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The Gardener’s Dirt January 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
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

Pruning in the Landscape

Pruning is one of those landscape jobs that often gets forgotten or left undone.  Most of the time it’s because we get really busy when it is time to make the cuts.  When we have the time to do the job, it is often the wrong time of the year to prune the plant that needs to be pruned.  Here are a few tips on when to prune:

  • For most shrubs August, September or October is a bad time to prune.  Most shrubs are getting ready for the winter during these months and pruning will make it more likely they will receive some injury from the cold.
  • If the shrub or tree blooms late winter or spring wait until after it blooms, then prune it May, June or July.  The sooner you prune the bigger the flower display will be the following year.
  • If the shrub or tree blooms in the summer then dormant pruning between November and February is usually a good option.  Some plants can even be pruned as late as March.  The younger a plant is the more likely it is to be damaged by a cold winter, and should be left to be pruned until February if possible.
  • There are many plants in the landscape that are not known for their flowers.  For many of these plants dormant pruning is what is recommended; however, if you have questions you can contact the Master Gardeners by phone at 989-5380.
(This pruning information was taken from tree and shrub pruning calendars published by Virginia Cooperative Extension 2001)

The next question is how or where to make the cut.  This will depend on how you want the plant to look.  Many shrubs in the landscape are pruned into various shapes using heading back cuts or sheering.  The effect is a nice smooth surface creating uniform circles, squares or other geometric shapes. 

There is a way to create a hedge and still keep the natural beauty and shape of the plant.  This can be achieved by selectively pruning out limbs that have overgrown their space.  A heading back cut can still be used, but this time it is only on selected branches and it is usually cut back below where you want the plant to be.  This hides the cut stem and allows the plant to grow out to the boundary of the space giving a soft, natural look.

In some cases an entire limb needs to be removed to the main trunk.  With most trees and shrubs there is a swollen area at the base of the branch where it connects to the trunk of the tree.  If you will find this swollen area and make the cut about 1/8 to ¼ of an inch out from this swollen area, the tree will be able to heal over this wound, in most cases, in one to two years for most small branches.

If you have questions on pruning contact a Johnston County Master Gardener by phone 989-5380 or by e-mail jcemastergardener@gmail.com .

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 Spotlight Plant banner

Ulmus parvifolia

Lacebark Elm or Chinese Elm

Lacebark elm is a durable, medium size (40 feet wide and tall) tree that can be used in a number of situations.  This tree prefers a moist, well-drained soil; however, it is adaptable to a wide variety of soils.  This tree is resistant to Dutch elm disease and air pollution.  It is well adapted to growing in full sun and heat of the south.  To show its versatility, this tree is one that can be planted as a shade tree or it can be used as a bonsai tree and kept very small.  

As the tree ages, the outer bark begins to peep off leaving a wide range of colors from grays and greens to browns and tans.  The bark of this tree is one of the more spectacular aspects of this tree giving it some winter interest after the leaves have fallen.

This deciduous tree is hardy from zones 4 to 9.  The leaves range in size from about ½ inch up to 2.5 inches in length, and have a rich green color in the spring and summer with a yellow to red coloration in the fall.  The flowers and fruits are not showy, and most people don’t even notice them.  

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 Chinese elm shape
Shape of mature Chinese Elm

Chineses elm bark
Bark of mature Chinese Elm


Hand holding clipboard            Announcements banner heading          Hand holding clipboard

Tree Pruning Workshop Feb. 7, 10:00am, Johnston County Agriculture Center, 2736 NC highway 210, Smithfield.  We will be pleased to have two representatives from the Forest Service here to teach us how to properly prune dormant shade trees.  After a short class on the how-to's there will be some time to practice on some of the trees in the landscape at the Johnston County Agriculture Center.  For more information contact Shawn Banks at 989-5380.

Grapevine Pruning Demonstration Feb. 21, 10:00am, Hinnant Family Vineyard, 826 Pine Level-Micro Rd, Pine Level. For more information on this class visit http://johnston.ces.ncsu.edu/content/Grapevine_Pruning or contact Shawn Banks at 989-5380..

Herbal Soap Crafting Feb. 3, 7:00pm  Johnston Community College Arboretum Brick Building.  There is a registration fee for this class.  Contact Lin Frye (919) 209-2052 or Amanda Parker (919) 209-2517 for more information about this workshop, or visit their website at http://www.johnstoncc.edu/arboretum/events.aspx.

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 Insect Investigator banner   Root knot nematode adult and jouvenile forms
A. Adult female, B. Jouvenile root knot nematode
root knot nematode infested roots
roots infested with root knot nematodes

 Root Knot Nematode

The word nematode is a Greek for “threadlike”.  This is a very good description of most species of nematode.  Even root knot nematode in its early stage of growth is threadlike.  It starts out as a long, skinny, microscopic, unsegmented roundworm in the soil.  When mature, the male root knot nematode remains long and skinny.  The female burrows into outer layer of the root and inserts a feeding tube (stylet) into the xylem (like blood vessels in plants) of the plant.  She excretes a chemical that triggers the surrounding cells to enlarge abnormally to collect food for her to feed on.  These abnormally large cells give the root the appearance of having a knot in the root.  Since nematodes are microscopic this knotted appearance is a good way to identify the presence of root knot nematode.  

Root knot nematode is more prevalent in sandy soils, but can be found in a wide variety of soils.  There are several different species of root knot nematode.  Some species can parasitize over 2,000 different species of plants.  There are no chemicals on the market right now that will control nematodes in the home garden or landscape.  Cultural control is very important when dealing with nematodes.  Some methods of control include:

  • Crop destruction – at the end of the growing season remove the roots of the crop or expose them to the air to dry.  Many eggs will still be inside the female nematodes that are inside the roots, these eggs will be removed from the soil.
  • Crop rotation – moving plants around in the garden can help prevent the build up of root knot nematode.  Using cover crops of wheat, barley, or sudangrass will also help reduce the population numbers.  Using French marigolds (Tagetes patula) in the rotation for a summer season will also help reduce numbers.
  • Resistant varieties – there are some plants that are resistant to nematodes such as tomatoes with the letters VFN after their name.  The N stands for nematode resistant.  There are also some lima bean, southern pea, snap bean and a pimento pepper variety that are resistant to nematodes in the vegetable garden.
  • Fallowing – Is the practice of not growing anything in an area for a number of years (usually 1 year).  When using this practice, the weeds must also be kept out of the field as there are many weeds that can be an alternate host to the nematodes.
  • Solarization – is the practice of heating the soil by placing a piece of clear plastic over the area to trap the hear from the sun and increase the heat in the soil to over 130 degrees F.  This should be done for 6 to 8 weeks during the hottest part of the summer June – August.
  • Organic Matter – by adding organic matter such as compost or manure beneficial microbes that compete with nematodes will help keep the nematode population under control.  The organic matter also helps sandy soils retain moisture which prevents plant stress and reduces the effect of the nematodes on the plants.

For more information on controlling nematodes in the home vegetable garden visit http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/1209-w.html .  For more information on plant parasitic nematodes in general visit http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/pgg/dan_webpage/index.htm.

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 Gardening to-do Banner


Easten tent caterpillar egg sack and larva

  • Plants that were planted in the fall or summer may need some supplemental water through the winter.  Check them occasionally by digging down a couple of inches in the root zone to check soil moisture.
  • Watering just before a cold snap helps plants survive bitter temperatures.
  • Check trees and shrubs for insect eggs – they are often found on small twigs.  Remove and destroy them before they hatch in the spring.
  • Don’t forget to enjoy the flowers and berries of winter.  Rosemary, hellebores, camillia, holly, and others.
  • When browsing through seed catalogs look for key words such as “heat tolerant” or “tolerates humidity”.
  • Euonymus scale on leafTrees and shrubs infested with scale insects or spider mites can be treated now with horticultural oil to smother the live insects and eggs.
  • Leaves on the grass can be collected and put into a compost pile to be used later in the gardens.  Leaves from diseased trees should NOT be put in the compost pile.
  • If you are trying to preserve some of those tender tropicals in containers add some extra light with florescent tube lights.  Mix cool white and warm white tubes for better growth.
  • Perennials like daylily, Shasta daisy, and peony can be divided when the ground is dry enough to be worked.
  • Some evergreen shrubs like boxwoods, euonymus, and privet can be pruned now to save time as spring approaches.
  • After camellias bloom and drop flower petals, collect the petals and add them to the compost pile.  This reduces the chance of petal blight.


Carots and beets fresh from the garden

  • Prepare the vegetable garden now for planting in February by removing winter weeds and adding some fresh compost to the soil.
  • Cool season vegetables like carrots, beets, peas, lettuce, mustard, radish, spinach, potatoes, and turnips can be direct seeded into the garden in February.
  • Mulch strawberry beds for winter protection with a layer of wheat straw or pine needles 2-3” thick.  Pull mulch away when blooms appear in the spring.
  • Asparagus crowns can be planted now through March.  New plants should not be harvested for 2 to 3 years.


  • Red Amaryllis in vaseCheck holiday plants such as Christmas cactus and other gifts for insects before placing them near other houseplants.
  • Amaryllis bulbs bloom best in thigh quarters, so place them in a pot with only about an inch of space around the bulb.
  • Let houseplants rest.  Most houseplants are semi-dormant during the short days of winter.  Save the fertilizer for when the start growing again in the spring.
  • Keep a look out for any insects that may have hitched a ride into the house on plants.  Most can be easily controlled with insecticidal soaps.
  • Check bulbs that were dug and stored for the winter such as caladium and dahlia for soft rot.  Discard any that have become soft and add fresh sawdust to the rest to absorb any excess moisture.  Bulbs that are wrinkled may be too dry, add a little moisture to keep them from drying out completely.

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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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