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The Gardener’s Dirt November 2011


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
Featured Plant 
Yard Villain
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.


Fruit and Nut Tree SaleOrder forms are now available.  We have added persimmon to the list of plants available and the peach trees will be on Gaurdian rootstock for better nematode resistance. Orders forms and checks should be returned to Johnston County Cooperative Extension, 2736 NC 210 Highway, Smithfield, NC 27577 by Thursday, November 10.

Other Events through Cooperative Extension – Call to register for these events 989-5380.

· Chill your Bill: Home Energy Conservation – November 8; 5:30pm – 7:30pm

Nickles for Know-How Referendum – Wednesday, November 16; 7:30am – 4:30pm
For more details and where to vote click here.

Events at Johnston Community College – These events have a fee and people interested in attending these events should pre-register on their website or by calling 919 209-2052.

Fruits and Berries – Wednesday, November 9; 6:30pm – 8:30pm.  What growes best and how to care for them.

Soap Crafting – Wednesday, November 30; 6:00pm – 8:00pm.  Hands-on soap making workshop.

Howell Woodstock – Saturday November 12; 12:00 noon – 7:00pm.  Visit Howell Woods and see this amazing property including the nature trails and live animal eshibits.  The day will be filled with educational opportunities and things to do for adults and children alike.  Some activities include mule team wagon rides, solar and lunar observing through telescopes, a guided nature walk, and making s’mores around a bonfire.  Visit their website  or call 919 938-0115 to learn more about this funfilled, family activity.

Estension Master Gardener Volunteer Training – January 18, 2012 through April 18, 2012.  Classes will be held on Wednesday evenings this time.  If you are interested in becoming an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Contact Shawn Banks by e-mail or 919989-5380.


Overwintering Tender Plants

By Shawn Banks

This topic is near and dear to my heart.  My wife and I have several tender plants we like to overwinter each year.  Overwintering plants has the advantage of saving money in the spring by not having to purchase new plants.  However, it can also have the disadvantage in the fall of being a bit of a hassle collecting the plants and moving them to a protected area.  Here are some things you can do to save some of these tender plants through the winter.

  • Some plants have storage organs.  Plants like caladiums, elephant ears (Colocasia), ornamental sweetpotato, and a few others have bulbs, tubers, or roots that can be dug in the fall before a hard freeze.  The storage organs should be allowed to dry in a warm dry location with good air circulation.  Once they are dry the remaining dirt can be left on or gently brushed off before storing them in an open container surrounded by something loose and dry like wood shavings, vermiculite, peat moss or something similar.  Store them in a cool (40 – 50OF), dark area until after the danger of frost in the spring.  Remember to label each tuber, root, or bulb when it is stored, so the will be easily identified when putting them back in the ground where they can grow again in the spring.
  • Plants that don’t have storage organs that you may want to save for next year might include annuals like coleus or herbs like basil.  Many of these plants are easy to root from cuttings.  I like to take three to six cuttings from Cuttings in three stagesthese plants to be sure I get at least one to root.  If I know the plant needs a rooting hormone to produce roots I’ll use one.  The procedure for rooting a cutting is a simple one.  Take a cutting that is about six to eight inches long from the tip of the plant.  Strip the lower leaves off the cutting leaving between 2 and 4 leaves at the tip of the cutting.  Prepare some moist soil in a three or four inch plant pot and stick at least one node (area where the leaf was removed from the plant) into the moist soil.  Place the container and cutting into a plastic bag that can be sealed and seal the bag.  The bag acts like a mini greenhouse.  Place the bag with the plant in a well-lit area but not in direct sunlight.  In four to eight weeks depending on the plant, you will see new growth.  At this point open the bag and give the plant a slight tug.  If the plant doesn’t come out of pot, then it has roots and the bag can be left open and cared for like any other potted plant until spring when you will gradually move it outside to plant it in the yard again.
  • Tropical shrubs including hibiscus, bird of paradise, ficus, and others are another category of plants that need to be considered.  They are too big to take a cutting, and simply storing the root system won’t guarantee the plant will regrow next spring.  These plants should be moved into a protected area where the temperatures won’t get cold enough to kill the plants during the winter.  Some people may have a heated garage where the plants can be moved in and out according to how cold the temperatures are outside.  This is probably the best situation for the plant, because it gets some direct sunlight on the days it is outside.  Others aren’t lucky enough to have a garage and have to move the plants into the house.  Before moving the plants inside inspect the plants closely for insects such as spider mites, aphids, and white flies.  Also check the container for ants, slugs, and other insects that may hide in the soil.  If any insects are found, it’s best to control them before moving the plant indoors.  When possible put the entire pot into a bucket or tub of water to force any soil dwelling insects out of the container.  The plant’s roots will be fine if they are submerged for up to 30 minutes then drained before bringing the plant into the house.  Mild insecticides like insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils can be used to kill any insects hiding on the foliage and stems before moving the plant indoors.

When moving potted plants inside for the winter or taking cuttings of tender annuals, be sure to place the plants in an area with a lot of light, especially if the plants have been out in full sun.  Plants may go through a period of transplant shock when first moved into the house.  Symptoms include leaf yellowing and drop.  This is completely normal.  Even if the plant was only in part shade, the amount of light they will receive inside the house will be significantly less than what they received outside.  The leaves need to adjust to the new growing conditions.

Plants won’t need as much water inside the house as they did when they were outside.  Keep a check on the plants and water them as needed.  This may be as frequently as once a week or as infrequently as once a month.  They don’t need to become completely dry, but if the soil is not allowed to dry to some degree between watering a problem with fungus gnats or even root rot may develop.

By spring the plants may be a little leggy, but they will be happy to moved back out into the fresh air and sunshine.

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Stapelia gigantea
Velvet Cactus

by Connie Schultz

I never used to like cactus much until I lived in the desert near Palm Springs. This Stepelia stem close upbarren, hostile environment with summer temperatures that routinely got up to 120, spawned weirdly wonderful and exotic plants like the Ocotillo with its red flame-like blossoms at the tips on its long, bare, thorny branches or the beautiful palo verde tree with its green photosynthetic bark, bare branches and bower of yellow flowers or the desert willow with its orchid-like purple blossoms.  But I grew to appreciate and even love the austere beauty of the desert, lovely sunsets and the weird but wonderful plants found there. That’s where my fascination with cactus and succulents began – the odder, the better!

Stepelia flowerbudAfter being “bitten” by some of my cactus while caring for them, I became particularly fond of thornless varieties like the Velvet Cactus or stapelia gigantea.  Early this October when my stapelia began to bloom, it was a much anticipated event that I look forward to.  Also called the Carrion Flower or Starfish Flower, the Velvet Cactus is a succulent with deeply ribbed, fat stems, toothed along the angles (see in the photo below) with a velvety surface. It produces large flowers up to 20 cm across with a pale yellow color and transverse red lines covered with purplish or crimson hairs, exuding an odor which attracts its chief pollinator, the fly.

As the bud appeared and began to swell, my anticipation began to grow too until at last the flower opened. The bloom is wonderfully weird with its large star-shaped flower, hairy petals, weird squiggly pattern and, of course, the tiny flies.  Within a few days, the flower Stepelia flower fully openhad crumpled up. It was over for this year. Now as the nights get cooler, it’s been moved indoors for the winter. In its native South Africa it would be comfortable in Zone: 9. Here they require full sun (can withstand extreme heat) and need only moderate water during the growing season and a cool, dry rest period during the winter. Stapelia gigantea can be propagated by taking stem cuttings in the spring when new growth begins and letting them callus for 2 -3 weeks before planting. Plant in a well-drained soil mixture (2 parts loam to 1 part sharp sand) with small pebbles mixed in for drainage. (I use the commercially sold Cactus Soil Mix.)  Fertilize once during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer diluted to ½ strength.  I hope you enjoy this weird and wonderful plant!

Photos also provided by Connie Schultz

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Lamium amplexicaule L.


By Tina Stricklen

Henbit an annual cool season weed
Henbit picture from TurfFiles
Henbit weed in mulch
Henbit in the landscape
Henbit weed close up
Closer view

Some might say Henbit is a “pretty weed” with its whorls of blue/purple blooms while others like it for its “greening” effect when nothing else will grow in their lawn.  Henbit is a common weed that grows vigorously in the cool winter months, especially on warmer days.  It is classified as either an annual or biennial weed in our area.  As a member of the mint family, you can be assured that this plant, once established in your lawn can be a problem.  It is competitive in areas of compacted soils, thin or newly seeded lawn, and moist areas in the lawn. 

Improving the soil in your lawn with composted material as well as maintaining a dense lawn will help combat this weed.  Be sure to select a cultivar of grass that does well in your area and fertilize, water, and mow properly through the growing season.  If after trying these cultural control methods, you still have an infestation, you may need to up the ante and use chemicals.  Since henbit spreads via seeds, catching them early or during the active growing period is crucial.  If you have a cool season lawn, fall applications of broadleaf herbicides will be effective.  If you have a warm season lawn, application will be in fall or early spring.  If you have questions about herbicides or anything related to turf you can check out North Carolina State University’s online, one-stop source called Center for Turfgrass Environmental Research and Education.  Their web site is located at http://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/Default.aspx.



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Zingiber officinale
Cooking Ginger

By Shawn Banks

Ginger foliage in a greenhouseCooking ginger is commonly grown in the tropics.  It is hardy up to USDA hardiness zone 8.  Here in Johnston County we are on the border between zones 7 and 8.  Rather than take a chance the temperatures will drop too low (below 40OF) and kill the entire plant, it’s best to treat this as a tropical and keep it in a pot where it can be brought inside for the winter.

The pot should be a fairly good sized one, as the plant will grow to be about four feet tall.  The plant will send up several individual stems covered with leaves that are roughly ¾ of an inch wide and seven inches long.  Each stem is attached to the rhizome (underground stem) that can be found from 1 to 4 inches below the surface of the soil. 

It’s the rhizome that this plant is grown for.  The rhizome is aromatic.  People from many different cultures around the world use ginger in cooking to flavor drinks, fish, chicken and other meats.  Surprisingly enough it also has some medicinal properties, being used to help with several different ailments including coughs, sinusitis, flu, fever, stomach troubles, and motion sickness.

Recipe: Ginger beerGinger root ready for sale or planting


2 quarts of water

½ – ¾ cup grated ginger

Sugar to taste


Bring water to a boil and remove from heat.  Add grated ginger to hot water and let stand for 30 minutes.  Pour water through sieve into a pitcher to strain out the grated ginger.  Add sugar to taste.  Cool with ice or in the fridge before serving.




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  • Soil SamplingCollect soil samples for FREE testing, so you’ll know how much fertilizer & lime to add.  Test your lawn, flower beds & vegetable garden.  Testing should be done every 3 years.  The kits are available at the Cooperative Extension office.
  • Clean up and throw away any diseased plant material.  Do not throw it in a compost pile.  Leaving infected plant material (leaves, fruits, nuts) on on the ground or plants, provides a source of inoculum for re-infection next year.


  • Fertilize fescue lawns for winter.  The November fertilization (near Thanksgiving) is the most important one of the year for cool-season grasses. The soil is still warm enough to permit the growth of strong roots that will enable the grass to withstand next summer’s baking heat. Use a slow-release fertilizer formulated for turf, and apply according to soil test results.


  • Planting ShrubsFall is for planting! September through early February is an ideal time to plant deciduous trees/shrubs and perennials. Plant evergreen plants from September – November.  The cool weather permits establishment of a root system before next year’s hot weather. Find pictures of recommended planting techniques at: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-601.html
  • It’s time to move shrubs from one place to another. https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/brunswick/mastergardener/mg201113.html
  • Mulch shrubs/trees, perennials & herbs after the 1st killing frost for winter protection. Apply a layer 3″ deep. Mulch comparisons and general info: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-608.html Daffodils
  • Plant spring flowering bulbs as the weather turns cold. For best landscape effect, plant groups of bulbs in between shrubs, or scatter bulbs in wooded areas; avoid planting bulbs in straight lines.  Always plant quality bulbs.  Daffodils , Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanicus), and Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) are bulbs to consider. By contrast, Tulips and Dutch hyacinths decline after their first season and are best treated as annuals. Tips for planting/purchasing bulbs at: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-611.html 
  • Use shredded leaves as mulch.  Fallen leaves contain lots of nutrients, but they decompose slowly. Help the process along by grinding up yourCompost Pile leaves rather than sending them to the landfill.  You don’t need a shredder; simply rake the leaves into rows and run them over with a lawnmower.
  • Compost your yard waste! As you cut back your perennials in preparation for winter, think about returning that bounty to your garden in the form of compost.  Compost is nature’s favorite fertilizer and soil conditioner.  Recycle grass clippings, leaves, and non-diseased garden refuse.  For information on how to compost: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8100.html
  • Here are some tips on how to protect your plants from cold damage:https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-604.html 


  • Before you put those plants in the ground, consider this ….Landscape
  • Landscape with a plan. A well-thought-out landscape plan will produce a more “finished” effect.  Analyze your property and draw a simple map, noting which areas are sunny, shady, moist or dry.  Consider where you need evergreens for screening, shorter plants to maintain a view, and about creating a landscape that will be appealing throughout all four seasons. 
  • Put the right plant in the right place.  Choose plants well suited to the growing conditions in your yard.  We can provide many publications describing plants that are well-adapted to our county. Master Gardener Volunteers, nursery professionals, gardening books geared toward North Carolina are also excellent resources.
  • Allow space for plants to grow to their mature size.  A common mistake is placing a large or fast-growing plant where there is not enough room for its full height and spread.  The error results in continuous pruning in an attempt to keep the plant to a size nature never intended it to be.  Builders and beginning landscapers often place shrubs too close together, because the plants look so small when they come from the nursery.  Find out how large the plant can be expected to grow, and place them where they can fulfill their potential.
  • Put the garden to bed for the winter. Pull out all annuals that have completed their life cycle and cut back perennials.


  • HerbsWinterize your herb garden: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8112.html
  • Rototill the vegetable garden to expose harmful insect larvae and disease organisms to the cold and predators. You’ll be set to plant next spring instead of waiting for the soil to dry out enough for tilling.



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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.

Past Newsletters   Johnston County Lawn and Garden  

Written By

Photo of Angie FaisonAngie FaisonCounty Extension Support Specialist, 4-H Department, Horticulture, Field Crops (919) 989-5380 (Office) angie_faison@ncsu.eduJohnston County, North Carolina
Page Last Updated: 7 years ago
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