners Emeritus. 4255 Kingswood Dr. (park on the street). 11 a.m. demonstration on camellia propagation using air layering. Sponsor: Charlotte Camellia Society. 
  • Annuals & Perennials. Tues., March 10, 6-8 p.m. & Wed., March 10, 10 a.m.-noon. Speaker: Debbie Dillion, Horticulture Extension Agent. Cost: $10. Location: Union County Ag. Center, 3230-D Presson Road, Monroe. Facebook details.
  • Southern Spring Show. Stop by our Master Gardener booth on March 6-8 at Park Expo and Conference Center, 800 Briar Creek Rd., Charlotte.

    We're offering discounted tickets (adults only). Simply enter the promotion code LANDSCAPER20 (all caps) when ordering online

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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.