May: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

So, here we are in the first week of May still waiting for those April showers to fully materialize.  Apparently, that wasn’t a thing this year (or last for that matter).  Perhaps we are witnessing a new normal?  Climate change anyone?  Early May forecasts predict more of the same.  Better break out the hose and sprinkler (although at least we’re good for this week!).  Did any of y’all have to cover up tomato plants so they didn’t freeze in late April?  Yeah, me too, however mine were still in pots on the deck.  Sure, didn’t see that coming.  So, maybe it’s safe now?  It is May, right?  Let’s go get in the garden.


If you are among the OCD types when it comes to your cool season (fescue/bluegrass) lawn, you may fertilize it with a balanced fertilizer (E.g., 10-10-10).

If your affections lean toward warm season grasses (Bermuda, zoysia, centipede), an application of a slow-release fertilizer is in order.

Keep mowing height at 3”-4” for your cool season lawn.  That will help protect the root from summer’s heat.


Long season crops (those that produce over a long period or take an entire season to produce) would benefit from balanced fertilizer feeding.

Fertilizing summer flowering plants now will reward you with more numbers and prettier blooms this summer.

If a SOIL SAMPLE (free right now) indicates, give your non-native rhododendron and azaleas (Yes, that’s redundant.) a dose of acidic fertilizer.


Check out the NC State web site for the Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Vegetables.  It is a great guide when and how to plant flowers, herbs and vegetables and includes spacing guides.


Grab your shears and loppers and make sure they are sharp.  Prune non-native rhododendrons (and azaleas) after they finish blooming and before the 4th of July.  They start setting next year’s blooms after that.

Check camellias and azaleas for leaf gall.  They ain’t purty, but they are harmless.  Just prune them out as necessary.

Keep garden mums (Chrysanthemum sps.) pinched back until mid-July if it’s Fall blooms you desire.

Fight the temptation to cut back the foliage on spring bulbs.  They need that to photosynthesize sugar to store in the bulbs so they can regal you again next spring.  Let the leaves turn yellow before cutting.


Spray an appropriate insecticide to treat for borers on iris, rhododendrons, blueberries (Vaccinium sps.) and squashes.

Spray fungicide on fruit trees, bunch grapes, tomatoes showing signs of blight.

Keep on (like forever) with your rose program.

Check for bagworms on trees and shrubbery.  They will be out and about this month (It’s real hard to mate inside the bag.  It’s a space thing.)  and much more vulnerable to a pesticide application.

 Many invasive vining plants are susceptible to herbicide control this month.  Think poison ivy/oak (Toxicodendron radicans/T. toxicarium), honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), English ivy (Hedera helix), etc.


Keep a look out for worms on cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages).  Only spray as necessary and read the label for the right spray/harvest interval. Stay away from Seven Dust as it can hurt other beneficial insects.

Other exciting entomological endeavors include checking for insects and arachnids on azaleas (lace bugs & spider mites), euonymus & camellias (tea scale), boxwoods (leaf miner adults who will be flying around on the leaves).  When the weather gets really warm (ok, hot) check houseplants for spider mites.

Spread some mulch—save some water.  Mulch will mitigate soil moisture evaporation and help keep roots cool.

Always use the smallest amount of and least toxic chemical when applying pesticides.  There is no planet “B”.

If you have questions ask an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.  We’re here to help.  You can also check the NCSU Extension Service website for more information on a vast array of horticultural subjects.

May in the garden.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

*Resources and Further Reading

All About Soil Sampling and How to Get Supplies from Durham County Cooperative Extension

Organic Lawn Care Guide

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs

General Pruning Tips,died%20due%20to%20water%20stress.

Guide to Roses for North Carolina

Learn more about insects and how to control them from the North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (find your perfect plant or figure out what that unknown weed is!)

Join Us for the Big Briggs Plant Sale!

Join Extension Master Gardeners and Briggs Avenue Community Gardeners this Saturday for our first annual Briggs Avenue Community Garden Plant Sale! All proceeds go to support Durham County Cooperative Extension community garden education and programming. Plants will be $4 a piece, or 3 for 10. Curious what you might find? Check out our inventory by clicking here. Ample on-street parking available.

April: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

Let’s hear it for March ’cause for a March it was pretty decent.  And it went away just in time for APRIL!!  We gardeners have been waiting for this since October.  The only thing more fun than planting is the satisfaction of the harvest.  FYI; the frost-free date here is April 11th, but don’t we all push that envelope?  I mean if we don’t have tomatoes by Flag Day what’s the point?  Since there are lots of things to do this month let us commence.


This is the first month to fertilize Bermuda and Zoysia grasses.  Wait another month to fertilize Centipede.  DO NOT (He repeated.) fertilize cool season grasses (Fescue, Bluegrass) again until Fall.

You can start new warm season turf now.  Bermuda and Zoysia can be seeded although sodding and plugging are the preferred methods.  They are the only ways to do Centipede.

Maintain a cutting height of 3”-4” for cool season grasses.


Fertilize any shrubs that didn’t get done in March.

Fruit trees should be fertilized depending on how much fruit is expected (more fruit=more fertilizer).


Just about anything and everything can be planted by mid-month.  All hands on deck in the veggie garden.  Beans, cucumbers, melons, squashes, peppers, pumpkins, tomatoes, corn, etc., etc. can be planted now.  Be sure to plant enough to share with those who might not have any.


Remove any winter damage.

Spring flowering plants can be pruned soon after the blooms fall off.  Waiting too late will disrupt next year’s bud set.

Prune fruiting shrubs [hollies (Ilex sps), Pyracantha, etc.] should be pruned while they are blooming so you can see where to leave enough blooms to produce fruit.

Prune spring flowering trees such as Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’), flowering cherry/peach (Prunus x hybrids), redbud (Cercis canadensis), etc. after they bloom.


The following insects are becoming obnoxious this month:  azalea lace bugs, boxwood leaf miners, euonymus/tea scales, hemlock/juniper/spruce spider mites.  Treat them as needed with an appropriate insecticide following label instructions.  

Treat iris beds for iris borers.

Treat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, etc.) for worms.  Using an organic product containing BT (Bacillus thuringiensis—a bacteria the affects the worms) is a good green solution.

Spray squash plants near the base of the stem at first bloom to control squash vine borers.  This treatment should continue weekly until early June using a properly labeled insecticide.

Spray apple and pear trees with streptomycin while in bloom to control fire blight.  Spray twice, once at early bloom and once at full bloom.  Rainy weather may necessitate a third application.

Begin a weekly fungicide program for bunch grapes.

Continue (ad infinitum) a rose spray program.

Begin a weekly spray program for fruit trees after the blooms have dropped.  Organic summer horticultural oils are environmentally friendly options.

Always check plants for pests before applying any pesticide.  Well, except for borers which are busy staying out of site and undetected by (Wait for it.) boring.


One can always mulch.  It helps keep roots from drying out and protects them from getting too hot during a typical piedmont North Carolina summer.  As a bonus mulch suppresses weed growth.

Be sure to take a minute occasionally to slow down and enjoy the wonder of Spring.  It’s good for the soul.

Get vaccinated and keep your mask on.  Stay safe, y’all.

*Resources and Further Reading

Organic Lawn Care Guide

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs

General Pruning Tips,died%20due%20to%20water%20stress.

North Carolina Pruning Calendar

Learn more about insects and how to control them from the North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (find your perfect plant or figure out what that unknown weed is!)

Learn With Us, April 2021

The Bull City Gardener Learning Series has virtual and in-person classes. More information can be found HERE

Durham Garden Forum: All About Shrubs – April 20, 2021, 7-8:30 PM via Zoom

With Paul McKenzie, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Area Agent, Vance/Warren County Centers
Shrubs are the backbone of a garden. Paul will review some recommended shrubs with an emphasis on woody shrubs, deer resistant plants and how to best use them in your landscape.
Via Zoom. For Registration Information, Contact

Order plants from the Durham Master Gardeners’ Plant Sale.

Guilford County Spring Gardening Virtual Classes

Chatham County is also offering Virtual Classes

As we await the phased reopening of Sarah P. Duke Gardens, there are many Online Classes being offered.

JC Raulston Arboretum offers additional online events.

Virtual and in-person classes are being held at the NC Botanical Garden

Triangle Gardener Magazine compiles a list of courses from many of the above sources and others.

The Spring Master Gardener Plant Sale Is Almost Here!

By The Plant Sale Committee

Spring is finally here, and so is the Durham Master Gardener plant sale! Online ordering will be April 6-13, with scheduled curbside pickup at the Cooperative Extension at 721 Foster Street in Durham April 17 and 18.

You can check out our huge selection of perennials, trees and shrubs, veggies and herbs, and colorful annuals now at

The sale opens to the general public at 9am on Wednesday, April 7. A presale is available to Durham County Master Gardener Volunteers starting at 9am on Tuesday, April 6. Following your purchase, you will be able to schedule a pickup time for April 17 or 18. Someone must be available to pick up plants on one of those two days.  Some of the unsold plants will available for purchase, many at discounted prices, during the pickup weekend. Stay tuned for more details on the live sale.

Our mission is to help you find and care for the right plants for your needs, at a good price. Our plants are sourced or grown by Master Gardener Volunteers and friends, and we do our best to correctly identify varieties and colors. If you have any questions about choosing or caring for your plants, or are not completely satisfied with your purchase, we want to hear from you!

Please direct questions to

Please share with all your local gardening friends!

Just a selection from a typical potting party. Photo by the Plant Sale Committee

The Plant Sale is held by the Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Association to raise funds for the Durham Extension Master Gardener Volunteer (EMGV) program while providing educational opportunities to both the public and EMGVs, and volunteer opportunities for EMGVs.