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The Gardener’s Dirt August 2013

Picture of a hand spadeInformation you can really dig into

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.

Shawn Banks
Extension Agent
Agriculture—Consumer Horticulture



Develop Backyard Wildlife

By Deborah M. Crandall

As a gardener, have you ever considered your backyard as a well-thought-out habitat, attracting many different kinds of wildlife? Imagine developing a wildlife retreat that’s in harmony with plants and animals.

Developing your backyard wildlife habitat begins with a plan. There are “5-Basic Elements” to include as you develop a plan for a productive wildlife haven – cover, water, food, selection of plant materials and design.



Picture from http://www.asheville-mountain-magic.com/asheville-arboretum.html

Providing cover is more than just a shelter. It is a place where animals can escape from enemies, find refuge from the weather, and feel secure while resting. Different types of animals need different types of cover. For example, woodpeckers and flying squirrels require dead trees. Rabbits make nests in tall grass and weedy areas. A variety of cover types will attract more wildlife. Consider a combination of trees, bushes, brush piles and rock piles for best results.

Bats consume great quantities of insects. For this reason, many people like to have them around their gardens. Bats will use hollow trees, bat houses or attics to roost.

The size of your yard will determine the amount of cover you can provide. Even the smallest yard can hold a bird box and a few bushes to provide shelter for smaller wildlife.



Water.jpegWater is critical in attracting wildlife to your yard. Habitat that appears good may be unused if no water is nearby. Water is necessary for drinking and is sometimes used for bathing.

Water can be provided in a number of ways. A dripping hose or shallow dish placed near bushy cover can supply water for small mammals, reptiles and butterflies.

It is vital that water be available year-round. In the summer, water must be replaced regularly to ensure it’s fresh. During the winter, continue to keep it fresh and ice-free.


FoodMost gardeners know that different animals eat different foods. However, many gardeners don’t think about animals needing these foods at different times of the year. Birds that feed primarily on seeds may switch to insects while raising young in the spring.

To ensure these varied food needs are met, plant and encourage a variety of plant species. A flower garden will provide food for butterflies, honeybees, and hummingbirds. Grasses that are not mowed will provide seeds for many species of small animals and birds. In selecting a combination of plants you’ll be able to provide nuts, seeds, mast, fruits, berries and flower nectar to meet the needs of a wide variety of wildlife.


Selection of Plant Materials


Picture from http://www.ncarboretum.org/

Listed below are plant suggestions to include in your wildlife planting.

Trees for Birds

  • American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
  • American Holly (Ilex opaca)
  • Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
  • Crabapple (Malus spp.)

Shrubs for Birds

  • Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)
  • Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.)
  • Hollies – both evergreen and deciduous species (Ilex spp.)
  • Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)
  • Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera)


Nectar Plants for Hummingbirds, Butterflies and Bees

  • Aster (Aster spp.)
  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia alternifolia)
  • Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
  • Phlox (Phlox spp.)
  • Zinnia (Zinnia  spp.)



DesignSurvey your yard to find out what’s there and its value for wildlife. Develop a base map. Using graph paper, draw the property lines and mark the sites of all existing plant materials. Determine how much money you’ll be able to devote to the project. Consider whether you prefer to do the work yourself or hire a landscape firm to create and implement the plan.

Within the design, plan sites that will enable you to observe the wildlife. Place watering or feeding stations within view of a window. Place a bench where you can sit quietly to watch wildlife in action. Allow enough space within the design for wildlife to feed, breed, raise young and take cover.

Remember, the end product will take time. You can expect wildlife visits as soon as you have provided all their basic needs. Enjoy your new wildlife retreat!

Internet Sites:

Visions of a North Carolina Backyard Wildlife Habitat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EjGtVwQL7A

Attracting Wildlife to Your Home Landscape: UNL Extension Educator Dennis Ferraro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EWJ-wANC7k


Going Native: Urban Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants- http://www.ncsu.edu/goingnative/index.html

Extension Forestry- https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/forestry/resources/publications/wildlife.php

Attracting Wildlife to Your Home Landscape – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EWJ-wANC7k

Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants- http://www.ncsu.edu/goingnative/ag636_03.pdf

National Wildlife- http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/newsroom/features/

J.C. Raulston’s Slide & Photography Collections http://www.ncsu.edu/jcraulstonarboretum/photography/photography.php

The North Carolina Arboretum – http://www.ncarboretum.org/



Agapanthus africanus

By Brenda Clayton

Picture by: Brenda Clayton

Picture by: Brenda Clayton

Scientific Name:  Agapanthus is derived from the Greek agape, meaning love and anthos, meaning flower. Africanus is the country of origin.

Common Name:  Lily of the Nile

Country of Origin: Not only is it not a lily, Lily of the Nile does not hail from Egypt. It originates at the opposite end of Africa in the coastal mountains of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

Hardiness Zones:  USDA Zones 8-11. It will freeze if temperatures go below 28 degrees F so if you leave yours in the ground for the winter, site it near a brick foundation or other warm spot in your garden. Of course, growers are always pushing the sound – I mean, zone barrier. Monrovia now has an Agapanthusfor zone 6.

Size:  The leaves stand at 18-20”. The flower stems or scapes can be up to 6 feet tall. There are, however, a number of shorter and dwarf varieties. ‘Blue Storm’, introduced by Monrovia Nursery in 2002 stands 12” for foliage with 30” scapes. ‘Baby Pete’ is a new dwarf variety from Monrovia. The foliage is 12-15” tall with the flowers another 6” taller.

Leaves:  They are strap-like in shape and grow in clumps from the clusters of rhizomes.

Flowers:  The inflorescence is a 4”-5” globe of trumpet-shaped flowers on an erect scape, up to 6’ tall. Flower colors range from blue and violet to white and pink.

A 5-year old Agapanthus africanus ‘Blue Storm’ (dwarf variety mentioned above) can produce as many as 100 flowers from spring into summer. It has a uniform, compact growth habit with prolific, extended flowering that makes it suited for edging along walks, lawn, and driveways. It is also ideal for the middle of the border. Pair it with Tricolor Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea ‘Tricolor’ and Golden Nugget Japanese Barberry ‘Berberis thungergii ‘Monlers’ as well as Little Grapette Miniature Daylily (Hemerocallis x ‘Little Grapette’).

Agapanthus africanus ‘Baby Pete’ is almost seedless, so it is a non-stop bloomer all season.

Light:  Full sun is best. In hotter zones, afternoon shade is OK.

Moisture:  Likes regular watering, but not overwatering. When fully established in the garden, it is more drought tolerant. In containers, you would need to water daily.

General Culture:  Agapanthus africanus is a herbaceous perennial growing from fleshy rhizomes that blooms in spring to early summer. We generally see it in containers where it likes to be a little overcrowded. It is popular as a potted plant at poolsides, on decks and porches, and is even adaptable to seaside locations because of its salt tolerance. It can be brought inside during cold weather and placed in a sunny location.

If you choose to plant yours in the garden, you will need proper soil drainage and the soil should not be too acidic. 6.6 to 7.5 are the pH requirements. Water enough to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Do not allow it to dry out for a long period of time. Fertilize twice a month during spring and summer using a general purpose fertilizer diluted in water to half the strength recommended. Or you can use a 5-10-5 slow-release fertilizer once in the spring. Protect during the winter months with a layer of mulch, but remove the mulch as the weather warms up.

Agapanthus should be planted with their rhizomes 2” deep (4”-6” in colder climates). If planted too shallow, the plant will dry out too quickly. If planted too deep, it will waste energy pushing the growing tips through the soil and may remain too moist, increasing the chances of rot.

Propagation:  Propagation by plant division is best done in early fall or early spring. Dig the existing plant and separate root clumps with your fingers to untangle the rhizomes. Use a sharp knife if the roots are extremely tangled. Replant at the same depth. Water in the division and continue watering weekly until the plant is settled. You can also propagate using ripe seed from the flower head, gathered at the end of summer.

Pests and Diseases:  There are few. Aphids can be treated with a soap and water solution. Wash leaves gently. Be on the lookout for slugs and snails. Soil that holds water will cause root rot, so be sure you use plenty of organic matter and perlite to aerate clay soil and improve drainage. Agapanthus is deer resistant, but not deer proof. They leave the foliage alone, but like the flowers.

Warning:  Agapanthus can be toxic. Do not plant where small children and pets have easy access. The sap can be irritating to the skin or cause an allergic reaction, so use gloves when pruning or handling broken stems. Wash any skin that comes in contact with the plant with warm soapy water.







Canning Workshop – Dehydrating

Saturday, Aug 17, 2013 from 9am -1pm

The canning workshop will be held at the Johnston County Cooperative Extension office at 2736 NC 210 Hwy, Smithfield, NC. Come and learn how to dehydrate meat, fruits and vegetables. Registration Fee is $20. The deadline to register is Friday, Aug 9th. To register, call 919-989-5380 and ask for Nikki.

Extension Master Gardener Volunteers will at Clayton Farm and Community Market in Clayton on Saturday, Aug. 17th from 9am to 1pm to answer questions and help diagnose pest problems.

Gardening A-ZBeginning Wednesday, August 14 at 6:30pm at the Clayton Community Center located at 715 Amelia Church Road in Clayton will be a gardening class. The class will last 1 1/2 hours from 6:30pm until 8:00pm and will meet each Wednesday from August 14 until Oct.16. The cost of the class is $20 to cover materials and supplies. To register for the class call 919 553-1550 or visit the website and look under Nature Programs.

For accommodations for persons with disabilities, contact Bryant Spivey at 919-989-5380 no later than five business days before the event.



Copperhead Snakes

Agkistrodon contortrix

By Shawn Banks

For some reason unknown to me, nobody wanted to write this article. I guess even the thought of a poisonous snake scares many people. This year, with all the rain and high water driving both the snakes and their food source to higher ground, it’s a good time to learn a little about this particular snake.

Picture by: Steve Karg

Picture by: Steve Karg

More people are bitten by copperhead snakes than by any other poisonous snake in the United States. They are often bitten while trying to kill the snake. Most snakes have some kind of warning system if you get too close. For example, rattlesnakes shake their tail to let you know you need to back off. Cottonmouth snakes will rear their head and open their mouth (in essence showing you their fangs) as a warning to back off. The warning from a copperhead snake is to strike first and ask questions later. This is according to research done in Georgia.

Copperheads are social snakes, meaning they like to live in groups with other snakes, copperheads, rattlesnakes, even rat snakes. They migrate to their dens for the winter, and then migrate to hunting grounds in the summer. This community living evidently benefits all the snakes involved.

Copperheads also give birth to live young. The mother carries the unhatched eggs around inside her for the entire gestation period, which could be from 3 to 9 months. The newly born snakes are 7 to 10 inches in length and have venom just as toxic as the adults. A snake cannot mate until it is 4 years old. The bigger the mother snake the more young she can have.

One last fun fact about this interesting creature is that adults eat mostly mice (very beneficial in my mind). They also eat small snakes, lizards, small birds, and insects. They seek out their prey with heat-sensitive pits between their eyes and nostrils. When it finds something warmer than its environment, it strikes. If the prey is small, it holds it in its mouth while it dies. If the prey is larger, it lets the venom do its work then tracks down the prey and eats it. Young copperheads eat mostly insects (again beneficial).

Don’t take me wrong. Anything with a philosophy ‘strike first and ask questions later’ needs to be avoided when possible. Snakes, copperheads included, will run and hide if given enough advanced notice when humans are in the area. If you do happen to see a copperhead, stay away, don’t play.


How Dangerous are Copperhead Snakes? Gaston County Cooperative Extension


Fact Sheets; Northern Copperhead, Smithsonian http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/reptilesamphibians/facts/factsheets/northerncopperhead.cfm



The Common Fig

Ficus carica

By: Beth Raines

FigsI inherited a fig tree when I bought my North Carolina home some six years ago. I did not know what it was until a visitor exclaimed, “Oh, you have a fig tree!” That was in the fall, so I had to wait patiently until the next summer to see if I would have fruit. I did, but was too nervous to try such an “exotic” thing. So I took some fruit to work to see if anyone would want to try one. There were many unwilling, some uncertain like me, and a few very excited co-workers. When I saw those very excited few devouring the figs like their last meal, I decided to be brave and try one. I timidly bit into one – it was love at first bite! From that moment on I have enjoyed eating them right off the tree, using them to make and can preserves, as well as using them in a variety of tasty recipes. I still take some fruit to work when the harvest gets out-of-hand, but I have become rather greedy with my annual bounty.

Consulting the Johnston County Cooperative Extension website, I learned that my fig tree variety is likely a Brown Turkey (aka Texas Everbearing or Harrison). Along with Celeste, and Brunswick (also called Magnolia), Brown Turkey are known to grow well in North Carolina. My Brown Turkey has a small early July harvest followed a few weeks later by a more extended second harvest. This is common with this variety. Other varieties have one full harvest that usually starts around mid-July.

Fresh figs taste best when picked fully ripe. They should be eaten, preserved, or used fresh in a recipe that same day, if possible. This is because of our high level of humidity in July in North Carolina. If you pick fruit a day or two before it is fully ripe, you will have a bit longer refrigerated storage time, but the figs will not fully develop their deliciousness like those ripened on the tree.

Because figs do well in many types of soils and need little pruning or pest control, they’re a good fit for casual gardeners. Bare-root trees can be set out anytime from late fall to early spring, but waiting until danger of severe cold weather passes is best. Fertilize each year with a balanced fertilizer using one cup per year of age of the tree. Mulching with leaves or pine straw helps with moisture and weed control. That is really all you need to do. And truth be told, I did not do any pruning, mulching, or fertilizing of my tree in the first few years, and it produced very well.

Choosing a recipe to post was very difficult as I have so many favorites, but I finally settled on Fresh Fig Salsa. This has proved to be very popular with fig lovers and the uncertain group as well. I don’t try more than once to convince someone to try some though. That just means more for me.

LibidofigsFresh Fig Salsa (recipe from calfreshfigs.com)

2 ½ cups diced fresh figs (8-10 large)

½ small red onion, diced

1 firm ripe tomato, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 Jalapeno pepper, stem & seeds removed, diced

2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

2 Tbsp olive oil

Combine figs, onion, and tomato in bowl. Season with salt & pepper. Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix together and let stand for at least 1 hour to meld flavors. Yield: 3 cups


Figs for North Carolina @ https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/quickref/fruit-small/figs

Fig Culture in North Carolina @ http://www.johnstonnc.com/mainpage.cfm?category_level_id=299&content_id=930



The dog days of summer have begun!


Collect soil samples for testing so you’ll know how much fertilizer and lime to add this fall. Test your lawn, flowerbeds and vegetable garden using the free kits from Cooperative Extension. Testing should be done once every 3 years.

Water deeply but infrequently this encourages a deep and extensive root system for better drought tolerance.

Control fungal diseases by watering early in the morning, allowing the sun to dry water droplets from the foliage.


Prepare your lawn for fall seeding. August is the best time to prepare for planting cool season grasses for the optimal planting time, which is the second half of September. Call the Cooperative Extension Service for more information on establishing and maintaining a fescue lawn.

If the plan is to completely redo a fescue lawn from scratch, now is the time to eliminate all grass and weeds. Non-selective herbicides are most effective. An alternative is a process called “solarization”. This is a process that bakes weeds under a covering of clear plastic.

Water the lawn when the grass blades are just starting to curl or

footprints remain on the lawn when you walk across it. Watering too often encourages plants with a shallow root system that do not handle drought well.

Maintenance needs are different for each grass type. Call Cooperative Extension for a Lawn Maintenance Calendar for your grass type. Information on fertilizer amounts and timing along with mowing heights are included.


Plan for Fall Bulbs – Autumn-blooming crocus and colchicum add color in the fall. Since these bulbs are not always available locally, consider ordering them now from a mail-order source. They need to be planted in September.

Mulch trees and shrubs with a 2-3” layer of mulch to keep roots cool, conserve moisture, and control competing weeds and grasses. Avoid mulching more than 4 inches deep, and leave 3-4 inches between mulch and the trunk of the tree/shrub. Shrubs hiding doors and windows

Avoid pruning shrubs and trees during late summer. Pruning stimulates new growth which will not have sufficient time to harden off before cold weather.

If a foundation shrub is overgrown and blocks a window or creates a security risk, some pruning is needed. Remove as little live wood as possible now, then plan to do more drastic pruning in February. Consider replanting using a shrub whose mature size will not require pruning for that area.

Avoid nitrogen fertilizers during late summer. New growth at this time of year is vulnerable to frost damage in the fall. If your soil test shows you need to add phosphorus or potassium to your soil, go ahead and add them now. These nutrients will help your plants withstand the winter.

Make your wisteria work! If you are being overtaken by wisteria, root prune it. Prune roots and runners underground by inserting a sharp spade to its full depth in a semi-circle about 6 feet from the main stem of established plants. This will curb its growth and induce more blooms next spring.

Cut back leggy impatiens and other summer flowers, then fertilize them. They’ll regrow within a few weeks, and look great up till frost.


Examine fruit trees periodically for scale infestations and mark with flagging tape. Applying summer or horticultural oil can keep them from getting out of hand. If you let them go until winter, that tiny infestation will be a monumental invasion!

Caring for Strawberries – Now that strawberries have finished bearing, prolong their life by cutting off the tops without injuring the crown. Also, thin plants to 12 inch spacing. Fertilize with 1/2 pound of 5-10-10 per 25 sq. ft. Weed and apply mulch to conserve moisture and reduce weed growth. Plan on starting a new strawberry bed every three years.

Allow Peppers to Turn Red – Peppers allowed to turn red will be sweeter and higher in beta carotene. Even jalapenos which are traditionally harvested green, mature to tasty red peppers.

Fill in empty spaces in the garden with fall crops of lettuce, collard, and other cool-weather vegetables. Even beans planted in late summer can produce a crop before frost.

Watch your squash plants for sudden wilting. A second generation of squash vine borers is hatching. You may be able to save the plant by removing the caterpillar, then covering the injured area of the vine with moist soil to encourage rooting.


Look for interesting plants in nurseries which can be added to the garden this fall.

Late bloomers add color and life to the steamy August garden. Visit botanical gardens and arboreta or ask the neighbor down the street to see what is blooming in the area this time of the year.

Consider ornamental grasses with their light airy texture that will look good well into the winter.

Keep Extra Containers for Instant Color – Plant some extra flowering containers periodically for backup color. When one starts looking spent, you can move another into its place. Replant the old one or take it to the plant hospital for recuperation.

*** If you would like to receive this newsletter monthly via email, send an email to shawn_banks@ncsu.edu asking to be added to The Gardener’s Dirt email list.


If you have gardening questions you would like to have answered contact the Extension Master Gardener Volunteers by phone at (919) 989-5380 or by e-mail at jcemastergardener@gmail.com.

If you would like to subscribe to this monthly newsletter send an e-mail to shawn_banks@ncsu.edu and ask to be added to the electronic newsletter list.


Past Newsletters                                              Johnston County Lawn and Garden

Written By

Photo of Angie Faison, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionAngie FaisonCounty Extension Support Specialist, 4-H Department, Horticulture, Field Crops (919) 989-5380 (Office) angie_faison@ncsu.eduJohnston County, North Carolina
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