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The Gardener’s Dirt January 2008

 January 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


Insect Information

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

What to Expect in 2008

By Shawn Banks

Another year has come and gone, a new year is just beginning.  Last year was hot and dry.  What does Mother Nature have in store for us in 2008?

In 2007, the Extension Master Gardeners focused feature stories on ways to control insect and diseases.  Articles included beneficial insects, companion planting, cultural practices, encouraging wildlife among other ways of reducing pest problems.  They did an excellent job of putting the information into short, informative articles.

In 2008 the long range forecast is for the drought
to continue to get worse.  For many people this means not being able to
water the plants they already have in the ground.  We will try to focus
our attention this coming year on things that can be done to combat the
drought and help with water conservation. 

We will also feature plants that are drought tolerant.  In this way, we
hope to show there are more plants than a few yucca and cacti that will
do well in the landscape without needing a whole lot of water.  There
are some very pretty flowering plants including trees, shrubs,
perennials, and annuals which do quite well with little or no
supplemental water once established.


Clowds and sky over mountan peak

Mostly sunny day in the mountains
Photo by: Shawn Banks

Look for information on upcoming workshops including
pruning trees, shrubs and roses; a series on organic gardening; and how
to make a rain barrel just to name a few.  This year looks to be very
busy.  We hope to see you at some of these activities and workshops, as
there will be something for everybody.

With that we wish everybody a happy and productive new year.

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 Spotlight Plant banner

Witchhazel blooms

Witchhazel blooms just opening
Hamamelis vernalis
Photo by: Shawn Banks

Witchhazel leaves

Witchhazel leaves as the plant is
going dormant
Hamamelis vernalis

Photo by: Shawn Banks

 Hamamelis sp.

Common name: Witchhazel

There are five different species of ornamental Witchhazel, four of which will grow in North Carolina.  Two of those are native to North America.  There are also some named cultivars which are hybrids of two species.  Any of these species or the hybrid varieties will be very drought tolerant once they become established in the landscape.

The Witchhazel has yellow to orange flowers with long, strap-like petals that appear January through March and last 3 to 4 weeks.  Some of these flowers may have a slight fragrance.  Flowers are usually found in groups of 2 to 4 along the length of the branches.

The leaves of most species of Witchhazel are similar in shape, but the size of the leaf will vary among species.  The leaves will turn yellow in the fall before dropping from the plant.

Most varieties are hardy in zones 5 to 8 with some able to grow in zone 3 or 9.  These plants are usually dense and make great screens in the summer.  They will grow in a variety of conditions including sun or shade, a wide variety of pH and soil types.  Natively, they grow along sandy or rocky streams, but are very drought tolerant and tolerant of heavy clay soils.  As for pest problems, there are a few minor pests, but none that are serious enough to worry about.  With a wide range of named cultivars that range from 6’ tall to 30’ tall there is a cultivar for just about any landscape.

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Witchhazel blooms with petals

Hamamelis x intermedia

 ‘Arnold Promise’
Picture taken by Nancy Daubrava
with the JC Raulston Arboretum


Hand holding clipboard          Announcements banner heading            Hand holding clipboard

January 31, Thursday 7:00 pm
Johnston County Agriculture Building, 2736 NC 210 highway, Smithfield.  Introduction to growing organic workshops.  Come learn about growing organic and upcoming workshops throughout the year.

February 16, Saturday 10:00 am
Hinnant Family Vineyards, 826 Pine Level-Micro Rd., Pine Level.  Grapevine Pruning Demonstration.  Come learn proper care and maintenance of Muscadine grape vines from Connie Fisk, Muscadine Grape Specialist for N.C. Cooperative Extension.  Also learn the proper way to cut back Muscadine grape vines from the staff at Hinnant Family Vineyards.

February 28, Thursday 7:00 pm
Johnston County Agriculture Building, 2736 NC 210 highway, Smithfield.  Organic Soil Management.  Come learn how to manage the soil for best plant growth.

March 1, Saturday 10:00 am
Central Crops Research Station, 13223 US 70 Business West, Clayton.  Next to Wall-Mart.  Fruit Tree Pruning Demonstration.  Come learn proper training and pruning of fruit trees from Mike Parker, Tree Fruit Specialist at NC State University.  Watch as an apple and a peach tree are pruned for best production.

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Insect Investigator banner

Mealybug close up

Mealybug through a microscope.

Photo by: Shawn Banks
 Mealybugs are in the insect order HOMOPERA.  This order of insects has mouthparts which are made to pierce the outer layer of the leaf, and suck the juices from plant cells.  Mealybugs can be pests of indoor and outdoor plants, but this time of the year they are more commonly found indoors.  In small numbers, they may go unnoticed in the angles of the leaves and stems, but as the population grows the white fluffy egg masses and pinkish-orange adults are easy to spot.  Only the adult males develop wings.  Females must crawl wherever they go which means mealybugs spread slowly from plant to plant either by crawling, or being transported via wind or wildlife to a new host.  For control on indoor plants try soaps, oils, or systemic insecticides.  Sprays may need to be repeated weekly to get newly hatched eggs.

For more information read the insect note on Mealybugs from NCSU Entomology Department.


Mealybugs on the back of a leaf

Mealybugs and egg masses
on the back of a leaf.
Photo by:Shawn Banks
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Gardening to-do Banner

Now that the Holidays are over, it is time to think about getting the garden ready for the coming spring.


  • Cold, dry winter winds can remove moisture from plant tissues very quickly. Newly planted plants are especially susceptible to drying.  Dig a few inches into the soil around the plant; if the soil is dry, water is needed.


Easten tent caterpillar egg sack and larva

Eastern Tent Caterpillar
egg mass

  • Remember: Watering just before a cold snap will help plants survive bitter temperatures!
  • Check shrubs for insect eggs – They are often found on the twigs of plants (ie. Bagworms, tent caterpillars, etc.).  Remove and destroy them before they hatch in the spring.
  • Protect plants from weather extremes. Wide swings in climate – balmy breezes one day, arctic blast the next – can be really hard on plants.  https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-604.html
  • Check holiday plants such as Christmas Cactus and other gift plants for insects (scale, mealy bug, whitefly, and aphids) before locating them near other plants.
  • Enjoy winter-blooming perennials such as Rosemary, Erysimum (wallflower), and Hellebores. Evergreen ornamentals and shrubs, especially those with berries, add color to the winter landscape.
  • Amaryllis blooms best in tight quarters. Use a pot that provides only about an inch of space around the bulb to the side of the container.  https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8529.html
  • Enjoy those catalogs – when selecting seeds look for key words like "heat resistant" or "tolerates humidity." Talk to Master Gardener Volunteers for information on plants that are well adapted to our area.
  • Trees and shrubs infested with scale or spider mites can be treated with horticultural oil which works by smothering eggs, larvae, and adults.
  • Clean up fallen leaves to build a compost pile.  Do not include leaves from diseased plants.
  • Growing plants indoors under fluorescent lights?  Four-foot tubes are generally the cheapest; mix cool white tubes with warm white tubes to provide a wider light spectrum.
  • Divide perennials like daylily, Shasta daisy and peony when the ground is dry enough to work.
  • Prune broadleaf evergreen shrubs such as holly and boxwood.
  • Winter-blooming camellias (Camellia japonica) should really put on a show this month.  After the show, rake up fallen flowers and add the compost pile to discourage camellia petal blight.
 Maple tree covered with gloomy scale

Maple tree covered with
Gloomy Scale



Carots and beets fresh from the garden

Carrots and beets
fresh from the garden
  • Prepare the vegetable garden by adding compost and working it into the soil.
  • Beets, carrots, peas, lettuce, mustard, radish, spinach, irish potatoes, and turnips can be sown outside in early February.
  • Grow cold-tolerant leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, and collards. Some may be killed by frost, but it's worth it to have fresh greens for salads. Try planting greens with pansies for a pretty winter salad garden.
  • Mulch strawberry beds for winter protection with a layer of wheat straw or pine needles 2-3" thick. Pull the mulch away from plants when blooms appear.
  • Asparagus crowns can be planted now through March.  After harvesting the spears, enjoy the fronds throughout the summer.
  • Order seed catalogs, and plan your garden.  Choose disease resistant varieties.


  • Let houseplants rest.  The four major causes of houseplant deaths during the winter months are over-fertilizing, over-watering, under-watering, and improper light.  Most houseplants are semi-dormant during the short days of winter.  Do not fertilize them.  Plants will be ready for vigorous new growth in the spring.
  • Keep an eye out for indoor insect pests; most can be controlled easily with insecticidal soap.
  • Check stored bulbs, tubers, and corms such as dahlia, caladium, and gladiolus. Soft, rotting tubers or bulbs indicate too much moisture; discard any that are soft, and move the healthy ones to a drier place. Shriveling roots and tubers indicate the tubers are too dry; slightly moisten the storage material.




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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