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The Gardener’s Dirt December 2010


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
Upcoming Events
Feature Plant
Insect Investigator
What’s In Season
Garden Tasks

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.



Extension Master Gardener Volunteer training will begin again Wednesday January19, 2011.  If you are interested in becoming an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer call 989-5380 for more information and to get an application.

Fruit tree Training Demonstration will be held on Saturday, January 29, 2011 at Central Crops Research Station, Clayton, NC begining at 10:00am.  Come learn about how to get the most from your fruit trees through proper training and pruning.  Call 919 989-5380 for more information.

Beginning Beekeeping class will be held in Goldsboro begining Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 6:00pm and continuing each Thursday evening until March 17, 2011.  For more information contact Lisa Newkirk at 919 739-6931 or visit this website.



by Shawn Banks   

This year I volunteered at the State Fair in the Green NC tent.  The booth I helped with was on vermicomposting or using worms to recycle kitchen scraps.  It was the children who were most interested in the worms.  This could be a good way to introduce children to the concept of being environmental stewards. 

In many homes, the scraps from food preparation go directly into the trash where they are hauled off to the landfill and buried.  In many cases, these scraps could be fed to a bin of worms to be turned into compost.  Worms will eat about half their own weight in food every day.  Worms will eat fruit and vegetable preparation scraps, used coffee grounds and paper filters, egg shells, tea bags without the staples, and vegetables that have been cooked as long as no oil, butter or animal fat was used in the cooking process.  Don’t add too much citrus to the bin as that will cause it to become acidic and it may begin to smell.  Some type of bedding will also need to be added to the bin in the way of shredded leaves or paper.

With a properly sized worm bin, there is no need for any food scraps to go into the trash.  There are many places to purchase worm bins commercially.  Commercial worm bins are designed to be easy to use and convenient.  However, a worm bin can be made at home out of a 1 foot by 2 foot by 2 foot plastic storage bin.  The bin will need ventilation to allow air to flow in and out.  Drilling several ½ inch diameter holes around the top of the bin or putting a 2-inch vent cover in each end of the bin can accomplish this.  A few drain holes will be needed in the bottom of the bin to allow excess water to drain. 

Whether you purchase a bin or build your own, you will need to start it off by adding some damp bedding.  Shredded paper works really well.  Wet the paper, then wring it out until it can be squeezed gently and a few drops of water will come out.  Fluff the damp paper, and then add it to the bin.  Next add the worms to the bin.  Most experts in our area list redworms or “wigglers” (Eisenia foetida) as the best type of worm for vermicomposting in bins.  Add about one pound of worms for every two square feet of surface area inside the bin.  This will give the worms room to grow. 

A common complaint is that the worms try to escape from the bin.  One way to get the worms used to their new home is to leave the lid off the bin for the first 3 or 4 days and leave a light on.  Worms don’t like the light, so they will stay down inside the shredded paper.  After the first 3 or 4 days add some worm food and place the lid on the bin.  Be sure to burry the food under some of the shredded paper to prevent it from attracting mold and fruit flies.

If the worms are fed on a daily basis, they should produce a harvest of worm castings in about 2 or 3 months.  Harvesting can be done in a couple of different ways.  One is to place the food only on one side of the bin for 2 or 3 weeks to encourage the worms to move to that side of the bin.  Harvest the unfed side of the bin.  Add fresh bedding to the empty side of the bin and begin placing the food on that side for the next two or three weeks to move the worms over to this side of the bin.  Harvest the casting from the other side of the bin.

The castings can be added to potting soil, flower beds, or top dressed as a fertilizer for houseplants or other plants.  Worm castings have been shown to improve plant health, reducing attacks by insects and disease organisms.  Worm castings also help improve soil structure by adding organic matter to the soil. 

If I were doing an advertisement for vermicomposting, the tag line would be something like, “Vermicomposting, the environmental way to reduce waste and improve plant health without spending a ton of money.” 

For more information about vermicomposting contact the Cooperative Extension at 989-5380, or visit the websites http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/topic/vermicomposting/ or http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/topic/vermicomposting/facts.html.

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Quercus virginiana

Southern Live Oak

By Tina Stricklen

Southern live oak, a member of the Beech family, is native to the coastal plains of the Southeast from Virginia to southern Florida as well as southern Texas.  With hardiness Live oak trunk with man standing nest to itzones ranging from 7b to 10 these trees are found growing in low sandy soil near the coast as well as moist rich woods along streams.  Most sources indicate their trunks can range from three to four feet in diameter and grow 45 to 65 feet tall (image to the left is of a man standing next to a live oak on Bald Head island, NC).  There are registered champion live oaks in many states that have reached monstrous proportions.  For example, the Florida champion (based on a 1984 listing) was foiund in Alachua County and measured in at 108 inches in diameter, 83 feet in height and had a spread of 150.5 feet!  Typically, the largest trees range from 200 to 300 years old and have a branch spread twice the height of the tree.

Part of the allure of a Live Oak is its growth habit.  The large trunks divide into limbs a few feet up the tree. These reclining limbs create a canopy of dappled light; oftentimes these limbs grow almost horizontal to the ground.  This interesting silhouette and thick canopy make for a good shade tree.  The bark is deeply furrowed and becomes blocky with age, ranging in color from red-brown to gray.  What lies beneath that bark is another story all together.  One of the heaviest native hardwoods, it weighs approximately 55 pounds per cubic foot when dry.  An excellent wood fuel it can be a challenge to split.  In fact, the wood is so hard and durable that shipbuilders utilized the species to construct various components of sailing ships.

Down on the coast, the evergreen Live Oak is host to epiphytic plants including the resurrection fern, as well as the romantic Spanish moss which give the tree a distinct appearance.  In some localities, the tree is host to a parasite plant, mistletoe.  Along with these plants, animals find the Live Oak valuable as well.  Their fruit, an oval acorn, is eaten by a variety of birds including wild turkey, quail and other migrating and overwintering birds.  Indeed, squirrels and deer find the acorn irresistible too. 

This southern icon is revered for its strength and courage and it is celebrated and protected in many communities.  An asset to any landscape, the mighty oak is a link to our past and a fine example of the saying, “with age comes beauty.”


References and information resources

School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.  http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/4h/Live_oak/liveoak.htm

N.C. State University Trees, Plant Fact Sheets, https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/trees-new/quercus_virginiana.html

Quercus virginiana Mill., Live Oak, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Northeastern Area, State and Private Forestrey, Saint Paul Field Office Publications, http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/quercus/virginiana.htm

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Carolina Mantid
Stagmomantis corolina
Family: Mantidae

By Shawn Banks

 Praying mantis adult male
Adult Male Praying Mantis
 Praying mantis immature
Immature Chinese Praying Mantis
Praying mantis egg case
Praying Mantis egg case

The Carolina Mantid is one of at least two species of praying mantises that can be found in North Carolina.  The Carolina Mantid is the only one of the two that is native to the United States.  The Carolina Mantid reaches a length of around two inches.  It has the ability to camouflage itself according to the surroundings, so the color may range from light gray to tan or pale green.

The other praying mantis that is commonly found is the Chinese Mantid, which was first introduced to the United States as a biological insect control method in 1896.  The Chinese Mantid is the one that is most often sold through mail order catalogs or in garden centers for insect control.

Praying mantids are carnivorous insects.  It may be said they are near the top of the insect food chain.  Praying mantids will eat anything it can catch, including other beneficial insects.  There are few insects that feed on praying mantids.  Of the insects that do feed on praying mantids, other praying mantids are the most common.  It is even documented where the female mantid will eat the male after mating.

Praying mantids have a gradual metamorphosis, meaning the young look similar to adults only smaller.  As they grow they molt into larger versions of themselves.  The female Carolina Mantid has wings that only extend ¾ of the way down her abdomen.  With wings this short she is unable to fly.  The males have well developed wings and a body more fit for flying.  During mating season (August and September) the females produce a pheromone to attract the males. 

The female will lay its eggs in a gelatinous excretion that sticks to the surface of the stick, leaf, or whatever it is excreted onto.  This excretion then hardens to protect the eggs through the winter.  The adults die shortly after the eggs have been laid.  The eggs will hatch in the spring as the weather warms and aphids and other insects become available as a food source.

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Pecan – Carya illinoinensis

By Shawn Banks

The pecan is a close relative of the hickory.  The pecan and the hickory nut are even in the same genus Carya.  Pecans have a much thinner shell, making it easier to access the meat or kernel of the nut.  Pecan trees are native to the Mississippi river valley.  They can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9.  Pecan tree grow and produce best if they receive two inches of water per week.  They also require extra amounts of zinc in their fertility program. 

There are over 500 named cultivars of pecan.  Here in North Carolina we grow about 10 to 15 of these varieties.  Nuts range in size from about 1 inch long and ½ inch diameter to nearly 2 inches long and ¾ inch diameter depending on the variety.  Varieties also differ in their resistance to pecan scab, a serious disease of pecan trees.  Pecans also require at least two varieties to insure cross-pollination.

As for the health aspects of pecans, they have antioxidants to help keep you young.  They have 19 vitamins and minerals needed for healthy living.  They have been shown in studies to be heart-healthy and have been indicated as helping with weight loss.  Lets be clear, the study showed that adding pecans to food dishes added texture and flavor to the dish that lead to greater dietary compliance.

Here is a recipe taken from the North Carolina Pecan Growers Association website that will add a new twist to the traditional green bean casserole.




16 ounces French-style green beans

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 cup chopped pecans

¼ cup chopped onion

¼ pound grated cheddar cheese

1 can Chinese noodles



Place beans in a casserole dish.  Add soup, pecans and onions.  Top with grated cheese.  Bake 15 minutes at 350OF.  Remove and top with noodles.  Return to oven and heat until crisp.


North Carolina Pecan Growers Association website. http://www.ncpecans.org/

National Pecan Shellers Association website. http://www.ilovepecans.org/nutrition.html

Growing Pecans in North Carolina publication AG-81. https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/ag81.html

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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:  http://chambers-tx.tamu.edu/publications/B6102.pdf


➢    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.

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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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