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The Gardener’s Dirt December 2008


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  

Pest Alert

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


By Sharon Austin, Extension Master Gardener

When I moved to North Carolina from New York in 1983, I found gardening to be extremely challenging.  The intense heat and dry conditions gave me a new prospective to consider.  It was then that I first heard the term “ XERISCAPING.”  With drought conditions still very much a part of our lives, we should do all we can to conserve water 

Xeriscaping originated with the Denver Colorado Water Department in 1981. A compound of the Greek xeros, dry and scape, as in landscape, “ xeriscape” landscaping refers to creating a landscape design that has been carefully tailored to withstand drought conditions.   Xeriscaped landscapes do not have a single look; almost any style of landscape can be achieved.   The principles can be applied to any part or your yard, and can take many forms. One is to simply group plants with similar watering requirements together.  This makes for more efficient watering.    Another common element in xeriscaping is the reduction of lawn grass areas, since lawn grass is often one of the worst offenders against water conservation.  Also switching to types of lawn grass that demand less water is very effective.  In the southwestern U.S. cacti and extended patios may dominate, completely eliminating lawn grass areas.  In regions that are not quite so desperate for water, the answer may lie in ground cover, shrubs, mulches and a reduced lawn area. 

The assumption that a landscape will have lots of grass and will stay green all growing season is as firmly rooted in the American psyche as the assumption that a house will have windows. A major premise of xeriscaping, by contrast, is that turf grass is problematic, because it is a water-guzzler. By utilizing the    “7” Principles of Xeriscaping: we can create a landcape that is both beautiful and conserves water.  Those principles are:  Planning and Design, Soil Improvement, Create Limited Turf Areas, Use Appropriate Plants, Mulch, Irrigate and Maintain your landscape.  A list of appropriate plants and helpful information pertaining to the “7” Principles, can be found at http://www.eartheasy.com/grow_xeriscape.htm .

I like to think of Xericscaping as an opportunity to experiment with extended patio areas, walkways and a myriad of interesting xericscaping plants and themes to be incorporated into my landscape.   It is both challenging and fun and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.

 Spotlight Plant banner


Ilex verticillata

This species of holly is native to the eastern half of North America and can be found growing in wet swampy areas from the Great Lakes, St Lawrence Seaway, and Nova Scotia in the north to the northern edge of Florida in the south. It is one of the hardiest (to zone3) and most widely grown species of deciduous holly.  It grows well in wet areas with moist, slightly acidic soil rich in organic matter.  It is indifferent to soil type, growing in heavy or light soils.  It will grow well in full sun or partial shade.

It is upright, creating a broadly arching crown of wide, deep leaves, growing to about 10 feet tall by 10 feet wide.  It has many suckers from the base that forms large multi-stemmed crown. The foliage is medium green with little fall color.  The leaves turn black after the first frost, which has earned it the nickname “black alder”.

Like many hollies this plant is dioecious, meaning each plant has only male flowers or female flowers.  Female plants have bright red ¼ -inch berries that are held along the stems in pairs during the winter, a feast for birds on a cold winter day.  Be sure to provide one male plant to every four female plants for good berry production.

Winterberry can be used to perk up the winter border, particularly in front of a dark evergreen backdrop or against a wall.  If you have a rock wall, plant winterberry nearby either singly or in groups. This shrub also works well beside a creek or a pond.

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Winterberry holly wild plant
Wild Winterberry holly

Winterberry holly berries
Berries on Winterberry holly

 Insect Investigator banner   AMERICAN COCKROACH

 Periplaneta americana

American cockroaches of different maturity

The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) is a large species of winged cockroach. It is very common in the southern United States, tropical climates, and can be found in many locations throughout the world.  This species is believed to have originated in Africa.  

It is the largest species of common cockroach.  American cockroach adults grow to an average of around 4 centimeters (1.6in), are reddish brown and have a yellowish margin on the body region behind the head.  Immature cockroaches resemble adults except that they are wingless.

They move quickly, often darting out of sight when a person enters a room.  Despite its fairly large size, it can fit into small cracks and under doors.  It is considered one of the fastest running insects.

American cockroaches generally live in moist areas, but can survive in dry areas if they have access to water. They prefer warm temperatures around 84 degrees F and do not tolerate cold temperatures.

In their natural habitat outdoors, they feed on a wide variety of plant and animal material, helping break it down to return nutrients to the soil.  During winter month’s cockroaches may move inside a house to escape the cold, for this reason it is often considered a pest.

Cockroach population may be controlled by removing the food supply, physically excluding them, or by using insecticides.

 Gardening to-do Banner


Man taking a soil sample
➢    Learn exactly what your soil needs by taking a soil sample and
having it tested.  Most plant health problems start in the soil.  A
healthy soil will mean less pest and disease problems.

LAWN CAREWinter weeds in lawn

➢    If it hasn’t been done already fertilize cool-season lawns such as
fescue.  Roots of cool-season grasses continue to grow whenever the
ground is not frozen.
➢    Cool-season weeds in established cool-season or dormant Zoysia or
Bermudagrass lawns may be treated with broadleaf herbicides


➢    Prune evergreens to use for winter decorations in the house by
cutting out unwanted limbs that would be pruned in February anyway.
(Save major pruning for late winter.) Holly, Magnolia, Cedar, and
Nandina foliage will last a long time.
➢    Many landscape shrubs can be propagated from hardwood cuttings including American holly and junipers Juniper.
➢    Prevent winter damage to plants from dessication (drying),
freezing and thawing, and breakage from ice and snow loads. Keep plants
watered during dry periods. Read 'How to Protect Plants from Cold
Damage' at  https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-604.html
➢    This is an excellent time to mulch shrubs, trees, perennials, and
herbs for winter protection. Apply a layer 3" deep since most
perennials are dormant and it's easy to get a wheelbarrow into the
garden.  Mulch comparisons
and general info: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-608.html
Mimosa tree in flower
➢    Weed out "weed" trees and shrubs. Prolifically-seeding plants like
oak, elm, mimosa Mimosa Tree, hackberry, plum, and ligustrum (privet)
produce numerous offspring which compete with other landscape plants
for light, water and nutrients. Weedy woody seedlings are easier to
remove while still young.
➢    Need help selecting and caring for your holiday tree?  Check out Holiday Tree Selection and Care
➢    Put your cut Holiday tree to use!  Cut the branches and lay them
over perennials to protect them from the cold. Shred small branches to
make mulch.


➢    Do NOT prune fruit trees now.  Fruit trees are best pruned late winter just before they start to grow in spring.
➢    Asparagus crowns can be planted now through March.


➢    Giving gifts? Consider giving a good gardening book or accessory! Gardening is a gift all year round.
➢   Build raised beds now for plant next spring. 
Find out why and how at: 


➢    Clean bird feeders monthly with hot sudsy water and diluted bleach
to prevent the spread of wild bird diseases. Keep seed hulls from
accumulating underneath the feeder to discourage rodents.



➢    Check holiday and gift plants for insects before locating them near other plants.




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.

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