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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Photo: Jean Wilson

We have a wonderful and showy native vine, Virgin’s Bower (Clematis Virginiana), that covers itself with attractive white flowers every summer and then provides a long-lasting show in the fall with seed heads that look like little pom poms. This is a fast-growing plant that dies back in the winter but can cover a large area of fence or trellis or pergola every growing season. It will grow in partial shade or full sun. If it doesn’t have something to climb on, it will cover other plants on the ground, so beware, but it can easily be chopped back to keep it under control if it wanders. It is also one of the many plants that are poisonous, so don’t plant it if you have toddlers or dogs that eat plants.

There are two non-native and invasive look alikes, Clematis terniflora from Asia and Clematis paniculata from New Zealand. The flowers of these are almost identical to our native one but the leaves have smooth edges and are more rounded whereas our native one has markedly toothed leaf edges. These invasive ones are sold widely on the internet, so try to be sure you get the ‘real thing’, one that’s native to our ecosystem and not going to cause trouble. If you have one of the non-native ones, consider replacing it or at least cutting it down when it is done flowering so it does not spread seed.


Poisonous Plants to Ponder

You want to protect your loved ones from anything toxic in your home or yard.  This includes your pets as well.  Many, many plants are poisonous and can be toxic to your pets in various ways. What’s the difference between a poison and a toxin?  Poisons are substances that cause harm when sufficient quantities are absorbed, inhaled or ingested. A toxin is a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms. Some plants cause mechanical injury (thorns or needle-like leaves), others can make your pet extremely sensitive to light, others can just make them really sick and, unfortunately, some can kill.  So, we’ve put together a table of some common plants that are poisonous, can impact pets and, therefore, may not be welcome or should be closely monitored. These plants may impact humans as well so if anyone ingests any of these, seek medical attention immediately.  

You can learn more about Poisonous Plants or read about other plants' toxicity levels at our NC State Plant Toolbox.

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It’s time for spring-flowering bulbs to go in, trees and shrubs to be planted, perennials divided, and mulch applied to beds to protect and build soil.

October is also a month to take pause. Soak up the fall colors and the changing sunlight!

✳️ Plant onion sets, garlic, cabbage, collards, swiss chard and kale.
✳️ Watch for green worms on broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and collards.

Perennials & annuals
✳️ Continue to divide spring and early summer-blooming perennials before the foliage dies back. Daylilies, Hostas and Shasta daisies are some examples.
✳️ Plant identification markers beside your herbaceous perennials before they die back for the winter so you won’t disturb them when planting in the spring.
✳️ Leave seed-bearing perennials - ornamental grasses, coneflower, sunflowers, black-eyed Susan-- to feed the birds and provide cover for beneficial insects over the winter.

✳️ Plant spring-blooming bulbs from late October through December.
✳️ Keep your bulbs in the refrigerator until you’re ready to plant them.

Trees & shrubs
✳️ It’s the best time to plant new trees and shrubs.
✳️ Watch for lace bugs on azalea and pyracantha.

✳️ Coring lawns can help to minimize compaction and improve rooting.
✳️ Plant cool-season grasses like tall fescue.

Remember: DO NOT PRUNE shrubs or trees in late summer or early autumn. Pruning stimulates new growth which may not have time to harden off before frost. You can remove any deadwood from shrubs or trees.

For more info, click herehttps://www.mastergardenersmecklenburg.org/october-fall-begins.html


Milky Spore

The Japanese Beetles are one of the most damaging of the 30,000 species in the scarab beetle family. Most of the species look colorful and metallic.

Adults emerge from the ground in June to feed on plants, mate, and lay eggs. If you see a lot of Japanese beetle damage, you can predict a lawn infestation as the eggs are laid in the same area. Eggs hatch in June and the grub begins to feed on roots, especially in turf.

Choose a cure.

A biological control for the Japanese Beetle is milky spore bacteria.  Apply it in late September or early October when grubs are active. The spore germinates in the grub and kills it.  While the application is not instant, it does have a long ranging effect because the bacteria multiplies and spreads naturally into areas where it has not been applied (like your neighbor’s lawn that might be full of grubs).  One application can last up to ten years.  This product is sold with names such as Doom, Jamidemic, and Milky Spore.

Chemical Control is another option.  Timing is critical as the pesticide must be applied to actively feeding grubs in August through October when they are small and then applied again in April and May.  The ground must be well irrigated so the grubs rise to the surface. These applications might have to be repeated in coming seasons, unlike milky spore. 

Japanese Beetle traps for home landscape are not recommended because they will actually lure adult beetles from all around your neighborhood which will then lay their eggs in your yard.  When beetles are active, you can handpick them and drop them into soapy water, or spray plants with insecticidal soap or pyrethrin blends.  Follow directions carefully, and use near dusk to avoid spraying beneficial insects.


Photo: NCSU


No Tricks, Just Our Treats

For Every Gardener

sponsored by 

Mecklenburg County Extension Master Gardeners

Oct. 24 - 31, 2021

If you have plants or seeds to give away, we have just the solution. Join us Master Gardeners the week of Oct. 24-31 for a plant giveaway in each of our neighborhoods. Compile your seeds and plants over the next few weeks and promote your personal plant giveaway! Here are some guidelines to help you plan your event.

  • Schedule the event for anytime during the week of Oct. 24-31; if possible, target Saturday, Oct. 30th or Sunday, Oct. 31 (Halloween).  Pick one of these days and a 2-hour time slot that works with your schedule.
  • Promote the seed/plant giveaway through your personal social media (Neighborhood Facebook, Nextdoor) or word of mouth, etc. -- choose whatever way that works best for you to let your neighbors know.
  • Use the template we’ve created to label your seeds / plants.  
    • Zip lock bags can be used for the seeds; insert the plant tag inside.
    • Plants can be put in plastic containers or large plastic bags; add a plant tag to each item
  • Use a small table to display the seed packets -- in your front yard or in your driveway 
  • Display the sign about this project on your table
  • If you are a Master Gardener / Intern identify yourself and wear your name tag
  • As always, practice social distancing; wear a mask but make an effort to talk with your neighbors.
  • Have Fun!


Cyclamen are fall through winter flowering plants that can brighten up a shady or bare spot in a winter garden. Their leaves can be a rich dark green to silver with blooms ranging from shades of white, pink and red.  Cyclamen are grown from bulbs and prefer part sun, well drained, humus rich soil conditions when planted in the grown and a soilless potting mix when put in pots. They are deer resistant and can be toxic to dogs and cats. There are several species of Cyclamen. Some of which are Persicum, Hederifolium, and Coum.

Cyclamen Persicum, also known as Florist’s Cyclamen. These are more delicate and usually don’t return the next season. This version does very well as a house plants.

Cyclamen Hederifolium and Cyclamen Coum are two of the hardier species and are better suited for the outdoors.


Blue Ridge Parkway & Mountains Fall Color Forecast 2021

From the last week of September through the first week of November experience a 5-week span of color that will slowly descend from the highest ridges to the lowest valleys.


Photo: EMG Gina Tadle


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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.