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The Gardener’s Dirt October 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

Life in the Soil

By Tony LaVerde
Extension Master Gardener

My first gardening experience did not produce the results I was expecting. What I saw in magazines and catalogs, I was not able to duplicate in my garden bed.  My gardening knowledge was limited to, digging a hole in the soil, dropping in a plant and sprinkling synthetic fertilizer around the plant.  This method will not produce optimum results over the long term.  The reason, over time the soil is being depleted of its life giving nutrients.

So what is a gardener to do? Glad you asked!  We need to give life back to the soil by replenishing the nutrients being used during the growing process.

We can accomplish this by planting Cover Crops.  Cover Crops are living mulch.  Plants specifically grown to protect and improve the soil. Like traditional mulches, cover crops smother weeds, enrich the soil with humus, increase nutrients available to growing plants, and provide winter protection. Cover crops can be grown in winter or summer.  Some examples of a winter cover crop are oats, peas, barley, annual rye, and red clover.  In summer foxtail millet, buckwheat and white clover are some examples.  Each crop has a specific use.  Some are used to increase nitrogen in the soil while others are used to add organic matter to the soil and improve soil quality.

Buckweat cover cropWhen I first broke ground on my garden plot, I discovered hard, compacted soil low in organic matter.  After a soil test, I discovered the soil was also lacking some vital nutrients required to grow heavy feeders like broccoli and sweet corn.  After my first summer growing season, I planted my first cover crop.  I chose mammoth red clover for nitrogen fixing and its ability to break up hard soil.  I also mixed in some winter rye for weed control.  I use white clover between garden rows for weed control, as it is also tough enough to walk on.  For weed control in bare spots, buckwheat is my choice because it attracts beneficial insects such as bees.

In early spring when the soil is not wet, tilling under these winter cover crops will provide organic matter that will help loosen soil, provide food for soil dwelling organisms, hold moisture, and provide nutrients to the next crop.  As a result, plants will be healthier, less prone to disease, and will require fewer fertilizers and pesticides. Thus, by feeding the soil with cover crops the soil will feed your plants.

To determine the soils fertility and relative acidity (ph), take a soil sample and have it tested.  The test results will provide information on lime and nutrients needed for optimum plant growth.  Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for information on how to obtain soil test boxes and forms.  The publication, “A Gardeners Guide to Soil Testing” is available online at: http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/agcomm/publications/Ag-614.pdf

Cover Crop seed can be purchased at local farm supply stores, garden centers, or on-line suppliers such as Superseeds.com, peacefulvalley.com and Territorialseed.com.

Happy Gardening

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Spotlight Plant banner

Fruit Trees

Peach tree healthy
Peach tree
When deciding to plant fruit trees there are a few things to consider.  Some trees come in different sizes.  Apples, for example, have the option of dwarf (10’ or smaller), semi-dwarf (10’ – 16’), or standard (over 16’).  When these options are available, pick a size that will fit into the available space.

Maintenance tasks should be considered when selecting the size of the tree.  Smaller trees are easier to prune, thin the fruit, harvest, and spray than larger trees are.  By keeping trees smaller you may also be able to plant a wide variety of fruit trees. 

Pollination is another consideration.  Many fruit trees are not self-fertile, meaning they need another variety to pollinate them.  A good example of this is a golden delicious apple needs an apple of another variety like a red delicious in order to produce fruit.

Local varieties or varieties that were bred in the region they will be growing do better than varieties that were bred for another climate.  Ask friends, neighbors, garden centers, and the local Cooperative Extension Agent what varieties do well in your region.

To extend the harvest select varieties that mature at different times.  Most fruit of one variety will all ripen at about the same, by selecting varieties that ripen early, mid, and late season you can enjoy fruit over a longer period of time.

For more information on growing fruit trees in your backyard, contact your local office of N.C. Cooperative Extension.

Apples on a tree.
Apples on a tree
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Hand holding clipboard          Announcements banner heading            Hand holding clipboard

The Johnston County Cooperative Extension Service is sponsoring the annual Fruit & Nut Tree Sale.  All orders along with payment are due by Friday, November 13, 2009.  Orders along with payment can be sent to Johnston County Cooperative Extension Service, Fruit Tree Sale, 2736 NC Highway 210, Smithfield, NC 27577.  For more information and an order form click here or call 919 989-5380.

October 24 from 10:00am until 6:00pm Smith’s Nursery is having a Fall Festival.  There will be food, drink, and fun for the entire family.  For more information visit www.upickberries.com.

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Insect Investigator banner  Green June Beetle
Green June Beetle Adult
Green June Beelte

Cotinis nitida L.

 Green June Beetle Grub
Green June beetle Larva
The green June beetle is a member of the scarab beetle family Scaragaiedae.  The adults are large green beetles that look like Japanese beetles on steroids.  The adults don’t usually cause much landscape damage.  What they do eat is usually soft, fleshy fruits like tomatoes and figs.  Mostly these large beetles fly around looking for a mate and a good place to lay eggs.  The females burrow about 8 inches down into turf areas where they will lay around twenty eggs in each hole.  

Its the grubs doing most of the damage and causing concern in the landscape.  The grubs reach full size in a couple of months reaching lengths of 2 inches with a girth about the size of a finger.  They tunnel through the soil aerating it, and feeding on grass roots and thatch.  In large numbers, they may create too much air space in the root zone of the turf causing it to suffer from drought stress.

Most people will notice these grubs in August and September when they leave the ground in the early dawn to move from one location to another.  When exiting the soil, they push small mounds of soil out with them.  One key characteristic for identifying this grub is that it crawls on its back when above ground.  This year several people have noticed lots of these grubs moving across driveways and sidewalks.  Stephen Bambara, an Entomologist at NC State University, suggests that two years of drought (2007 and 2008) suppressed the number of grubs those years.  With adequate rainfall this year, we have seen an explosion in the grub population.

A native predator of these grubs is a wasp (Scolia dubia) that is mostly dark, even the wings, with a small brown section near the end of the abdomen with two yellow dots on it.  The wasp is about one inch long, and is usually found flying low to the ground over grassy areas.  It is not aggressive toward people because it is focused on finding grubs to lay eggs in to feed its young.

To control large numbers of this grub in the home lawn, the North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual suggests Sevin as being the chemical of choice.  Be sure to read and follow label directions for safe use of any chemical.

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Gardening to-do Banner
Fall 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 fertility.
  • 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 infection.


  • 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 annuals.
  • 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 up. 
  • Build a cold frame to plant cool-weather vegetables for harvest into early winter.  For further details visit https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/johnston/homehort2/howto.html#COLD_FRAME
  • 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 ventilation.
  • 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 jcemastergardener@gmail.com

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