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The Gardener’s Dirt July 2010

JULY 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.

Click here for a printable version of this newsletter.


Tuesday, July 6, 8:00am – 5:00pm Tour to JC Raulston Arboretum and NC Museum of Art.  The cost is $15 plus lunch is on your own.  Click here for information on how to register.

Saturday, July 17, 8:30am – 12:00pm First ever Great Tomato Tasting at NCA&T University Farm.  Rain or shine this event will happen.  Cost for the event will be $7 per person with children under 10 free.  Click here for more information.

Tuesday, July 20, 8:00am – 5:00pm Tour to NC Museum of Science and Duke Homestead.  The cost is $25 plus lunch is on your own.  Click here for information on how to register.

Saturday, July 24, 8:00am -8:00pm Johnston County Beekeepers tour meet at Johnston County Agriculture Center.  The tour will visit the Clayton Farm and Community Market and The NC Zoo where there is a honey bee garden.  For more information and a cost of the tour contact Amie Newsome or 989-5380.



Newspaper in the Garden

By Joanne King

Recycled newspaper is a great resource.  Packing material, wrapping paper, insulation, crafts, and the list goes on.  Why not save yourself a trip to the recycle center and to the garden center to purchase mulch, and use newspapers in your garden?

Newspaper makes a great tool in the fight to control weeds in the flowerbed or vegetable garden.  Call it homemade weed control.  First, you might want to remove the weeds so you are starting with a clean area.  If weeds are under the newspaper, they may still be able to leave seed to germinate the following season.  Place a few sheets on the ground and cover with a thin layer of soil or mulch.  You may want to wet the newspaper with a light spray to keep it in place while you are working. 

For a large area of lawn that you want to convert to bedding area, you do not need to remove the grass.  Keep in mind that some of the grass may still persist under the newspaper, especially around the edges.  Using newspaper to eliminate the light the grass needs sure beats the backbreaking job of digging up grass.  This method also works great when the tree you planted in your lawn 5 years ago now needs a larger mulched area under its growing canopy.

For most purposes, use 5 or 6 sheets to create your layers.  But when the area is damp, use 2 or 3 sheets because heavy mulch in a damp area can harbor slugs.  (Yugh!)  Keep the newspaper a few inches away from the base of plants, as you should do with all mulching material.  And overlap the sections a little bit to get good coverage. 

Newspaper can also be shredded and used in the compost bin, or used for mulch around individual plants.  Do not use the blossy printed advertising material, especially in the vegetabole garden, as some of the dyes are chemical-based.  (Some are not chemical-based, but you just do not know for sure.)  Also, paper is considered “brown” material so, if used to create compost, balance out paper (carbon material) with some green material (grass clippings or nitrogen material). 

Newspaper can also be used as a barrier in the bottom of large containers to keep the soil from leaching from the drain hole. 

For other ideas on recycling newspaper and the use of other organic materials in the garden, check these links. 



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Southern Magnolia – Magnolia grandiflora

By Shawn Banks

Magnolia fower opening

The southern magnolia is one of the most recognized trees in the southern landscape.  The specific epithet grandiflora is Latin for “large flowers”.  This tree definitely has large flowers.   The flowers of the southern magnolia are a creamy white 8 to 12 inches in diameter with a very nice fragrance.  Many birds use the bright red berries of this tree as food in the fall.

Southern magnolias have a native range of zones 7 to 9, or from North Carolina down to Florida and west to Texas.  They can often be found in moist soils near streams and swamps, but this tree is extremely drought tolerant and does well in most landscapes.  The species can reach heights of 60 to 90 feet with a spread of 30 to 40 feet. 

Magnolia leaves of Little GemThere are several cultivars available in the trade that feature different characteristics of this plant.  Two varieties that may be suitable for smaller landscapes include Bracken’s Brown Beauty (30’ tall by 15’ wide) and Little Gem (20 – 30’ tall and 10’ wide).

Southern magnolias should be allowed to grow limbs all the way to the ground because little will grow underneath these trees.  The large, leathery leaves fall in spring and fall.  Fallen leaves take a long time to break down and decompose.  Although some may consider this tree messy, it is a majestic tree in the southern landscape.

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Trichogramma Wasp
Family: Trichogrammatidae
By Shawn Banks

  Trichogramma wasp on an insect egg
Trichogramma wasp with
caterpillar egg on a tomato leaf

Photo by Debbie Roos

There are several species of Trichogramma wasp.  There are native Trichogramma wasps and there are some that have been imported from other parts of the world to help combat specific crop insects, like the pink cotton bowl weevil.  It is important to have the correct species of Trichogramma wasp to attack the insect species that is the problem.  Some species of Trichogramma wasp only feed on the eggs of one insect species, while others species of Trichogramma wasps feed on the eggs of several different insect species.

The Trichogramma wasp is one of the smallest insects.  The adults are 1/32 of an inch in length or 0.18 mm.  This tiny wasp lays its eggs inside the eggs of other insects.  When the egg hatches, the larva spends its time inside the parasitized egg.  The larva then pupates and becomes an adult, most often a female, that doesn’t need a male to begin laying eggs.

Reducing the use of pesticides and planting flowers in the chrysanthemum and carrot (Umbellifers) families will increase the number of Trichogramma wasps in the area.  If you are looking for the presence of Trichogramma wasps, the best way would be to look for insect eggs that are discolored to either dark brown or black.

A list of insect eggs attacked by Trichogramma wasps can be found on organicgardeninfo.com.

Other interesting facts about Trichogramma wasps can be found on the Garden Friends and Foes website.

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Okra – Abelmoschus esculentus

By Shawn Banks

Okra is native to the tropics of Africa, making it a good summer vegetable.  Okra is in the Mallow family, which also contains hibiscus and cotton.  It is fairly easy to grow from seed if the seed is soaked over night before planting and kept moist during the germination process.  It can also be purchased as transplants at the local garden center.  The more sun it receives the more flowers and fruits it will produce.  It grows well in most soils, but will struggle in heavy clay soils with poor drainage.

The part that is eaten is the young tender pods.  These pods need to be harvested within a day or two of being pollinated or they become tough and stringy.  There are many ways to eat okra including boiled, fried and baked.  Young okra pods have a natural sliminess to them when boiled.  The sliminess of the okra can be avoided by baking, frying, or cooking with acids such as tomatoes or lemon juice.

Okra and Corn Casserole

2 cups sliced fresh or frozen okra

6 tablespoons butter, divided

1 1/2 cups cooked corn kernels

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup milk

8 ounces shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup dry breadcrumbs


1. Stir-fry okra in 2 tablespoons butter for 10 minutes. Place in baking dish, alternating layers with drained corn. Make a white sauce by melting 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over low heat and blending in flour.

2. Milk should be added all at once, cooking quickly and stirring constantly. Cheese is stirred in until blended. Pour this mixture over vegetables. Melt remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter and toss with breadcrumbs. Sprinkle buttered crumbs over casserole.

3. Bake at 350° for approximately 45 minutes, until the casserole is heated.

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  • Water deeply but infrequently, this will encourage deep rooting of plants for better drought resistance.
  • Control fungal diseases which flourish in hot and humid weather by keeping irrigation water off foliage.  The best time to water is early morning.  This allows the sun to dry water from foliage. Watering in early evening creates damp foliage all night, which encouraging the development of fungal diseases.
  • Help reduce the mosquito population by emptying any containers with standing water.  Mosquito larva can grow in shallow water, like plant saucers that do not dry completely.


  • When should you water your lawn?  When the grass blades  are just starting to curl and your footprints remain on the lawn when you walk on it.  Watering too often encourages a lawn with a shallow root system that cannot handle drought well.  Apply an inch of water, in the early morning.  Set your timer for 4 am if you can.  
  • Grasses vary in their needs. Check out the Lawn Maintenance Calendar for your grass and learn how best to care for it, month by month …
  • Keep fescue mowed at a height of 3 – 3 1/2 inches to help it survive hot, dry periods.  It is a cool season grass that slows down in the summer.  If it is cut it too short the tender roots will be exposed to extreme heat which will certainly damage, if not kill them.  It is also difficult for fescue to recover from cutting too short as it is not actively growing at this time.  
  • Repair Warm-Season Lawns: Bermuda, Zoysia, and centipede are growing strong by now, making it easy to see spots that are weak or weedy. Pull weeds and patch bare spots if you haven’t already.
  • Established fescue lawns naturally go semi-dormant in the heat of July. Established fescue can survive up to three weeks without water, but will need a drink if it doesn’t rain by then! Water only when grass shows sign of wilt (footprints show when grass is walked on). Fescue planted last fall will need watering every week. See the Fescue Lawn Maintenance Calendar (link above).


  • When you visit your roses, clip off leaves that show early evidence of blackspot – a common fungal disease that causes black spots on leaves. Put the spotted leaves in the garbage (not in the compost pile.)
  • When gathering cut flowers to bring indoors, cut stems early in the day.  Bring them indoors and recut the ends while they are submerged in a sink of water.Japanese Beetle close up
  • Don’t use Japanese beetle traps.  The pheromones in the traps often attract beetles that would not otherwise visit the area.  To control a particularly pesky group of beetles, go hunting for them in early morning and shake them into a bowl of soapy water to get rid of them.
  • Keep potted plants watered! Plants in pots outside may need daily watering in the heat of summer.
  • Pinch out the tips of garden mums to encourage lower, compact plants with many flowers.
  • Start stem cuttings of geraniums and leaf cuttings of succulents to be potted for use as house plants this winter.
  • Propagate shrubs by rooting cuttings. Semi-hardwood cuttings of Azalea, Camellia, and Holly can be taken this month. The wood should be hardened enough that the stem breaks when bent. https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8702.html
  • Prune spent crape myrtle blossoms to prolong the flowering period.  
  • Sooty Mold on the crape myrtles will make the leaves appear dark and sooty or almost uniformly charcoal gray. Sooty mold grows on honeydew (the sticky leftovers) from aphids. Control the aphids, and the mold will wash off.
  • Bagworms on Leyland CypressPowdery Mildew makes leaves appear gray and powdery. It’s a common problem which disfigures the foliage, but doesn’t kill the tree.
  • Hand-pick bagworms off evergreens. Pesticides are not effective once the caterpillars are safe in their bags.
  • Remove vigorous upright sprouts growing from tree roots (“suckers”), or from the upper surfaces of tree branches (“water sprouts”).  Pruning the sprouts out directs the tree’s energy into desirable growth.
  • Weed when it’s easy. Weeds are easier to pull when the soil is moist, so wait until after a soaking rain or irrigate the area first. The roots of desirable plants can be injured by pulling large weeds nearby so pull those weeds in late afternoon or on cloudy days, and water the area afterward to help injured plants recover.
  • Start seeds for cool-weather annuals indoors in July/August for fall planting. Try foxglove, pansy, alyssum, snapdragons, ornamental cabbage (kale), and primroses.  Pansy seeds germinate well when stored in the refrigerator (not freezer) for 10-14 days before planting.    


  • Pinch out the tips of blackberry shoots when they reach about 4 feet tall.  This helps form a tidier hedgerow for easy picking.
  • Soon after tomatoes begin to set fruit, give them a boost of fertilizer to keep them vigorous and productive. Most of the new varieties are heavy producers if provided with good nutrition and adequate soil moisture.  


  • Deckscape: Play with colors, textures, and the placement of furniture on your deck or patio. Use container-grown plants, windsocks and sculptures to change or fine-tune your color scheme and overall feel.
  • Think strategy. Now that deciduous trees and shrubs are in leaf, survey your landscape critically. Do you have too much? too little? are plants too low where screening is needed? So tall a view is blocked? Take photographs and make plans to add or move shrubs this fall. Don’t do it now.

WILDLIFEEastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly caterpillarEastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

  • Put out a bird-bath.  Keep it filled with fresh water.  Change it once a week to minimize mosquitoes. Birds will pay you back by eating lots of insects!  
  • Think twice about squashing caterpillars; many turn into butterflies.  This is just one example of what swallowtail caterpillars look like.  This is a swallowtail butterfly(right).  Swallowtail caterpillars (left) love parsley, so set out a few extra plants to share with them. A pan of moistened pebbles or sand will attract butterflies.

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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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