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The Gardener’s Dirt April 2009

 April 2009

The Gardener's


Information you can dig into.

 North Carolina State University
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
Johnston County Center
2736 NC 210 Highway * Smithfield, NC 27577
919 989-5380     

Shawn Banks
Extension Agent
Agriculture—Consumer Horticulture

 In this Issue

Feature Article

Spotlight Plant


Insect Investigator

Gardening To-Do
 This newsletter offers timely information for your outdoor living spaces
Addressing the most common questions ranging from container gardening,
tree pruning, wildlife management, to fire ant control, insect
identification and lawn establishment.

Feature Story Banner

Growing a Home Vegetable Garden

by Shawn Banks

Many people are asking the question, “How can I save a little money?”  One answer is, growing a home vegetable garden.  I have grown a vegetable garden at home for years.  Here are some things I have learned through experience, reading, and trial and error.

1.    Most vegetables need a sunny location in order to produce well.  Vegetables grow best if they get at least 8 hours of direct sun.  Leafy greens (lettuce and cabbage) and root crops (carrots, radishes, and beets) will produce with as little as 6 hours, but do better with more sun. 

2.    Vegetable gardens do best if they are close to water and help.  I find that if the garden is near the house it gets more attention than when it is a good distance away.  It’s easier to water the garden when it is near a water source, such as a spigot or rain barrel.  It is too much like work to drag a water hose or carry buckets of water.

3.    Soil preparation is a key to a successful garden.  Adding compost to clay or sandy soil has huge benefits.  Compost loosens clay soil allowing roots and water to penetrate the surface.  In sandy soil, compost adds water and nutrient holding ability to the soil.  I find it best to work three inches of compost into the top six to eight inches of soil.  For a large garden, a tiller makes this task fairly quick and easy.  For a small garden (4’ x 8’), a shovel and some elbow grease do the job just fine. 

4.    Planning the garden before planting will help manage space and time.  After years of simply planting whatever wherever, I found if I plan how much space I need for each plant, I produce a better crop with fewer plants.  Rotating crops in a small garden is easier with a plan in place.   Purchasing the proper number of plants is easier when the garden is laid out before I go shopping.  For example, if I only have space for three tomato plants there is no need to buy the nine-pack of plants.

5.    A daily conversation with the plants can be very helpful.  It sounds silly, but a daily conversation with your plants allows you to notice weeds when they first pop up so you can pull them while they’re small.  You will also notice when plants don’t look right so you can treat the disease right away.  A daily visit allows you to meet other visitors to the garden both beneficial and harmful and you can act accordingly.  If you can’t make the visit daily, then make it as often as possible. 

For more information on growing a home vegetable garden contact an Extension Master Gardener at jcemastergardener@gmail.com or by phone 919 989-5380.  You may also view a publication from NC State University on the web at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/ag-06.html .  If you are starting a garden, or have been gardening for some years, we would like to know what plants work for you and which ones don’t.  Remember raising a garden is like raising children, they grow so fast that before you know it they are grown up and gone.

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 Spotlight Plant banner

 Prague viburnum flower cluster
Prague viburnum flower cluster

 Prague viburnum

Viburnum × pragense 'Decker' – Prague viburnum

The Prague viburnum reaches a height of 6 to 10 feet tall and just as wide.  It will grow in full sun or partial shade.  This viburnum is hardy in USDA zones 5-8.  The evergreen leaves are shiny green on top with a hairy gray on the bottom and are arranged in pairs with one on each side of the stem.  It has been reported that some people may develop a rash as an allergic reaction to handling this plant, so long sleeved shirts are recommend when planting this shrub.  

The Prague viburnum originated as a hybrid seedling in a garden near Prague in what used to be Czechoslovakia in the early 1950’s.  The evergreen foliage and fast growth rate make it a good candidate for a screening plant.

Fragrant, white flowers appear in bunches during late winter with a spicy, sweet fragrance.  The flowers are sterile so no seeds are produced.  The flowers will attract any bees flying around on a warm day in late winter.

 Prague viburnum plant
Prague viburnum plant
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Hand holding clipboard          Announcements banner heading            Hand holding clipboard

April 3-5 Southern Ideal Home Show on the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh  http://www.southernshows.com/hsr/

Clayton Farmer’s Market opens April 4th http://downtownclayton.blogspot.com/

April 4 Plant Clinic at Lowe’s at 40/42 10:00am – 12:00pm

April 18 Our Green Earth Event in Clayton 10:00am – 5:00pm  http://www.eyeoftheeagleart.com/events.html

April 18 Benson Saturday Stroll 10:00am – 2:00pm http://www.townofbenson.com/calendar_1.cfm?eventid=234

April 18 Kruzin Kenly

April 18 JCC Arboretum Spring Plant Sale-A-Bration 9:00am – 2:00pm http://www.johnstoncc.edu/arboretum/events.aspx

April 25 Plant Clinic at Hudson’s open house in Clayton 10:00am – 12:00pm

April 25 – 26 4-H horticulture Weekend in Raleigh https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/4hplantandsoils/hortweekend.html

May 2 Plant Clinic at Lowe’s at 40/42 10:00am – 12:00pm

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 Insect Investigator banner      Bee cluster on a tree stem
honeybee cluster

 Swarming Honeybees

By Karen Damari, Johnston County Beekeeper

The weather is warm; spring buds are starting to show.  You behold a dark, writhing bundle hanging from a tree branch in your front yard. 

It’s swarming season for honeybees.  With the queen in the center, surrounded by thousands of her daughters, the swarm is engaged in a self-absorbed discussion of where to make their new home.  When they do finally move off (and they will) it may be for a far distant tree or it could be for that convenient space they found in the wall of your house.

What do you do?  Call a beekeeper (see jocobee.org ), the county extension office, or the fire department.  Until help arrives, do not approach the swarm.  Go inside where you can watch the swarm in safety.  If the swarm moves off before help arrives, make a note of which direction they went so the swarm can be tracked.  If you are outside and a swarm is in flight, (here’s the hard part) stay calm and slowly move away.  Confused bees may accidentally bump into you, but shouldn’t sting if you don’t swat at them or flail around.  Fast motions frighten them.

Honeybees are important pollinators of US crops.  Your timely phone call will aid in the safe capture of these imperiled insects.

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Gardening to-do Banner

Our last frost usually comes around mid-April, tax
time.  Although there is a possibility for frost after that, previous
records indicate that there is about a 2% chance of frost after April

Stay out of the garden when the soil is wet!  Working or walking on wet
clay soil compacts the soil, decreasing oxygen.  Neither gardeners nor
their plants can survive without oxygen.  In addition, working around
wet plants (including turfgrass) is a good way to spread fungal
diseases.  How can you tell if the soil is too wet?  Take a handful of
soil from 4-5" below the surface and squeeze it in your fist.  If it
crumbles, the soil is workable.  If it holds its shape, it needs to dry
out for a few more days.

LAWN CARElawn mower clip art

  • Grass clippings are a great source of nitrogen.  Practice grasscycling ,
    a recycling practice where you leave the grass clippings on the lawn to
    return nutrients to the soil.  This could reduce the amount of nitrogen
    needed in fertilizer for the year by 25%.  Clippings may also be
    composted (they're a great nitrogen source), or sprinkled onto
    flowerbeds as long as they're not allowed to mat together.
  • Warm season lawn
    seed may be planted toward the end of the month.  Call us for a copy of
    'Carolina Lawns' which tells you exactly when and how much seed to


  • Renew mulch
    around trees, shrubs, and in garden beds. Make sure mulch does not
    touch the bark of trees or shrubs and extends to the drip line of young
  • If rambunctious
    perennials have reproduced too freely, remove and pot the excess
    plants. Pass them along to friends and family. New gardeners will be
    thrilled to receive free plants. http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC1150.htm
  • Don't overfeed
    azaleas and camellias. These shallow-rooted plants are not heavy
    feeders, and can be damaged by over-fertilizing.  Submit a soil sample
    to be tested (it's free) to determine if fertilizer is needed.  Use a
    slow-release, balanced fertilizer immediately after blooming. Apply it
    around the drip line of the shrub, according to label directions.
  • Special fertilizers for 'acid-loving plants' are not necessary; our soils are sufficiently acid naturally.
  • Watch for black spot and powdery mildew
    on roses – common problems in our humid climate. Although these
    diseases make the foliage look bad, the plants generally do well
    anyway. https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/pp/notes/Ornamental/odin002/odin002.htmLacebug close up
  • Watch for lace bugs,
    the most common pest on azaleas.  Look for whitish, stippled leaves
    with shiny dark flecks on the undersides of the leaves. If found, treat
    with horticultural oil (an insecticide).  Be sure the spray reaches all
    parts of the leaves and stems, including the undersides of leaves.  https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/O&T/shrubs/ort039e/ort039e.htm
  • Annual flowers such as zinnas, moonflowers, cleome, gloriosa daisies and sunflowers can be seeded in mid April.
  • Let spring bulbs die down naturally.
    Remove flower heads after the petals fade, and allow the foliage to die
    down naturally. Do not fold, twist or braid foliage. Once the foliage
    falls over, it can be removed. Leafy companion plants can hide
    yellowing bulb foliage. Tender bulbs such as ranunculus and anemone can
    be dug and stored when their foliage begins to yellow.
  • At the end of the month, plant summer bulbs like caladiums, lilies, gladioli, dahlias, and elephant ears.
  • Prepare new flower beds
    by loosening and amending the soil. All plants perform better when
    their roots can spread in loose, organic soil. Till the soil and
    incorporate organic matter, lime and fertilizer – according to soil
    test results (free kits available at this office)
  • Plant perennials now so they can become established before hot weather sets in.


  • Check tender shoots of vegetables and emerging perennials for aphids. If found, shoot off with water.  Fireblight damage on apple tree
  • Watch out for and control fireblight 
    on apple, blackberries and pear trees (including ornamental varieties).
    Affected branches look like they've been burned with a blowtorch.
    Control this bacterial disease by pruning diseased limbs back to 1 foot
    beyond the diseased area. Be careful not to let infected foliage touch
    healthy foliage (yes, it's that contagious), and disinfect tools
    between cuts to avoid spreading the disease.  Discard rather than
    compost the infected limbs. https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/pp/notes/oldnotes/fd3.htm
  • Plant turnips before April 15. Plant pole beans, carrots, and winter squash after April 15.Peas on the vine
  • Cucumbers, corn, pumpkins, snap beans, watermelon, and cantaloupe may be safely planted at the end of the month.
  • Thin cool weather crops that were seeded last month.
  • Pick off blossoms of strawberries planted this season. Let plants mature a year before they bear fruit.
  • Keep tomatoes well-watered to avoid blossom end rot.

HOUSEPLANTSAntherium pink flowering

  • Divide overgrown house plants.
  • Gradually introduce houseplants to the out-of-doors
    for their summer "vacation." Give them partial shade at first;
    experiment to see which of them can handle sun. Even sun-lovers will
    need a few days in the shade, to get used to the intensity of sunlight,
    before going out onto a sunny patio.

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Got Questions? We've got answers!

If you have a gardening issue you would like to see addressed in this
newsletter please let me know I will do what I can to get you the
information you need.  Contact me by e-mail at shawn_banks@ncsu.edu or by phone at (919) 989-5380.

The Johnston County Master Gardener Volunteers are available Monday,
Wednesday, or Friday from 1 to 4 pm to answer questions as well.  They
can also be contacted by phone at (919) 989-5380 or by e-mail at jcemastergardener@gmail.com

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