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The Gardener’s Dirt February 2008

February 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


Weed Watch

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

Landscape Planning

By Shawn Banks

    Landscape planning is one way we can all contribute to the water conservation effort.  Landscapes should be planned to do well in the wet years as well as during dry years.  Two landscape concepts to consider are xeriscaping and hydrozoning.  These two landscaping ideas are similar yet different.  Both concepts are good and should be considered when designing a landscape.

    Xeriscaping is using drought tolerant plants in the landscape.  The term is derived from the Greek word xeros meaning dry.  My interpretation of xeriscaping is using plants that are well adapted to the climate.  If I were to write the definition of xeriscaping it would read; landscaping using plants that are well adapted for the climate where they will be planted.  For our area there are a lot of very nice looking plants that fit this description.  Several flowering plants including annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs are well adapted to the climate in Johnston County, even during extreme weather years.

    Hydrozoning is using plants with similar water requirements in the same bed area.  The design may include areas with high, medium and low water requirements in different parts of the landscape.  Keep areas with high water requirements close to a water source and areas with low water requirements further from the water source.  This allows for a variety of plantings throughout the landscape.

    Other things to consider doing in the landscape even if you are not planning to redo the entire landscape, but want to make some improvements include:

  1. Reduce the amount of turfgrass in the landscape.  Turfgrass requires more water than most plants in the landscape. 
  2. Take a soil sample and have it tested.  Plants do better when they have the correct soil pH and fertility.  Healthy plants are more drought tolerant than weak plants.
  3. Plan to amend planting beds with organic matter.  Organic matter increases water absorption in clay soils and increases water retention in sandy soils.
  4. Add a layer of mulch.  Mulch works as a blanket to keep valuable moisture in the soil and keep many weeds out of beds.
  5. Establishing plants can take weeks for some plants and several months to a year for other plants.  Keeping plants watered during the establishment period is of most importance.  Once established plants are drought tolerant.  Not before!

   Take some time while removing plants that may have died from the drought last year to plan the future landscape.  A good landscape plan will save water, money and heartache, while adding beauty and enjoyment.  Make the most of the space you have by putting in plants that will not only live, but also thrive in their new home.

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 Spotlight Plant banner
Pink Muhly Grass in mid-summer before flowering
Pink Muhly Grass

 Pink Muhly Grass

Muhlenbergia capillaris

  Also known as Gulf Muhlygrass, Mist Grass, and Hairdawn Muhly this grass is a clump forming, fine textured grass, with wire-like, un-branched stems reaching 3 foot high with a 5 foot spread.

In late summer an airy inflorescence often colored pink, purplish red or purplish gray stands above the leaves creating the illusion of a pink mist over the grass.  The inflorescence dries to a light buff color in late fall to early winter.

Pink Muhly Grass grows best in full sun to light shade with a well-drained soil.  This plant is used in some of the roadside plantings along North Carolina's highways and interstates, so it must do well in hot, dry, sandy sites and be very drought tolerant.

Pink Muhly Grass in flower
Pink Muhly Grass
in full flower
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Hand holding clipboard          Announcements banner heading            Hand holding clipboard

Master Beekeeper Training
Classes will meet every Thursday evening from 7:00pm until 9:00pm from February 7th until March 27th, at the Workforce Developement Center in Clayton, NC.  If you are interested in becoming a Master Beekeeper or are interested in learning more about the care of honeybees this class may be for you.  For more information contact Amie Newsome (919) 989-5380 or visit this website .

Grapevine Pruning Workshop
This event will take place on Saturday, February 16 from 10:00am until 12:00 noon at Hinnant Family Vineyards in Pine Level, NC.  If you would like to learn how to get the most production from your muscadine grape vines this workshop will answer those questions.  For more information contact Shawn Banks (919) 989-5380 or visit this website .

Organic Soil Management
This is the second in a series of 10 workshops on growing organic.  This workshop will be held on Thursday, February 28 from 7:00pm until 9:00pm at the Agriculture Building on highway 210 near Smithfield, NC.  Come learn about managing soil using organic methods to get the best growth from your plants.  For more information contact Shawn Banks (919) 989-5380 or visit this website .

Fruit Tree Training and Pruning Demonstration
This event will take place on Saturday, March 1 from 10:00am until 12:00 noon at the Central Crops Research Station in Clayton, NC.  If you have fruit trees of any kind that you would like to learn how to train for best production or overgrown fruit trees that need to be whipped into shape this is just what you need to know.  For more information contact Shawn Banks (919) 989-5380 or visit this website .

Other upcoming events for March include:
Make your own rain barrel workshop
Dormant Pruning of Ornamental trees and shrubs

Tackle Technology for Free!!!
Two colleges have teamed up to aid local farmers win the battle over technology.  Farmers Adopting Computer Training (FACT) program will be used to educate growers on basic computer skills necessary for success.  Classes will start out slow covering keyboard layout, calculator keypad, operating system basics, working with files and folders, and basic mouse skills.  The classes become more advanced including orientation to word processor applications, inventory and budget reports, e-mail and web browser basics.  The FACT program is being offered free of charge to qualified participants thanks to Johnston Community College.  North Carolina A&T State University will be donating free computers to participants who meet the programs criteria.  For more information or to register for the up-coming classes, contact Amie Newsome at 919-989-5380.

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Weed Watch banner


Crabgrass blade close up showing membrainous liguel
Crabgrass Blade showing membranous liguel

Crabgrass covering a bare spot in a lawn


Digitaria sp.

Large crabgrass (also called hairy crabgrass) and smooth crabgrass are common weeds in turfgrass.  The leaf blade of smooth crabgrass is not as hairy as that of large crabgrass, with a few hairs near the base of the blade. The edge of the leaf blade on smooth crabgrass is either not hairy or has sparse hairs.

Crabgrass germinates from Mid-February through early May when soil temperatures reach 53 to 58oF at a 4-inch depth in the soil.  Alternating dry and wet conditions at the soil surface in spring encourages germination.  Crabgrass germinates and grows best when adequate light and moisture are present. Stems have a prostrate growth habit and may root at the lower nodes.  This allows crabgrass to grow under close mowing conditions. 

These weeds are found in a variety of habitats.  However it grows best in open areas with thin turfgrass stands.  The best prevention of this weed is a thick, healthy turfgrass.  In areas where crabgrass has been a problem in the past, chemical control may be needed.  Apply a granular, pre-emergent herbicide when forsythia is in bloom or just before a rain event in mid to late February.

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 Gardening to-do Banner

Lawn Care
  • Cool season grasses should be fertilized mid-month.  If a
    soil sample has not been taken, use a fertilizer of at least 30% slow
    release Nitrogen at the rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square
  • Crabgrass usually will start to germinate about the
    same time the Forsythia blooms.  If you have had problems with
    crabgrass in the past, then you may want to apply crabgrass preventer
    when the Forsythia blooms.  
  • Wild Garlic in lawnPulling
    wild onion/wild garlic is the best way to get rid of these pesky bulbs,
    but make sure you get the bulb.  If there are too many to pull, a
    product with 2,4-D works well to help control this weed.  Be sure to
    follow the manufactures directions found on the label.  Complete
    control may take two or more years.  Apply 2,4-D at half the
    recommended rate on centipede lawns otherwise it will damage the grass.
  • For more tips on lawn care visit Turf Files on the internet.
Trees, Shrubs, and Ornamentals
  • Liriope with lavendar flower and variegated leavesCut
    back dormant ornamental grasses before new growth starts to about 10 to
    14 inches above the soil.  Evergreen ornamental grasses (or grass like
    ornamentals) such as Liriope and Mondo Grass should be cut short or
    mowed to remove last year’s unsightly foliage.  If the clumps have
    become too big for the area they can be divided and shared with friends
    or planted in other areas of the yard.
  • Summer blooming shrubs
    bloom on new growth so they can be pruned hard in February to encourage
    new growth and many flowers.  Examples include Abelia, Hibiscus,
    Hydrangea, Beautyberry, Butterfly bush, Althea, Rose of Sharon, and
    bush or Tea Roses.  Shrub Pruning Calendar
  • Spring
    blooming shrubs such as Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Forsythia, Spirea,
    Quince, Weigela, and Climbing Roses bloom on last years growth and
    should not be pruned until after they have flowered.
  • Deciduous trees
    especially those that bloom in the spring should not be pruned this
    time of the year.  Examples being Dogwoods, Red Buds, Maples and
    several others.
  • Four Pansy flowers of different colorsFor many evergreens this is the best time of the year to prune if they haven't been pruned already.  Evergreen Pruning Calendar
  • Summer
    blooming roses can be pruned this time of the year.  Remember not to
    remove more than 1/3 of the growth.  Remove old mulch and leaves from
    around plants, this removes many overwintering fungal spores.  Put down fresh mulch.
  • Bare root roses and trees can be planted this time of the year.  Soak the roots overnight to rehydrate them before planting.
  • Spring
    flowers such as Sweet Williams, Pansy, Viola, Calendula,
    Forget-Me-Nots, English Daisies, Poppy, Alyssum and Dianthus can be
    planted now.  Don't forget to deadhead pansies and fertilize toward the
    end of the month.
  • Cauliflower head whiteAsparagus crowns can be planted now through March.
  • Transplant cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower out into the garden.
  • Strawberry plants can be planted now for spring fruits.
  • Beats, carrots, peas, lettuce, mustard, radish, spinach, irish potatoes, and turnips can be sown outside.
  • Starting
    seeds indoors is easy and economical.  Sometimes it is the only way to
    get the color or variety of the plants you want to grow.  It is not
    necessary to use "grow lights", ordinary florescent tubes will
    usually be enough.  For more information you can read the pamphlet
    "Starting Plants from Seeds", it is on the web at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8703.html
  • February and March are good months to prune fruit trees.
  • It is time to start a spray program for peach trees to control the many diseases and insects that attack peaches.
  • Control overwintering insects such as scale and their eggs by hand picking or using a dormant oil spray (also know as horticultural oil
    ).  Be sure to check for scales before spraying and follow the
    manufactures directions when applying any pesticide.  Do not apply
    dormant oils to broadleaf evergreens when freezing temperatures are
  • Cool-weather mites are not visible to the naked
    eye.  Junipers and other needled evergreens are a favorite hang out these mites.  If you had some of these plants that were an unsightly brown last year, check them with a hand held magnifying glass to see if cool season mites are to blame.  Horticultural oil
    or other registered insecticides can improve their situation and
  • Dracena in white potEven
    houseplants need a little rest once in a while, and this is a good time
    to give them a rest.  Keep them watered but give them a break from the
    fertilizer as most houseplants don't do much growing during the short
    days of winter.
  • Turn and prune houseplants regularly to keep them shapely. Pinch back new growth to promote busy plants.
  • While
    this may sound extremely silly, your houseplants will thank you for it.
    When dusting the furniture, also dust the plants. Wipe dust
    from broad-leaf plants at regular intervals using a cloth dampened with
    clean water. If the plant has small leaves, consider placing several in
    the shower to wash the dust off.
  • Keep an eye open for pest on indoor plants.  Most can be treated with insecticidal soaps.

Need Help 


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 jcmastergardener@yahoo.com

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