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The Gardener’s Dirt August 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

Woodland Gardening

By Shawn Banks

Shade garden with flowers and foliageTo some gardeners there is nothing prettier than a wooded lot where mature trees provide lots of shade in the summer.  The feeling of being secluded in their own world is what the trees provide.  In summer, trees help reduce the cost of cooling the house.

When a new gardener moves into a house on a shaded lot one of the first questions that comes to mind is, “What kind of flowers can I grow in all this shade?”  Keep in mind that not all color comes from flowers.  Consider foliage with different colors and textures when selecting plants for shade gardens.  Some examples of plants that are flower but are mostly grown for their beautiful foliage include Hosta, Heuchera, Ajuga, Aucuba, and Polygonatum  (Solomon’s-seal) along with many others.  There is a wide range of ferns with beautiful, fine textured leaves that contrast with the larger leaves of Helleborus or Acanthus (Bear’s Breech).

Oakleaf hydrangea in flower There are some annuals that do well in deep shade such as Caladium, Coleus, and Impateins to provide a seasonal splash of color.  Here are a few of the perennials that bloom well in shaded sites: native columbines (Aquilegia canadensis), bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia or D. spectabilis), Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida), Turtlehead (Chelone glabra or C. lyonii), and Astilbe (Astilbe x arendsii).  A variety of shrubs do well in the shade with the added benefit of flowers at some point during the year, examples include: Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica), native and hybrid azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), winter daphne (Daphne odora), and camellia (Camellia japonica or C. sasanqua).

Before planting anything, observe the site for a while.  Note special characteristics like: Is the soil wet, moist, or dry?  Is the shade heavy and dark, or light and dappled with sun?  Select plants that will do well in the present environment.  It is easier to change the plants to fit the environment than to change the environment to fit the plants.

A website you may want to visit for a look at some other plants for shade gardening is that of Rita’s Garden in Apex, NC.  Here is the link http://www.ritasgarden.net/pages/home/index.php.  I am going to try to put together a list of other plants that will do well here in Johnston County in shade gardens.  Look for that information in an upcoming newsletter.  If you have questions on plants that do well in the shade contact the Master Gardeners by e-mail at jcemastergardener@gmail.com or phone at 919 989-5380.  Always remember that a garden is an ever-changing thing.

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Spotlight Plant banner

Hardy Bananas

Musa basjoo; Musa balbisiana; Musa x paradisiaca

banana plant in a garden
banana plant in a garden
The banana plant is not a tree in that it does not have a woody stem. It is actually the world’s largest herb. The banana plant is the largest of all herbaceous flowering plants. The banana plant grows from a corm just like gladiolus.  The base of the leaves form what is known as a pseudostem that can grows up to 20–25 feet tall.

Banana fruits come in a variety of sizes and colors when ripe, including yellow, purple, and red. Bananas can be eaten raw, though some varieties are generally cooked.  Some bananas produce seed, but many bananas are propagated from offshoots called pups.  Dig one up to separate it from the mother plant and it can be transplanted to another area in the garden.

Many bananas are tropical in origin.  The three mentioned above are more cold hardy and can be grown here in Johnston County.  For best survival cover the main part of the stem with a two foot pile of leaves in the fall for winter protection.  They may not produce flowers and fruits, but the foliage gives a tropical feel to any garden.

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Hand holding clipboard          Announcements banner heading            Hand holding clipboard

August 27 8:00 – 3:00pm JCC is offering a Tour and Lunch at Elodie Farms.  The cost is $25 per person.  Visit their website to register.  http://www.johnstoncc.edu/arboretum/events.aspx

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Insect Investigator banner

Copperhead snake

Copperhead snake

SNAKES Rough brown snake
Rough brown snake.
It’s a common misconception that the only good snake is a dead snake.  There are only six different types of venomous snakes in North Carolina.  Three of those can be found in Johnston County; timber rattlesnake, cottonmouth, and copperhead. 

The most common snakes are the black rat snake, rough earth snake, eastern garter snake, or the worm snake.  The smaller snakes feed on worms and slugs.  The larger snakes are responsible for keeping small rodent populations in check.    

Knowing which snakes are beneficial to your garden may help reduce anxieties toward them.  A really good place to find information on snake identification is the herpetology webpage at Davidson College.  They have a key that uses simple characteristics such as length, color, build, pattern and location to identify what snake it is.

Most snakes would rather run than fight and will get out of the way of humans.  If they feel cornered the snakes may turn and defend themselves by biting or striking at whatever has cornered them.  Bites will hurt even from a non-venomous snake.  The best advice is to leave the snake alone and it will do the same for you.

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_Gardening to-do Banner

 The dog days of summer have begun!


  • Collect soil samples for testing so you’ll know how much fertilizer and lime to add this fall. Test your lawn, flowerbeds and vegetable garden using the free kits from Cooperative Extension. Testing should be done once every 3 years.
  • Water deeply but infrequently this encourages a deep and extensive root system for better drought tolerance.
  • Control fungal diseases by watering early in the morning, allowing the sun to dry water droplets from the foliage.


  • lawn killed for renovationPrepare your lawn for fall seeding. August is the best time to prepare for planting cool season grasses for the optimal planting time, which is the second half of September. Call the Cooperative Extension Service for more information on establishing and maintaining a fescue lawn.
  • If the plan is to completely redo a fescue lawn from scratch, now is the time to eliminate all grass and weeds. Non-selective herbicides are most effective. An alternative is a process called “solarization”. This is a process that bakes weeds under a covering of clear plastic.
  • Water the lawn when the grass blades are just starting to curl or grass bladesfootprints remain on the lawn when you walk across it. Watering too often encourages plants with a shallow root system that do not handle drought well.
  • Maintenance needs are different for each grass type. Call Cooperative Extension for a Lawn Maintenance Calendar for your grass type. Information on fertilizer amounts and timing along with mowing heights are included.


  • colchicum flowersPlan for Fall Bulbs – Autumn-blooming crocus and colchicum add color in the fall. Since these bulbs are not always available locally, consider ordering them now from a mail-order source. They need to be planted in September.
  • Mulch trees and shrubs with a 2-3” layer of mulch to keep roots cool, conserve moisture, and control competing weeds and grasses.  Avoid mulching more than 4 inches deep, and leave 3-4 inches between mulch and the trunk of the tree/shrub.  Shrubs hiding doors and windows
  • Avoid pruning shrubs and trees during late summer. Pruning stimulates new growth which will not Security risk from overgrown shrubshave sufficient time to harden off before cold weather.
  • If a foundation shrub is overgrown and blocks a window or creates a security risk, some pruning is needed. Remove as little live wood as possible now, then plan to do more drastic pruning in February.  Consider replanting using a shrub whose mature size will not require pruning for that area.
  • Avoid nitrogen fertilizers during late summer. New growth at this time of year is vulnerable to frost damage in the fall. If your soil test shows you need to add phosphorus or potassium to your soil, go ahead and add them now. These nutrients will help your plants withstand the winter.
  • Make your wisteria work! If you are being overtaken by wisteria, root prune it. Prune roots and runners underground by inserting a sharp spade to its full depth in a semi-circle about 6 feet from the main stem of established plants. This will curb its growth and induce more blooms next spring.
  • Cut back leggy impatiens and other summer flowers, then fertilize them. They’ll regrow within a few weeks, and look great up till frost.


  • Examine fruit trees periodically for scale infestations and mark with flagging tape. Applying summer or horticultural oil can keep them from getting out of hand. If you let them go until winter, that tiny infestation will be a monumental invasion!
  • Squashvine borer in squash vineCaring for Strawberries – Now that strawberries have finished bearing, prolong their life by cutting off the tops without injuring the crown. Also, thin plants to 12 inch spacing. Fertilize with 1/2 pound of 5-10-10 per 25 sq.ft. Weed and apply mulch to conserve moisture and reduce weed growth. Plan on starting a new strawberry bed every three years.
  • Allow Peppers to Turn Red – Peppers allowed to turn red will be sweeter and higher in beta carotene. Even jalapenos which are traditionally harvested green, mature to tasty red peppers.
  • Fill in empty spaces in the garden with fall crops of lettuce, collard, and other cool-weather vegetables. Even beans planted in late summer can produce a crop before frost.
  • Watch your squash plants for sudden wilting. A second generation of squash vine borers is hatching. You may be able to save the plant by removing the caterpillar, then covering the injured area of the vine with moist soil to encourage rooting.


  • goldenrod flowersLook for interesting plants in nurseries which can be added to the garden this fall.
  • Late bloomers add color and life to the steamy August garden. Visit botanical gardens and arboreta or ask the neighbor down the street to see what is blooming in the area this time of the year.
  • Consider ornamental grasses with their light airy texture that will look good well into the winter.
  • Keep Extra Containers for Instant Color – Plant some extra flowering containers periodically for backup color. When one starts looking spent, you can move another into its place.  Replant the old one or take it to the plant hospital for recuperation.

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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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