Welcome to Garden Zone, a monthly newsletter for anyone interested in gardening. ​​It's produced by Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Mecklenburg County.

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Simple tips to attract pollinators to your garden  

One in three bites of food that’s eaten depends on pollinators. Pollination by honeybees and other species adds $24 billion in value to agricultural crops in the U.S. each year. Pollinators are also vital to the growth of flower and vegetable gardens in your landscape. 

How can you help? Dr. Danesha Seth Carley with NCSU’s Horticultural Science department offers these suggestions:

🦋Use a diverse variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall. Overlapping bloom times will ensure there is always something in your garden to provide nutrition for pollinators.

🦋Plant in clumps, rather than single plants. Include plants native to your region. And don’t forget that night-blooming flowers will support moths and bats.

🦋Avoid modern hybrid flowers, especially those with "doubled" flowers. Often plant breeders have unwittingly left the pollen, nectar, and fragrance out of these blossoms while creating the "perfect" blooms for us.

🦋Include larval host plants in your landscape. If you want colorful butterflies, grow plants for their caterpillars. They WILL eat them, so place them where unsightly leaf damage can be tolerated.

🦋Provide and/or build nesting structures (bare earth, grasses, stems, etc.) for native bees.

🦋Eliminate pesticides whenever possible. If you must use a pesticide, use the least-toxic material possible. Read labels carefully before purchasing, as many pesticides are especially dangerous for bees. Spray at night when bees and other pollinators are not active.

🦋Save perennial garden cleanup for spring. Pollinators overwinter in different life stages: eggs, larvae, pupae and adults. Some overwinter in hollow stems, while others attach to plants or overwinter in the leaf litter.

🦋Provide a water source, like a birdbath.

See photos for some of Dr. Carley’s favorite pollinator plants (to enlarge the photo, click on it when viewing from your computer). Also, check this resource on native perennials by season and color.


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 around mid-April. Here are tasks 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.

Check other gardening tasks for March.

If you have a crepe myrtle tree, please don't top it. Read more. If you have plant or pest questions, send us an email with photos.


Viburnum tinus blooms in late winter. Evergreen. Year-round interest. Attracts pollinators. Variety in the photo: 'Lisa Rosa'

Guidance for March pruning

✳️Abelia: Shape plants to desired form in early March.

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

✳️Roses: Most of the annual pruning in North Carolina should be done as the buds break dormancy before new spring growth begins. See this guidance

✳️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.

✳️Hydrangeas: Those that bloom on old growth should be pruned only after flowering. They’re typically the earliest to flower – before July. Others bloom on new growth and should be pruned before they wake up in spring or as they are going dormant in fall. They typically bloom after July. What if you don’t know the variety? Simply cut off all the flower heads and remove any dead stems. More information.


What you need to know about mulch

Want to make sure your plants establish strong root systems and stay healthy? Start by spreading mulch!

Organic mulch is made of natural substances, like bark, wood chips, leaves, pine needles, that decompose over time and need to be replaced after a few years. Inorganic mulches, such as gravel, pebbles and landscape fabrics, do not decompose.

  • The best time to mulch new plantings is right after you plant them. For established plants, mulch is best applied in early spring. This is when plants are beginning to grow and before weed seeds start to germinate.

Keep in mind:

  • Excess mulch can cause problems. Keep mulch shallow, from one to three inches.
  • Pull mulch away about 3 inches or so from the base of tree trunks so it isn't touching the bark.
  • Leaves make great mulch. It’s best to shred the leaves coarsely, using a shredder or your lawn mower. They also improve the soil once they decompose.
  • Some materials, like black plastic, can be effective in preventing weed growth, but prevent the movement of rainfall and air into the soil (and roots need air).
  • If you plan to use colored landscape mulches, become familiar with the supplier and the source of the wood used in making it. See this guidance.

Here’s a good resource that includes pros and cons of various types of mulch.


Photo: Shutterstock

Plant a lucky clover lawn

There’s more than luck to be found in the lush green of a clover lawn. Adding white clover (Trifolium repens) to Carolina turf has several advantages.

🍀 It fixes nitrogen in the soil, which means less fertilizer is needed to green up the grass. Clover also takes the heat of summer, stays green, is more drought tolerant than grass, and its roots help break up the soil for the grass as well.

🍀 It’s discouraging to have a brown lawn come summer after all the fall preparation of core aeration, seeding and watering. By adding about 2% of clover to the seed mixture, your lawn has a bit more luck at staying green. Clover is a perennial that returns to grow through the hot and dry summer, and it doesn’t mind clay soil.

🍀 If you’re considering an all-clover lawn, know that it stays naturally low, only growing to about six inches, which saves on mowing time.

🍀 Our important pollinators are attracted to the white clover flowers. Of course, this means you need to be careful not to step on any little bees that are dancing jigs among the white flowers. 

For more information, see this fact sheet.


Photo: Urban Seedling

No-till gardening: Can you dig it?

Do you practice no-till or no-dig gardening? Variations of it are called lasagna gardening and sheet composting.

The benefits are many: It slows the decomposition of organic matter, improves natural aeration, saves water by holding moisture in the soil longer, builds the earthworm and other soil organism populations, and reduces the need to weed. And you don’t need a tiller!

For more information, here are great resources:


Photo: Columbia Daily Tribune

Give your children green fingers

Plants offer a world of wonder for your kids and grandkids to explore. See these resources for fun, easy ways to engage them in gardening:


Photo: Shutterstock

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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.