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The Gardener’s Dirt October 2008

October 2008


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


By Martha Castor
Johnston County Extension Master Gardener

Composting turns garden or yard waste into fertilizer for the soil.  It is full of nutrition and can be added back to the garden.

Compost needs four main ingredients to work.  Green waste provides the nitrogen.  Brown waste (the fiber) provides the carbon.  Water (compost should be as moist as a wrung out sponge) to keep the pile from drying out.  Microorganism will do the work of breaking down the organic matter.  If your compost doesn’t seem to be breaking down, buy a compost starter (this contains the microorganisms needed to get the composting process started).

There are many compost bins available commercially to choose from or you can construct one.  Composting can be done on the ground, but a bin is neater and discourages animals.  Layer or mix the different materials so they come in contact with each other and avoid large clumps.  Some of the things you can use in a compost pile include newspaper, leaves, grass clippings, eggshells, vegetables and fruit waste.  Do not use meat, bones, dairy products, plastics, fats, diseased plants, cat litter, or pet and human waste as these products will attract animals to the pile or spread diseases back to the garden.

For the fastest results turn your pile once every week or two.  Some of the plastic compost barrels can produce compost in as little as two weeks, depending on how often it is turned.  If you start in the fall with a well-designed compost pile, you should have useful compost by spring.

For more information on composting you can visit this website by the North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance http://www.p2pays.org/compost/composting101.asp , or there is also a publication by North Carolina Cooperative Extension on backyard composting that can be found at       https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/pdf/ag-467.pdf.

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 Spotlight Plant banner

Torch Lily or Red Hot Poker

Kniphofia uvaria

 Red hot poker in flower  The plant known as ‘red-hot poker’ or ‘torch Lilly’ should be grown in full sun.  Provide adequate spacing for these plants, which may spread to become up to three feet wide over time. Good drainage is essential to prevent crown rot, a disease that can stunt or kill this perennial.  Although they will survive periods of drought, they do better when they are given additional water during hot, dry weather.

The multi-colored flower spikes will reach 2 to 5 feet in height, depending on the cultivar being grown. The coloring of the flower spike may range from ivory and orange to coral red. If you have sufficient space, you can select several different varieties to provide colorful blooms from May through October!

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Hand holding clipboard          Announcements banner heading            Hand holding clipboard

Fruit and Nut Tree Sale October 1 through November 14.  The order form is available on the web at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/johnston/homehort2/08_Available_Plants.pdf or you can call or stop by the Extension Office (919) 989-5380 or 2736 NC Highway 210 Smithfield, NC 27577.  Orders with payments must be in by November 14, 2008.

The Arboretum at Johnston Community College is having a series of classes on how to propagate plants using different methods, and a field trip to Sarah P. Duke Gardens.  For more information visit http://www.johnstoncc.edu/locations/arboretum/EventsOct2008.pdf

Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center is having an event for the whole family on Saturday, October 25.  They are calling it Howell Woodstock.  For more information visit http://www.johnstoncc.edu/howellwoods/woodstockhome.aspx.

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 Insect Investigator banner  Grasshopper on grass1  



Grasshopper on grass2
There are a wide variety of grasshoppers in the world.  Many of them are herbivores (they eat vegetation) making them one of the biggest pests in horticultural plantings.  As the fields of soybeans and cotton are being harvested grasshoppers will be looking for a new source of food.  It is likely they will be passing through your neighborhood. 

Grasshoppers are closely related to katydids, crickets and locusts.  They can be caught and used as fish bait to catch large-mouth bass and other game fish.  They can also be controlled using one of the many chemicals used for controlling pests on ornamentals or vegetable crops, depending on where they have migrated.

For more information visit http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/course/ent425/compendium/orthop.html or one of the other links at the bottom of that page. 

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 Gardening to-do Banner

is for planting! Autumn is an ideal time to plant or transplant
deciduous trees/shrubs and perennials. Fall is also a great time to
till the soil and add organic material and lime.   The bed will have
plenty of time to "mellow" before next spring. Turning over the soil
also exposes harmful insects and grubs to predators.


  • Collect
    soil samples for testing.  Test your lawn, flowerbeds & vegetable
    garden.  Testing should be done every 2-3 years.  The kits and analysis
    are FREE.  Strong healthy plants start with proper soil pH and
  • Throw away any diseased plant material.  Do not
    put it in a compost pile.  Leaving infected plant material on the
    plants or on the ground provides a source of inoculum for next years


  • Pamper
    newly seeded fescue lawns. Little grass plants have very small, shallow
    roots.  Keep them watered.  Don't let falling leaves smother them.  Use
    a leaf blower on low power or rake very gently so you don't uproot the
    tender young plants.
  • If desired, Bermuda lawns may be overseeded with annual rye at a rate of 5 lbs/1000 sq ft.


  • Improve
    your clay soil.  Shrubs and perennials can drown and suffocate in
    sticky clay soils.  Loosening the soil and adding well-rotted compost,
    in a ratio of one part compost to two parts soil, allows plants to grow
    much better.  Mix it well with the soil, making a bed 8-12" deep. 
  • Use
    shredded leaves as mulch.  Fallen leaves contain lots of nutrients, but
    they decompose slowly.  Help the process along by grinding up your
    leaves rather than sending them to the dump.  Don't have a shredder? 
    Rake the leaves into rows and run over them with a mower, preferably
    one with a bagger attachment.
  • Plan for planting.  Buying
    on impulse can be costly and labor-intensive in the future.  Before
    hitting the stores, determine "What does this particular site need?" 
    Select plants that will do well in the available site conditions. 
    Consider the mature size of the plant, also.
  • Purchase
    spring-flowering bulbs and store them in a cool place until chilly
    weather sets in and you can plant them. Daffodils , Spanish Bluebells
    (Hyacinthoides hispanicus), and Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) are
    bulbs to consider. By contrast, Tulips and Dutch hyacinths decline
    after their first season in Johnston County, and are best treated as
  • Compost your yard waste! As you cut back
    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.  E.mail me for a copy of a publication on
    how to create compost.
  • Wait to prune trees and shrubs. 
    Pruning before dormancy may induce tender, new growth that will not
    have time to harden off before the first frost. 
  • Take cuttings of begonias, coleus, geraniums and impatiens to root and grow indoors during winter. 
  • Bagworms on Leyland CypressRemove
    bagworms from evergreens to greatly minimize their population numbers
    for next year.  The eggs for next years caterpillars are in the bag.
  • Trigger roses into dormancy by no longer deadheading spent flowers and allow rose hips to form. Christmas Cactus in bloom with red flowers
  • Avoid
    cool season weeds by applying the appropriate pre-emergent herbicide to
    plant beds and turf areas that had cool season weeds last year. 
  • Coddle
    Holiday Cactus  – Leave your holiday cactus outdoors in a spot that
    gets a few hours of bright sun and no light after dark. Give it regular
    water and fertilizer. The combination of attentive care, bright
    daytime, and long, dark nights sets the stage for heavy flower bud
    production in early winter.


  • Plant
    a cover crop in your vegetable garden. Legumes, such as clover and
    alfalfa, will enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen. Cover crops prevent
    erosion and can be turned over to decompose in the soil and provide
    needed organic matter.
  • Consider planting a fruit tree. 
    The ideal time to plant is December.  We will be starting our tree
    fruit and nut sale in October in preparation for delivery and planting
    in December.
  • Good sanitation is important for disease
    and insect control.  Thoroughly clean up fallen leaves and fruit. 
    Don’t forget fruit left hanging on trees.
  • Dig sweet potatoes  before frost. pecan nut and meat
  • Keep
    pecans picked up.  Weevil larva for next year’s populations will crawl
    out of the nuts and overwinter in the soil if the nuts are not picked
  • Build a cold frame to plant cool-weather vegetables
    for harvest into early winter.  For further details visit
  • If
    you are concerned that nematodes may be causing problems, NCDA offers a
    test for only $3.00 to check for nematodes.  The forms, boxes and bags
    are available at the Cooperative Extension office.


  • Store
    tender tubers – such as dahlia, caladium, gladiolus, geranium, and
    tuberous begonia – which may not overwinter in the garden.  Lift roots,
    tubers, or corms about the time of our first killing frost, just after
    their foliage dries.  Dig deep enough so that the roots will not be
    snapped apart when lifted from the soil. Leave soil around dahlia
    tubers, canna, and caladium roots. 
  • Store tubers in a
    dry, cool, frost-free place such as a basement. Do not store on back
    porch or in garage; these plants cannot withstand freezing. Also, store
    them where rodents will not eat them.
  • Geraniums can be
    overwintered in pots, or bare root in paper bags. Store in a garage or
    other building until soil dries and falls away from plant parts. Shake
    soil off roots and tubers, and cut away dried stem. Discard any plant
    parts that show soft spots or disease. Place tubers and roots in old
    sawdust or Mealybugs on the back of a leafpeatmoss, in a flat box or plastic bag with holes for
  • Check your houseplants for insects before
    bringing them indoors.  A few insects on plants outside can easily turn
    into a problem inside.   Giving plants a bath with mild soap often does
    a good clean up job.

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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 jcmastergardener@yahoo.com

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