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The Gardener’s Dirt May 2009

MAY 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


Insect Investigator

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

Plants for Small Spaces or Containers   

By Shawn Banks

This question comes up from time to time, “What plants can I grow in a small space or a container?”  There are several of us gardeners who live in apartments or on small lots, and we need to be able to make the most of the space we have.  Growing plants in containers is one way to address the issue of small spaces.  A few things to remember when growing plants in containers are:

  • The root zone in a container goes through greater extremes in temperatures than roots in the ground.  Make sure to select plants that have a wide range of growth where we are in the middle of that growth range.
  • Containers often times get neglected or may have poor drainage.  The plants you select need to be drought tolerant, but also be able to withstand short periods where they may be standing in water.
  • Plants in containers will often get root bound after a couple of years in a container.  It helps the plant if you take some time to pull the plant out of the container and prune the roots every couple of years.

I am sure there are others to add to this list, but here are a few trees worth considering for growing in a container.  Many pine species, Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtuse), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’), Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), Weeping yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’), and Thornless honey locust (Gleditsia tracanthos ‘Inermis’).
Trees grown in containers near door.
Many plants when forced to grow in containers will develop smaller leaves and shorter growth.  This is often seen in plants grown for bonsai.  The one thing that doesn’t seem to miniaturize is the flower.  Small plants still produce regular sized flowers.

There are many shrub, perennials and annuals that will also grow well in containers.  When choosing shrubs pick cultivars that are known to be dwarf.  Choose plants according to the amount of sunlight they will be receiving when placed in the garden. 

There are also plants that will do well in tight spaces, like these tall narrow evergreens:  Spartan juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’), Skyrocket juniper (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Shyrocket’), Emerald Sentinal red cedar (Juniperus virginiana ‘Emerald Sentinel’), and others.  Here are a few narrow, upright shrubs that can be used in tight spaces:  Golden arborvitae (Thuja orientalis ‘Aurea Nana’), Hollywood juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa’), Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’), Nandina (Nandina domestica), Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica), and a few others.  Here are a few of the many shrubs that can be planted under windows that wont get tall enough to block the view:  Stokes holly (Ilex crenata ‘Stokes’), Dwarf nandinas (Nandina domestica ‘Harbor Dwarf’, ‘Fire Power’, and others), Crimson Pygmy barberry (Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea ‘Crimson Pygmy’), Winter daphne (Daphne odora), Carissa Holly (Ilex cornuta ‘Carissa’), Dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’, ‘Shelling’s Dwarf’ and others).

For more information on plants that will fit into tight spaces, contact the Johnston County Master Gardeners at 989-5380 or jcemastergardener@gmail.com.  The plants listed in this article are from The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists.

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 Spotlight Plant banner
 Solomon's Seal flowers
Solomon's Seal Flowers

 Polygonatum biflorum

Solomon’s Seal

Solomon’s Seal is a perennial plant that is native to North Carolina, usually found in wooded areas that have light shade or partial shade.  It prefers soils that are moist but well drained.  The stems of Solomon’s Seal are long and arching, giving this plant a very casual appearance.  The leaves are alternate and are held on a flat plain.  

The flowers are very inconspicuous.  They hang below the leaf of the plant and are a greenish white in color.  They can usually be found in pairs as they bloom in spring.  If the flowers get pollinated, a round, bluish-black berry is formed during the summer.

For the garden with a lot of shade, consider this perennial beauty as an addition to the garden.

 Variegated Solomon's Seal
Variegated Solomon's Seal
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Hand holding clipboard          Announcements banner heading            Hand holding clipboard

May 2 – Master Gardeners will be at Lowe's 40/42 from 10am until noon to answer gardening questions.

May 16 – Master Gardeners will be at Hudson’s Hardware in Clayton to answer gardening questions from 10am until noon.

May 30 – Master Gardeners plant sale form 9am until noon.  This sale will be at the Johnston County Agriculture Center, 2736 NC highway 210, Smithfield, NC 27577

May 30Rain barrel workshop at the Agriculture Center.  Cost is $35.00 to learn how to make a rain barrel and take a barrel home Call 989-5380 or e-mail shawn_banks@ncsu.edu to reserve your space.

June 25 – Summer Training and Pruning Workshop at the Central Crops Research Station, 13223 US 70 Business, Clayton from 6:30pm until 8:00pm.  Call 989-5380 to let us know you are coming.

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 Insect Investigator banner Fire ant individual up close
Individual fire ant
 Red Imported Fire Ants

 Solenopsis invicta

Fire ant mound under a holly tree.Fire ant mound under holly tree.
To identify this pest you should look for a mound of what looks like sand or loose dirt.  The mound most often will be found in an open area or on the edge of an open area.  If the mound is disturbed the ants boil out of the mound to defend it and drive away any predators.

There are many effective ways to treat this pest.  The least expensive is to use a bait product, sprinkling it around the mound, not on top.  The ants will forage for food when temperatures are between 70 and 85 degrees F.  While the ants are foraging for food is also a good time to apply the powder controls.  Powders need to be track back into the mound.  Drenches are best used when most of the ants are inside the mound such as cool mornings or evenings in the spring or hot afternoons in the summer.  Most drenches require tow or three gallons of water to carry the poison deep into the mound.

If a fire ant stings you and the area begins to swell more than 1/8th of an inch, you need to see a doctor as you are likely experiencing an allergic reaction.

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 Gardening to-do Banner


  • Don't fertilize
    cool-season turfgrass (fescue, bluegrass). It has been growing actively
    all winter, and it will begin to go dormant as summer heats up. Let it
    slow down naturally, and it'll be better able to withstand the heat and
    drought of summer.
  • Call for a Lawn Maintenance Calendar
    for your type of turf.  It tells you how to care for your lawn month by
    month – such things as fertilization, mowing and watering.Winter weeds in lawn
  • Most
    of the weeds you see now are winter annuals.  The time to control these
    was last August.  In a couple of weeks, the weather will be too hot for
    these winter annuals, and they will start dying.  For this reason, it
    is a waste of time and money to spray them with herbicide.  The best
    thing to do is mow them before they produce and spread seed around and
    put it on your calendar to spray for them in August.
  • Warm-season grasses such as Bermuda, Zoysia or Centipede can be planted now.
  • Mow cool-season grasses, such as fescues, at a height of 3 – 3 1/2 inches to help them survive hot, dry periods.


  • Pinch
    your plants. Use your index finger and thumbnail to break out the lead
    growth at tips of branches. Pinched plants have shorter, sturdier
    stems, more lateral branching and more blooms. Pinch back mums, zinnia,
    salvia, cockscomb (celosia), petunias, marigolds, snapdragons, and
    garden phlox.canna's in flower
  • It's time to plant summer beauties such as gladiolus, dahlias, caladiums and cannas and all those colorful bedding plants.
  • Dead or diseased limbs on woody ornamentals should be apparent by now.  Prune them out.
  • Stake
    floppy plants, such as peonies, dahlias, and Boltonia (Michaelmas
    daisy), while they're small, so they'll have support when they need
    it.  After plants have grown large, they can be injured by staking.
  • Cut
    roses properly.  Removing too much wood and foliage when cutting
    flowers can seriously weaken your rosebushes, especially during the
    first year. Leave 2-3 well developed leaves (groups of five leaflets,
    not three) between the cut and the main stem.
  • Grow great
    bearded iris  by giving them excellent drainage, fertile soil,
    sunshine, and beds free of competing weeds and grass. Divide frequently
    (in August) for larger and finer blooms.
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs after they bloom.  The best time to prune azalea, rhododendron,Forsythia in bloom
    forsythia, spirea, flowering quince, kerria, pieris, and weigela is
    just as flowers begin to fade.  Don't wait till summer, or you'll cut
    off next year's flower buds.  To keep your shrubs ever young, prune
    one-third of the oldest canes back to the ground each year.
  • Prune wisteria frequently throughout the summer, to control vegetative growth and get better blooms next spring.
  • Keep
    dogwoods healthy.  Spot anthracnose and powdery mildew are two major
    disease problems that show up on dogwood trees in late spring and
    summer.  To help dogwoods overcome diseases: keep them watered,
    maintain soil fertility, and clean up fallen leaves to minimize the
    spread of the disease.
  • Mulch! Prepare for dry summer
    weather and control weeds at the same time by using a layer of mulch
    2-3" thick.  Read more about the benefits of mulch in this Horticulture Information Leaflet from NC State University.
  • Banish bermudagrass (Wiregrass) from your planting beds. Keep it pulled to prevent it from overrunning your garden.
  • Plant seeds of annual vines such as moonflower, scarlet runner beans or passionflower.
  • Mix
    plants with the same growing requirements in your container gardens. 
    Do not mix sun-loving and shade-loving plants together in the same


  • Plant
    veggies now that the soil is warm and the danger of frost is past. Sow
    seeds of beans, squash, cucumbers, and corn. Set out transplants of
    tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and okra. https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/ag-06.htmlslug on letuce
  •   Pinching also works well for many vegetable plants, including tomatoes and peppers.
    Watch for slugs. These soft, slimy, slender pests have a special taste
    for tender young crops.  Holes in leaves or on the leaf margins and a
    silvery slime trail in the morning indicate a slug feast the previous
    night.  Slugs hide under boards, stones or debris during the day. Call
    for a bulletin on control of slugs.
  •   Train and support tomatoes, pole beans, peppers and eggplants.
  •   Side dress sweet corn when it is knee-high
  •   Make consecutive plantings of beans over a few weeks to extend your harvest.


  • Potatoes used as a foundation plantingPlant
    vegetables in your flowerbeds! Eggplant, pepper varieties, and cherry
    tomatoes make colorful additions to the garden. Bush beans and climbing
    beans have attractive foliage and charming small flowers. Vegetables
    can also mingle with flowers in pots on a patio or deck.
  • Welcome
    back hummingbirds! Females will be in the area first; the males will
    follow soon. Salvias, honeysuckles, penstemons, and other tube-shaped
    flowers, especially red ones, will attract hummingbirds to your garden.
    Fill feeders with a solution of 1 part sugar in 4 parts water. Wash
    feeders and replace the food at least twice a week.

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 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 jcemastergardener@gmail.com

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