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The Gardener’s Dirt March 2009

 March 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

Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden

By Shawn Banks

Tomatoes, probably one of the most loved and most hated fruit crops to grow in the home garden.  That’s right I said fruit crops.  The tomato is a fruit, botanically speaking.  The botanical definition of a fruit is the developed ovary of a seed-bearing plant with its contents and all its parts.  Don’t tell the grocery store attendant, they still think the tomatoes belong with the vegetables.

Tomatoes seem to have more disease problems than any other plant in the vegetable garden.  There are at least two dozen disease problems and another half a dozen or so environmental problems that can cause problems while growing tomatoes.  At the other extreme, there are so many tomato varieties that you are bound to find one you just can’t live without. 

Most garden centers will begin selling tomato transplants around the first of April.  Most have the same tried and true varieties for sale.  These are good varieties that usually do well in our area, but there are so many more varieties available through seed catalogs.  When choosing a variety look for the letters VFN next to the variety.  These letters indicate that the plants are resistant to V= verticillium wilt, F= fusarium wilt, and N= root-knot nematode.

When growing tomatoes from seed you will need to plant the seed in a seed starting mix about 5 to 6 weeks before you want to plant them outside.  It will take that amount of time to get the plants to the size they need to be for good transplants.  Keep the soil moist and the temperature between 65 and 75 degrees F for best germination.  Once the seedlings start to poke their leaves out of the soil, supply them with some supplemental light.  Even in the best-lit room; the light intensity is not what it would be outside in the sunlight.  The closer the seeds are to the light source, the more intense the light will be, and the plants will have no need to stretch for the light source.

When the plants are ready to be moved out to the garden, do this gradually.  Moving them into more direct sun every couple of days.  The shock of going from lights to direct sun may sunburn the plants, and could kill them. 

Prepare the soil well, making sure the soil will retain moisture, but will also drain well.  Cracking of the fruit where it meets the stem is caused by inconsistent watering and usually happens after a rainstorm.  Adding organic matter such as compost to the planting bed will help with water retention in sandy soils and drainage in clay soils.  Another problem with tomatoes is blossom end rot, which is caused by not having enough calcium available for the fruit to develop properly.  Making sure the pH of the soil is around 6.0 to 6.5 will help.  Adding some lime or gypsum to the planting bed will add some additional calcium to the soil. 

Space the plants about 18 inches apart.  They may look like they are lonely, but the space between the plants will allow for air circulation between plants.  Dry leaves means less disease. 

If you have a favorite tomato variety that you grow please share that with Shawn Banks (shawn_banks@ncsu.edu or 989-5380).  He is trying to put together a list of varieties that grow well in Johnston County.  For more information on growing tomatoes contact the Extension Master Gardeners at jcemastergardener@gmail.com or 989-5380.

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 Spotlight Plant banner


Columbine flowers
Flowers of Columbine


Aquilegia Canadensis

Columbine is an easy plant to grow because it adapts itself to a wide variety of conditions; however, it grows best in moist, rich, well-drained soil with light shade. These 1 to 3 foot high plants generally begin blooming in early to mid-May and often continue blooming through June.  For the nature lover columbines are a favorite flower for hummingbirds.  The native columbine is perfect for shady gardens, where it is not nearly as disfigured by leaf miner as non-native species.  They also make an excellent addition to the rock garden.
Columbines tend to lose vitality after 3-4 years and are best replaced at that time. Plants should be set out in the garden in spring or late summer. Plant them one to two feet apart with the crown at soil level. Once established, feed them monthly with a soluble all purpose (5-10-5) fertilizer and keep them well watered during growing season.

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Hand holding clipboard          Announcements banner heading            Hand holding clipboard

Fruit Tree Training and Pruning Demonstration March 7th, 2009 from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM at Central Crops Research Station, 13223 US Business 70 West, Clayton, NC 27520 http://johnston.ces.ncsu.edu/index.php?page=events&event_id=13620 or Shawn Banks at (919) 989-5380

Shiitaki Mushroom Production Workshop March 7, 2009 from 10:00am – 12:00 pm at Johnston County Livestock Arena, 1503 County Home Road, Smithfield, NC 27577.  For more information visit the website http://johnston.ces.ncsu.edu/index.php?page=events&event_id=14343 or call Amie for more information 989-5380.

Tree & Shrub Sale  by Master Gardener Order by March 13. Pickup March 20. For more information about available plants and prices http://tinyurl.com/avcwvx email jcemastergarderner@gmail.com or call 989-55380

March 31 JCC Arboretum is doing a Prelude to a Southern Garden there is more information on their website or by calling Lin Frye 209-2052 http://www.johnstoncc.edu/arboretum/events.aspx .

Clayton Framer’s Market opens April 4th

Master Gardeners will be at Lowe's at 40 and 42 to answer gardening questions and identify insect and weeds on April 4th from 10:00am until 12:00pm.

Master Gardeners will be at the Southern Ideal Home Show, April 3-5 to answer questions and discuss environmentally friendly tips for 2009.  Visit the show's website at http://www.southernshows.com/hsr/ for more information and ticket prices.

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 Insect Investigator banner  Whitefly adult up close
Whitefly adult
Silverleaf Whitefly
Bemisia argentifolii

Ash Whitefly
Siphonius phillyreae
Whitefly life stages on a leaf
It seems the silverleaf whitefly is mainly found in greenhouses and on houseplants like poinsettia, while the ash whitefly is found mainly in the landscape.  It doesn’t seem to matter which whitefly it is; they both infest the underside of the leaf, feed by sticking their needle like mouthparts into the leaf, and suck the juices out of the plant.  When the plant is disturbed, a white cloud of adults puffs out of the plant just to settle back down onto the plant after the perceived danger has left.  The adults will move from plant to plant, meaning that if the neighbors have whiteflies on their plants, the whiteflies will re-infest your plants two or three weeks after treatment.  This would be a great way for neighbors to help each other solve the whitefly problem.

Products listed for controlling whiteflies in the home landscape listed in the 2009 North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual include horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps as the least toxic methods, then acephate (Orthene), imidacloprid (Merit), permethrin (several chemicals), and pyrethrins (several chemicals).

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 Gardening to-do Banner

(or this month it's 'What do I do about weeds?')
  • REMEMBER, the best defense against weeds is a healthy lawn.  Learn how to care for your lawn throughout the year.  Visit TurfFiles and click on Turf Tips to learn more about your lawn type.  Keep it happy, healthy and weed free.
  • Control existing weeds now, before they get large and/or set seed.  A little work now will save a lot of trouble later.lawn mower clip art
  • For
    yards with an established weed problem, use pre-emergent herbicides to
    kill seedlings as they germinate. Pre-emergent herbicides can be used
    to control crabgrass and other broadleaf weeds.  Pre-emergent
    herbicides (according to label directions) should be applied while the
    forsythia  is in bloom, late February to mid-March.
  • Sharpen mower blades!  A sharp blade cuts.  A dull blade tears – making grass susceptible to diseases.
  • Divide fall-blooming perennials that are overgrown, such as asters, primrose, irises, violets, shasta Camillia with leaf gall diseasedaisies and mums. This is an easy way to enlarge your garden.  
  • Control
    leaf gall on azaleas and camellias. Leaf gall, a fungal disease, shows
    up as swollen leaves covered with a white powdery material. It is
    unsightly but generally not harmful to the plant. Pick off the affected
    leaves and dispose of them to avoid spreading the fungus.  
  • Do not compost diseased plant material.
  • Remove
    protective winter mulch from tender perennials in early March to warm
    the soil and stimulate the plant to grow.  Apply fresh mulch in April
    after perennials have emerged.  Mulch helps with water conservation and
    weed control. https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-608.htmlCarolina yellow jessamine
  • Spring
    flowering shrubs such as quince, spirea, forsythia, azalea, Camellia
    japonica, Carolina Jessamine , viburnum, mock orange, weigela, Oriental
    magnolia and Indian Hawthorn flower on old growth. Prune them soon
    AFTER they bloom.
  • Time for heavy, rejuvenation pruning of summer-blooming shrubs.  Prune holly, Nandina and Beautyberry before new growth begins.
  • Althea,
    Buddleia, Vitex, Crape Myrtle and Pomegranate can be pruned at the
    beginning of March to stimulate more flower production later.
  • Prune roses before bud break. https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-641.html
  • For a better show next spring, let the foliage of spring-flowering bulbs die back naturally. 
  • Are
    you fighting to keep grass growing under your trees? Or is there bare
    ground that erodes in heavy rains? Trees usually win in any competition
    for moisture and nutrients, and turfgrass is not well adapted to life
    in the shade. Mulch or living groundcovers are better choices than
    grass under large trees.
  • Ground covers act as "living
    mulch." Low-maintenance, shade-tolerant ground covers include
    pachysandra, periwinkle (vinca), ajuga (bugleweed), liriope or mondo
  • A 2-3” thick layer of composted mulch conserves
    moisture, reduces erosion and provides nutrients to the tree. Keep
    mulch away from the trunk of the tree to discourage rodents and rot.
  • Protect
    shade tree roots from injury. Remember that most of a tree's feeder
    roots are near the soil surface, under and just outside the tree
    canopy. If digging, foot traffic, or vehicles injure roots then damage
    to the tree can range from slowed growth (minor) to the death of the
    tree (major!). Some trees, such as dogwoods, are very susceptible to
    root damage; others, like maples, are more tolerant.
  • radishesPlant
    cool-weather vegetable crops such as lettuce, mustard greens, sugar
    snap peas, radishes, onions, potatoes, spinach, and cole crops (such as
    cabbage and collards) as soon as soil can be worked. https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8016.html
  • If a ball of soil crumbles when squeezed in your fist, the soil is workable.
  • Take a soil test (we have free kits here) to see how much fertilizer to apply around pecan trees.  It's time!
  • Beets, broccoli, cauliflower and Chinese cabbage can be started by the third or fourth week of March. 
  • Now
    is the time to start seeds indoors for vegetables such as tomato,
    pepper, eggplant, and others to get a jump-start on the summer growing
  • Take photographs of your yard while your spring bulbs are blooming, so you can remember where to plant more bulbs in the fall.
HOUSEPLANTSBegonia in cream color pot
  • Repot houseplants in fresh commercial potting mix. 
  • Before
    re-using old pots, clean them with detergent and water, or a 10%
    chlorine bleach solution, to remove salts and disease-causing
  • Wait a month after repotting before fertilizing.

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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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