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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Our Pandemic Gardens 

Social distancing? Stay-at-home orders? It's crazy out there! Despite the uprooting of our lives, plants continue to flourish around us, showing off their springtime blossoms and reminding us that the planting season is coming soon. What can you do? PLAN, AND GET READY to PLANT!

We offer these tips:

  • Will you be adding plants to your landscape? Please consider ‘natives!’ This A+ list provides suggestions for native trees, shrubs, vines, ferns, grasses and sedges, ground covers and wildflowers!
  • Need ideas for perennial plants for shade? for sun? This fact sheet covers shade, hot and dry conditions, and moist or damp soils.
  • Clear invasive plants from your yard! This list ranks plants based on their invasive characteristics. It's good!
  • Have plant or pest issues? Contact our Help Desk! There’s a short form that allows you to upload photos to help us evaluate a problem. (Due to COVID-19, our response may take longer than we'd like. Be patient!)
  • Hold off on sending soil samples to the state. Due to COVID-19, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) will only accept soil samples for testing that are deemed priority or essential to agriculture. Unfortunately, soil samples from the general public will not be accepted or tested at this time. We'll let you know when that changes. 


April in the garden 

The weather is getting warmer (did we really have a winter?) and there are things you can do in your landscape. Don't forget the southern Piedmont can still experience frost up until about mid-April. Gardening tasks to consider:

  • Plant carrots, celery, collards, lettuce, parsley, radishes and turnips now. Set out warm season vegetables, such as corn, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes after the threat of frost is past.
  • Apply bone meal or super phosphate to spring-flowering bulbs. Top dress summer-flowering bulbs with a complete fertilizer.
  • Plant seeds or seedlings of annual vines, such as morning glory, moonflower and passion flower after the danger of frost has past.
  • Fertilize spring flowering shrubs and vines after they bloom. Lightly fertilize blueberries a second time when they bloom.
  • Avoid adding nitrogen fertilizer to cool-season lawns (e.g., tall fescue) until September. Warm-season grasses (e.g., bermudagrass, zoysiagrass) can be seeded successfully between March 1 and July 1, depending on the species used. 
  • Check your lawn for white grubs by using a spade to turn back a square foot of sod 2 or 3 inches deep. Dislodge the soil from the overturned roots and count the number of grubs. If you see more than 5 in this square-foot area, consider treatment.
  • Mulch your landscape plants now, as needed, to maintain a 3” layer of mulch. Pine needles, cypress mulch and pine bark are good choices. Be sure the mulch is pulled away from the base of plants. See this fact sheet on mulch
  • Honeybees are swarming, leaving their hives and seeking new ones. New swarms are not aggressive; simply leave them alone.

For more information, see our April gardening list on the Master Gardener website


From indoors to outdoors, go gently! 

What does it mean to 'harden-off' a plant? It's the process of conditioning a plant for growth outdoors. If the plants you start indoors are planted outdoors without a hardening period, they could get burned by too much light and/or damaged by too much wind.

To harden-off your transplants, gradually decrease the amount of water, temperature and relative humidity that have been provided, while increasing the amount of light exposure. The goal is for plant growth to slow down and to change from soft, succulent growth to a firmer, harder type.

The process should be started about two weeks before plants are to be transported outdoors. Over the two-week period, put the plants outside in a protected area on warm days starting for about two hours. Each day, increase the amount of time you expose the plants to the outdoors in the protected environment. Eventually you can leave them out overnight if the temperatures are not going to be below 45 degrees.

Be sure to keep the plants watered as you harden them off. The outdoor environment can often be much dryer than the indoor spot where you were growing them. At the end of the two-week hardening period, plant growth will have slowed and the plants will be adapted to living outdoors.


Photo: Pixabay

A weed is but an unloved flower

This time of year, many yards have been taken over by chickweed, henbit and its close cousin, dead-nettle. All of these are annuals. 

  • Chickweed is a low level ground cover with tiny white flowers and small lobed leaves.
  • Henbit and dead-nettle have small, purple flowers and square stems. Dead-nettle differs with its reddish-purple tinted leaves.

The bees love all of these and they provide an early nectar source so if you can tolerate these plants in certain areas, let them be. 

As a cool season annual, they have one growing season and then die back with the onset of warm weather. However, if they are able to flower, they will reseed, lay dormant over the summer and germinate with a vengeance in your lawn and beds when the weather begins to warm the following spring.

We did not get a long cold spell this winter but rather days of cold followed by mild temperatures, so in many yards, these annuals never died back. Also, all of the rain has exacerbated their production.

What can you use to control these prolific weeds?

  • The best way to control the weeds in your lawn at this time is to spray the yard with a 2,4-D or dicamba herbicide post emergent. Please follow the directions on the product label exactly.
  • If you have them in your garden beds, they can easily be weeded by hand.
  • To limit the germination of seed, a pre-emergent will need to be applied in late summer and then again in late winter.

By following these measures, the amount emerging next spring will be greatly diminished. Best of luck!

Our 'weed headline' was a quote from Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919), an American author and poet. 


Chickweed (Stellaria media); photo: Pixabay


Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule); photo: Pixabay


Dead-Nettle (Lamium purpureum); photo: Pixabay

Where's the beef?

We all strive to include more plant foods in our diet, and there are lots of ways to do that. What about the popular new plant-based hamburgers that are all the rage? Are they really as good as they seem?

Like every topic, there are two sides to the story. Numerous studies have shown that plant-based meat substitutes do indeed have a significantly lower environmental impact than meat from beef, chicken or turkey. The table below is from a University of Michigan study showing the comparative effects of plant vs. beef burgers on greenhouse gas emissions and energy, land and water use. Plant-based meat is certainly more environmentally sustainable than beef production.

But, as good as the meatless burgers are for the environment, they may not be so good for your health. The dominant ingredients in plant burgers are pea protein, canola oil and coconut oil. They are highly processed and high in saturated fat and sodium, so they may not be the healthiest alternative for your particular dietary needs.

These alternative meats are also making use of GMOs, along with new fermentation and chemical processes in order to replicate the taste of beef. The long-term health effect of these ingredients and processes has not yet been fully studied.

So, you be the judge. There are tradeoffs to be made. The healthiest choice is still choosing whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains which are both environmentally friendly and good for you. Sounds like a good time to get your spring veggie garden planted!


Master Gardeners in the Community

Growing up in Latvia along the Baltic Sea, Inta Rich found inspiration on her grandparents’ farm where they grew a diversity of vegetables and flowering plants. When she got older, Inta grew her own vegetables, with her favorites being sweet peas, rhubarb and potatoes. In 2007, Inta made the journey to the U.S. and ultimately landed in Charlotte. It’s a decision she has never regretted.

After much encouragement from her husband, she applied for and was accepted into Extension Master Gardener (EMG) training 2015. In her Charlotte garden, she grows okra, luffa and an array of flowering plants and shrubs. She is also a successful vermicomposter. She’s been at it for three years and raves about the soil.

For several years, Inta has planned field trips for the Master Gardener program. In 2019, about 10 EMG volunteers took a day trip to Pearson’s Fall near Saluda, NC, where the group saw spring ephemerals emerging from the ground. The group also toured Mr. Maple, a family owned and operated nursery in East Flat Rock, NC., that specializes in Japanese maples.

In February, Inta volunteered to help staff the EMG display at the Southern Spring Home and Garden Show in Charlotte. Before the event, Horticulture Extension Agent Steven Capobianco needed an EMG volunteer to shop for plants for the display, and Inta was available. Once the plants were at the Expo Center, Inta designed the planting area and laid out plants within the display.

“It was like a dream,” she said. “I have learned so much during my five years in the EMG program. I feel blessed to have found other like-minded people in the Master Gardener community.”


Inta Rich at the EMG display at the Southern Spring Show


A glimpse of Inta's garden


Looking for ways to get outside while observing social distancing? Take a self-guided tour of MapleWalk, the private garden of Tom Nunnenkamp and Lib Jones, both Master Gardeners Emeritus in Mecklenburg County. 

The garden covers over two acres. You'll see a variety of flowering plants, shrubs and trees. Location: 4255 Kingswood Dr. Parking: Park on the street (avoid neighbors' yards). It's particularly lovely this time of year!

Note: Please follow county and state guidance on social distancing and travel. Make sure you’re taking steps to be safe and well!


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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.