June To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Summer must have started because Memorial Day has come and gone. As I write this it is cold and wet and generally unpleasant. Worst of all, it is totally not conducive to gardening. How rude.

Meanwhile the Accidental Cottage Garden (ACG) is trying its best to ignore the unpleasantness. Current cohabitating contributors to the conspicuously colorful collection of organisms with cellulose cell walls include lance-leaf coreopsis (C. lanceolata), orange daylilies (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus), black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta), English daisies (Bellis perennis), Stoke’s aster (Stoksia laevis), wand flower (Guara lindheimeri), gallardia (G. pulchella), Asiatic lily (Lilium x ‘Corsica’), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), and prairie cone flower/Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera). The Siberian wall flower (Cheiranthus allioni) and sweet William (Dianthus barbatus ‘Sweet Black Cherry’) are carry-overs from last month. A decidedly delightful display, if I do say so myself.

The weather continues to be perplexing. At least we can garden without breaking a sweat. Thought for the month: If a beverage containing alcohol is a potent potable, is a non-alcoholic beverage impotent? LET’S GARDEN!!!

LAWN CARE: Because I realize there are some of you out there who are too busy/new to the piedmont of NC/not paying attention/just plain horticulturally uneducated, I am urging you to fertilize your warm season grasses (Bermuda, zoysia) now, as in right now. April or May would have been just fine, but now it is mandatory. You’ll know how much and what formulation because you got a FREE SOIL TEST earlier (No. Probably not as you haven’t fertilized yet. All excuses from above I suppose.) Soil tests are free from April through November. Contact the NC Cooperative Extension office (919 560-0525) to get a free test kit with instructions. If you insist on winging it, 1 pound of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet of turf is a safe application rate.

June is THE month to fertilize centipede grass. The 1 pound per 1000 sq.ft. rate is applicable to centipede, also.

Summer is a good time to core aerate any lawn. Aeration facilitates air, water and nutrient movement through the soil and to the roots zone.

Always wanted a zoysia grass lawn? June is a really good month to start one. You will need to use sod or plugs as zoysia seed is not available.

FERTILIZING: Dogwoods (Cornus sps.) can be fertilized now. Again, a FREE SOIL TEST and its resulting recommendations would be helpful here. I am unable to offer suggestions here. Too many variables. Throw a handful of 10-10-10 or equivalent at the plants in the veggie garden. It’ll assist the quantity and quality of your anticipated harvest.

PLANTING: All of y’all who have been waiting for warm weather to plant your vegetable garden better hustle up now. It’s apparently as warm as it’s going to get for a bit and if you want tomatoes before Labor Day… It is necessary at this point to install plants rather than seeds for most vegetables other than beans and maybe pumpkins.

For those of you who plan ahead, it’s time to start seeds for your fall/winter garden. Cruciferous veggies (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower. kale, collards) can be started now to be transplanted in mid-July.

PRUNING: Coniferous (produce seeds in cones) evergreens such as pine, juniper, chamaecyparis, cryptomeria can be lightly pruned now. Be aware, they generally do not produce new leaves beneath a pruning cut.

Hedges and any severely overgrown plants can be radically cut back. The book says never more than 1/3 of the top, but anecdotally I can tell you that many broadleaf evergreens and deciduous shrubs can be reduced to 18 inches or so and recover nicely. (The author nor the publication nor the Master Gardener program nor NCSU Cooperative Extension nor the university assume any liability for plants that do not recover.)

Continue to pinch back garden mums (Chrysanthemum maximum) until mid-July if it is fall blooms you desire. If you don’t care when they bloom, well good for you, you rebel.

Big leaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla) can be pruned as soon as the blooms fade.

Azaleas, including Encore cultivars, can be pruned anytime from bloom fade through the 4 th of July. Dieback can occur in ericaceous (acid loving) plants in early summer. Rhododendrons, including azaleas, pieris and others can be infected by a Phomopsis fungus. Prune the infected branches well below the infection and sterilize your pruning tools between cuts with a 10% bleach solution or 70% alcohol. (Good gracious, NO! Not 140 proof vodka.) Destroy all clippings.

SPRAYING: BOLO (be on the lookout) for the following dastardly destructive six and eight legged pests: lace bugs (azaleas, pyracantha), leaf miners (boxwoods), spider mites (needle leaf evergreens), bag worms (mostly, but not exclusively, on needle leaf evergreens) and aphids on anything they can get their pointy little mouth parts into.

There are numerous pest control products available for control. Try an organic product first. The planet is counting on you.

June is prime Japanese beetle time. (Contrary to popular myth, they do not sing “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in Japanese while devouring your roses and crape myrtles.) Treat them with appropriate pesticide or pick ‘em off and drown ’em. Smush ‘em if it gives you satisfaction. (Personally, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”.)

Be aware of tomato early blight. It shows up as brown spots on the lower leaves followed by a yellowing around the spots. Eventually the whole leaf will usually turn yellow and fall off. There are several products available to treat early blight. Some of them even have zero days until harvest rating.

Vegetable gardens are susceptible to a myriad of pests. Lots of insects (and other genera) like the fruits of your labor as much as you do (and they outnumber us). There are multiple species of worms seeking sustenance from your cruciferous veggies. Then there are the cucurbit lovers like cucumber beetles on (believe it or not) cucumbers and other cucurbits, squash borers on most squash varieties and melons. You might find flea beetles (They don’t sing either.) on any bean species plus tomatoes and eggplant. And let us not forget the ubiquitous aphids.

Continue spray programs for roses, fruit trees and bunch grapes.

Use pesticides only when necessary. ALWAYS read the label and follow the instructions. Try organic first.

A word about watering. Sometime this summer you will find it necessary to supplement Mother Nature’s somewhat capricious watering schedule. Plants, including lawn grasses, need about one inch of water per week to sustain growth. It is best applied in the early morning to minimize evaporative loss. Evening watering is acceptable if the leaf surfaces will be dry before nightfall. Damp leaves promote disease.

Alas, strawberry season is over. Therefore, it is appropriate to renovate the beds in preparation for September planting.

Once you have exhausted the days’ to do list (and most likely yourself) one should take time to kick back and enjoy the garden. Outdoor living spaces were made for June evenings. Food, family, friends (and a cool beverage). That’s what it’s all about. As T.S. Eliot wrote, “There is no life that is not in community.”

Find your community and welcome to summer.

All photos: Gary Crispell

Native Plant Profile:

Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata)

By Wendy Diaz EMGV

Foreground: Spotted Wintergreen in bloom near base of Beech Tree. All photos taken on June 4, 2021 by Wendy Diaz unless otherwise stated.

In North Carolina, one of the advantages of my removal of invasive ground cover mechanically rather than chemically and changing my gardening habits – such as no longer mulching with three inches of pine straw – is that remarkable tiny native plants start to appear beneath my beech tree (Fagus sylvatica) like the Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) without any more intervention from me. (I wrote about another diminutive native plant beneath my beech tree, the Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor), in the blog post of July 30, 2020 [1]). 


I feel fortunate that I have a few plants of this smallest of evergreen shrubs peeking above the dead leaves and pine needles in my woodland garden; although it is fairly common in North Carolina, it is rare, if not endangered, in its northern range near my home town in Ontario and also in Maine[2]. It has become so rare in its most northern range of Canada that there is a recovery program in Ontario[3],[4].

Spotted Wintergreen in full bloom just a few inches high above the leaf litter.

Growing Conditions

Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is a native, evergreen rhizomatous wildflower or dwarf shrub found on the shaded forest floor. It only reaches a height of 3 to 5 inches tall which makes it a good ground cover if you can get it to spread[5]; it is slow growing. The habit form of the Spotted Wintergreen is classified as a sub-shrub and is considered in some literature as a small broadleaf evergreen shrub[6]. The woody plant is easily found in the forests of the Piedmont due to the conspicuous white mid-rib of the dark blueish-green leaves which contrast with the light brown of the surrounding leaf litter. The genus name is a combination of the Greek word for winter (cheima) and to love (philein). Other common names include Striped Wintergreen, Striped Prince’s Pine, Rheumatism Root[7] and Spotted pipsissewa[8].  Pipsissewa comes from the Cree Indian word pipsisikweu which means ‘break into small pieces’ because mistakenly, they believed that a substance in its leaves would ‘break-up’ kidney stones. Native Americans also used to make tea from the leaves to treat rheumatism and stomach maladies. The foliage is avoided by deer. It has a wide range in Eastern North America from Quebec to Florida and as far south as Central America. It prefers medium to dry forest floors with medium shade and acidic soils. More precisely, it requires dappled sunlight (shade through the canopy all day) or deep shade (less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight) and sandy soils on the dry side with good drainage[9]. It has a stoloniferous root system and spreads by underground stems or rhizomes. The plant does not do well if its roots are disturbed. It reproduces both vegetatively and by seed reproduction following light wildfires.

Conspicuous white mid-rib of the dark blueish-green leaves of the Spotted Wintergreen plant.


The evergreen leaves are a deep blue-green color with a white stripe along the central vein of the leaf with a waxy or leathery appearance. As the larger leaves widen, the white stripe spreads laterally to give a mottled appearance giving it its most distinguishing characteristic. Dentate leaf margins have shallow widely-spaced teeth. The narrow ovate-shaped leaves have an opposite and whorled arrangement and are about 1 to 3 inches in length and less than an inch in width. The leaves are attached to a semi-woody stout reddish-brown stem.

Pronounced white midrib of whorl of bluish-green leathery leaves of the Spotted Wintergreen along with stem with dual buds.


In late May to early June in the Piedmont of North Carolina, small fragrant, pretty white flowers appear from spherical white buds. The flowers are bell shape and open downward or hang (nodding) from the top of long reddish-brown stalk that grows up from the leaf whorl. Each stalk is topped by 2 to 5 curving stems from which clusters of 2 to 5 flowers emerge; looking much like an old fashioned lamp post.

Top Photo: Spotted Wintergreen buds and stalk look like tiny lamposts. Middle Photo: Partially opened blossom, fully opened blossom and missing blossom on one reddish stalk emerging from the whorl of waxy bluish-green leaves. Bottom Photo: Closeup of blossoms and green pistil (early seed pod). Photo taken by Wendy Diaz at Raven Rock State Park on June 7 2015.

Each flower of ½ to ¾ inch diameter has 5 waxy white petals that have small scattered brown spots, 5 light green sepals and ten yellowish or tan colored stamens and a green pistil. After pollination the flower turns upward so that the resultant small (less than an inch in length and 1/3 inch wide) seed capsule that forms is erect and eventually matures to a dark brown color. The dried capsule splits and releases tiny seeds

I was out of town this year when a few buds blossomed on the plants beneath the beech tree. I suspect there wasn’t a bigger show this year than there was in 2021 because we had a very wet winter and spring and they prefer drier soils or I am disturbing their sensitive roots when I often walk over to their colony to admire them.

Same Spotted Wintergreen plants in other photographs above but are
smaller and without blooms this year. Photo taken on May 17, 2023.



[2] https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/species/chimaphila/maculata/

[3] https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/species-risk-public-registry/recovery-strategies/spotted-wintergreen-2015.html





[7] https://www.inaturalist.org/guide_taxa/552105


[9] https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/chimaphila-maculata/

May To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

“It’s May! It’s May, the merry month of May.” But this is North Carolina, not Camelot and the rain doesn’t just fall overnight, but rather over the weekend…all the weekends, 14 out of 17 so far in 2023.
Surely it will be different in May. Maybe all the kids who have been stuck in school all week while the sun shines, anticipating all their myriad weekend outdoor activities will actually get to do them this month. Their parents certainly hope so.
The Accidental Cottage Garden (ACG) is really waking up. Besides the Siberian wall flower (Cheiranthus allioni) mentioned last month she now sports Bath’s pink dianthus (Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Bath’s Pink) in profusion, English daisies (Bellis perennis) and a couple of bearded iris cultivars (Iris germanica). The peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) have come and gone, but the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) has been blooming for three weeks.
The 200k + wildflower seeds that were sewn in March have nearly all germinated. (You know I went out and counted them.) There will be a veritable meadow in a cigar box when they start blooming. Also, at least half of the 100 sunflower seeds have survived the ravages of squirrels, field mice and birds. This year promises to be another exciting season in the garden waiting to see what will bloom next.

There is a plethora of things to do in and around the garden this month. Here’s a guide to keep you from being overwhelmed.

LAWN CARE: As April was mostly Mayish it turned out to be good advice last month when I indicated that you could fertilize warm season grasses (Bermuda and zoysia) last month. If you missed that, May is not too late.
This month you can now feed centipede its once a year chemical meal.
You can also fertilize cool season grasses (fescue, bluegrass & perennial rye) now, but be judicious with the quantity and use a balanced (10-10-10 or equivalent) product.
Mow cool season grasses at 3”- 4” and warm season grasses at 1 ½”- 2”.

FERTILIZING: Crops that produce over a long period of time (think tomatoes, squash, beans, etc.) will reward you with higher yields if you feed them about now (or next week).
Summer blooming flowers, but not wildflowers, would also be pleased with a bit of extra sustenance this month. Wildflowers prefer to fend for themselves. They aren’t called “wild” for nothing.
Non-native rhododendrons and azaleas can be treated to a meal of acid producing fertilizer provided your FREE SOIL TEST indicated a high pH (>6).

PLANTING: Oh, boy!! It’s May. We can plant from dawn ‘til dusk (if someone will come by and help us get back up at the end of the day and/or make a PT appointment for us).
Beans such as green, snap, pole, bush, lima/butter (no DNA difference, y’all), melons, like cantaloupe, watermelon, honey dew, etc., cucumbers, corn, southern peas, squash of all sorts, pumpkins, eggplant, okra (toward the end of the month), all of the myriad varieties of peppers and, of course, tomatoes can all be planted with abandon.
Gladioli bulbs, begonias, geraniums and anything else you didn’t optimistically plant last month when it was 85 degrees outside and you were sure summer had arrived can be stuck in the ground now.

PRUNING: Spring flowering shrubs (forsythia, camellias, azaleas, etc.) can be safely pruned after the blooms fade. It is generally safe to prune azaleas up to the Fourth of July without jeopardizing next year’s flower production.
Properly sized at planting Encore azaleas should require very little in the way of pruning. However, if a stray branch or two should insult your sense of aesthetics, you should prune the offenders in the spring immediately after the spring bloom period.
Pinch back garden mums until mid-July for fall floral displays.
Hand prune leaf galls from azaleas and camellias. They ain’t purty, but neither are they particularly harmful.
Let’s talk about spring bulbs for a minute. I know what your grandmother did and her grandmother and lord knows how many grandmothers before that, but please do not cut the foliage off as soon as the flowers fade. I know you have heard of photosynthesis (You’re smart enough to be reading this.), so here’s the deal. The leaves produce sugar via photosynthesis (The editor won’t let me explain all that process in this post. Read the book.) and send it down to the bulb where it is stored in starch form to be used next spring to make pretty flowers again. Cut off the foliage prematurely and sacrifice the health of the bulbs. Eventually, no blooms. Are we good here?

SPRAYING: AN UNPAID PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: When thinking about spraying for most insects, check the suspect plants to see if there really are insects and if the damage is enough to affect the health (or aesthetic) of the plant. If not, hold off with the pesticide treatment. Preventative treatment should be left to those producing commercially.
That said, spray the following species for borers (which you most likely will not see even if you look): azaleas, blueberries (Remember somebody’s gonna eat ‘em eventually.), iris and start spraying squash continuing until mid-June.
Scout coniferous evergreens for bag worms and spider mites. Bag worms should be out of the bag, so to speak, for a couple of weeks this month which makes them infinitely more vulnerable to chemical control.
Other six and eight legged critters on the loose beginning this month include azalea lace bugs (who have only been inactive when the leaf surface temperature was under about 40 degrees F), boxwood leaf miners (They will appear as fly-like adults this month and like bag worms are easier to treat than when they are mining. You can see their little lamps inside the leaf, but you can’t get to them.), euonymus and tea scales on euonymus (Where’d you think?) and camellias (where tea comes from—C. sinensis), spider mites especially on coniferous evergreens, and aphids on any plant ever catalogued by a horticulturist anywhere, and finally, white flies.
Monitor tomatoes for early and /or late blight. Spray an appropriate fungicide (early for early and later for late—surprisingly enough).

It’s May Y’all. Do we really need an excuse to be outside? Seriously? Just grab a beverage and sit on the deck, porch, patio, front lawn it matters not and watch stuff grow. It’s growing that fast right now. Enjoy May. Next month it’ll be too something (hot, humid, buggy, whatever) for some folks.
Happy Cinco de Mayo and Memorial Day! (Thank a vet.)

Hi, it’s your friendly Editor here with a link to more details about Photosynthesis! It’s not a book but it’ll get you started.

Free Soil Tests: it’s that time of year. Here’s how to test your soil.

Shortlink: https://wp.me/p2nIr1-3nk

Weekend Getaway to find the Native Silky Camelia (Stewartia malacodendron) in Bloom 

By Wendy Diaz EMGV

Last May, I planned a short weekend trip with my husband to try and find the native Silky Camelia (Stewartia malacodendron) in bloom at the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve[1] (pronounced Heaven wood) in Brunswick County, near the coast of North Carolina. The Silky Camelia is the signature plant of this 175-acre nature preserve which is an example of Bottomland Hardwood Forest and Wetland Habitats of the Coastal Plain. Fifteen trails cross these diverse habitats. Our home base was a Bed and Breakfast in Southport, North Carolina even though Wilmington was probably closer; Southport is a quaint town with lots of restaurants and on the same side of the river as the preserve. I first heard of this native gem during a virtual lecture on NC Coastal Ecology by Amy Mead (Area Natural Resources Agent) on November 5, 2021 (part of the Carolina Backyard Naturalist Program hosted by N.C. Cooperative Extension Agents Matt Jones and Sam Marshal).

Photograph of flowering Silky Camelia at the Ev-Henrood Nature Preserve in bloom on May 14, 2022. Looking out at marsh near the Marina at Southport, NC. Photographs by Wendy Diaz, May 2022.

The exact timing of the peak bloom depends on several factors mainly the weather (give or take one week), amount of sun exposure and latitude. Generally, they flower in mid-Spring, around Mother’s Day, along the south coast and late Spring farther north-my friend saw the blossoms on a kayak trip at Merchant’s Mill Pond on May 26, 2022.

Silky camelia in bloom on May 26, 2022 near Merchant’s Mill Pond, NC. Photo courtesy of Wanet Sparks.

We picked a very ‘wet weekend’ and found one Silky Camelia bush after climbing over fallen trees (some trail junctions are not well marked) on May 14, 2022 on Stewartia Loop of the David Sieren Learning Trail at Ev-Henwood. A powerful thunderstorm the night before, jettisoned a lot of blossoms to the forest floor unfortunately but nevertheless I was delighted to see many intact and beautiful white-blossoms delicately adorned with rain drops and round perfect spherical buds still on this spreading shrub. This weekend turned to be, despite the weather, another successful botanical trek to see North Carolina’s outstanding floral display! (I wrote about a similar weekend trip to the mountains in 2021 to see the rhododendrons[2]). After, I took a few photographs my husband was anxious to head back to the car as dark clouds rolled in. On the way out of the Preserve, we noticed another shrub with abundant blossoms near the entrance as well.

Top: Silky camelia blossom Middle: fallen Silky Camelia blossoms on forest floor, newly opened blossom, blossoms Bottom: Buds on Silky Camelia branches and single round bud of Silky Camelia

History of the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve

The Ev-Henwood Preserve is a former farm along Town Creek, a tributary to the Cape Fear River, in rural Brunswick County which was acquired from the former owner, Mr. Troy Henry by the University of North Carolina-Wilmington in 1991. In 2005, 64 acres was placed under a conservation agreement with Coastal Land Trust in partnership with UNCW[3]. Mr. Henry named the Preserve after combining his maternal (Evans) and paternal (Henry) family names. The land was in his family almost continuously from the 1790’s. It was also used for logging of pine forests (for lumber and shingles) and crops of corn, peas, beans, sweet potatoes, peanuts, cotton, pears, grapes, hay and soybeans. Mistletoe and holly branches were clipped and shipped to New York at Christmas time during the depression. By 1850 the family was a part of the navel stores industry and most of the long-leaf pines were cut to tap the raw pine sap (soft turpentine) and distributed to distilleries nearby. At the end of the Dogwood Trail there is an area of raised land that is the remains of the tar kiln used to extract turpentine. 


The Silky Camelia or Stewartia (Stewartia malacodendron) is a rarely seen native plant which occurs only in ten states in the southeast, including North Carolina. The plant is listed as ‘imperiled’ in the State of Georgia with only nine confirmed sightings since 2000[4]. The showy saucer-shaped flowers are about 3 inches in diameter. The flower’s five white petals have crimped edges and are occasionally streaked with purple. In the center of the flower are 50 to 100 purple stamens with blue anthers. The genus is in honor of John Stuart (1713 -1792), a 16th century Scottish botanist. Due to a transcription error the original name was spelled Stewartia and in the 19th century was spelled Stuartia for a time but the original spelling is now accepted. The species name malacodendron means “soft tree” in Greek and refers to the silky hairs of the underside of the leaves. The young twigs of this shrub also have silky hairs. It is related to the tea family and other camelias and is a small under-story woodland species. The deciduous shrub or small tree is multi-stemmed and spreads horizontally from about 15 to 25 feet wide with a height reaching 10 to 18 feet. It prefers partial shade (only 2 to 6 hours of direct sunlight) to deep shade (no direct sunlight) in sandy acidic to neutral soil with high organic matter and good drainage conditions. The smooth bark is burgundy or reddish-brown colored and exfoliates into strips. The leaves are dark green, elliptical shape (2 to 4 inches long) and alternate with silky hairs underneath. In the fall the leaves turn yellow. The flowers give way to oval-shaped green fruit about an inch in diameter in the fall. The woody capsule contains 1 to 4 seeds.

Top: Cinnamon-colored stem and tiny hairs on young stems and underneath/edge of leaves. Middle: Large white saucer-shaped blossoms with crimped edges of Silky Camelia, purplish to redish stamens in center of blossom. Middle: spreading habit of Silky Camelia shrub, Silky camelia blossoms and fruits formering on stems.

There is more to than the Silky Camelia to see along the trails of Ev-Henwood and other plants that we saw were lichens covering the ground, large ferns and many wildflowers. There were several small Sparkleberry (vaccinium arboretum) shrubs in full bloom along with skinks, snakes and turtles. The largest bald cypress tree (Taxodioum distichum) in the preserve (named Old Gus by Mr. Henry) with a 17.6 foot circumference and 5.5 diameter can be seen along the Beechwood Trail. This preserve is also listed on the NC Birding Trail and you may see some of North Carolina’s more colorful songbirds along the trails such as the Prothonotary Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting. Other birds have been identified here such as the Bobwhite Quail, Barred Owls, Pileated Woodpeckers, Cooper’s Hawks, Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers. 

Old farm pond on the way to Beechnut Trail.

Top: Lichen growing on the forest floor, large fern Middle top: Sparkleberry (vaccinium arboretum) bush in full bloom, close-up of sparkle berry flowers, hoary skullcap (Scutellaria). Middle bottom: Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium), Bald Cypress (Taxodioum distichum) ‘Old Gus’ Bottom: Snake and skink on the trails.

For a rewarding experience during mid-May, I urge you to go for a hike at the Ev-Henwood Preserve and enjoy the beautiful Silky Camelia blossoms along with the other abundant natural features it offers. If you have the time and stay overnight then I would recommend the charming town of Southport. I hope your weekend will be drier than ours.

Plan your own adventure at the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve 6150 Rock Creek Road, NE Leland, NC 28451 

Driving Directions: 

Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve is about 10 miles south of Wilmington, North Carolina. To reach the preserve from route U.S. 17, follow Old Town Creek Road to its intersection with Town Creek Road, turn right and go about three blocks to Rock Creek Road. The Preserve is at 6150 Rock Creek Road.


Trail map: https://uncw.edu/physicalplant/arboretum/ev-henwood/

Each trail takes about 2 hours and a 33-page manual is available for download on this website.



[2] https://durhammastergardeners.com/?s=Rhododendron

[3] https://coastallandtrust.org/lands/ev-henwood/


Shortlink: https://wp.me/p2nIr1-3lM

DIY: Building a Dry Stream

By Ann Barnes, EMGV

The Challenge: My home’s backyard slopes downward. A previous owner decided to create a more usable backyard by building a retaining wall to create a flatter space near the house. The upper part of the yard features a large built-in bench and a garden bed containing a row of rhododendrons. Further away from the house, the lower portion of the backyard is a wooded natural area, providing quite a bit of shade to the entire backyard. 

Over the years, I had noticed that the upper part of the backyard was often soggy during wet weather. During and after storms, water would puddle near the bench and in the rhododendron bed. The rhododendrons in the center of the bed where the most water pooled, declined, and some died. To try to combat the problem, I hired a contractor to install a French drain. While this was successful in keeping water from puddling around the bench, it did not solve the problem around the shrubs. Every heavy rain caused standing water for hours afterward and left the area muddy.

Standing water in the landscape bed at the edge of the retaining wall on a rainy day.
All Photo Credits: Ann Barnes

After losing the third of six rhododendrons, I knew I needed to make more changes to the drainage before trying to plant anything new. A dry stream seemed to be the ideal solution – it would add an interesting focal point to the landscape while directing water away from the shrubs and allowing it to percolate into the ground.

Planning: The new stream needed to channel and contain water away from the landscape bed. Before I could create a design, I needed to make careful observations of where standing water was a problem. Yes, that meant standing in the middle of the yard in the rain marking puddles with flags so that I could do the designing and digging in nicer weather.

Natural streams are irregular and winding, so I outlined a meandering stream path using some garden hoses. The stream is at its widest and deepest near the mid point of the landscape bed, as this is where standing water was most prevalent. The stream width ranges from 12″ to around 3′ After settling on a path for the dry stream, I used spray paint to mark the outline and removed my hoses.  

Since I had had utilities marked for a previous garden project, I knew there were no buried wires in the area. If you aren’t sure, call 811 before doing any digging in your yard.

The Hard Work: From each bank, the stream slopes to a depth of about 3”. I created deeper pools in some areas to encourage rainwater to drain away from the landscape bed instead of puddling at the bases of shrubs. I was careful to leave as many roots of the remaining rhododendrons intact as possible to avoid stressing the plants. Digging the stream in my spare time took a couple of weeks, but a determined team could have finished in a weekend. Once the soil was removed from the stream bed, I turned on a sprinkler to see if the stream was directing water away from the shrubs. Success!

I added a thin layer of gravel along the bottom of the stream as a base. Large rocks had once been the landscape bed’s border. I reused them, arranging them as naturally as possible in and along the stream bed along with a few more I unearthed while digging. Finally, a ton of smooth river rocks were delivered and moved into the dry stream. Using rocks similar to those found in the area will provide a more natural look, so I kept this in mind when purchasing stone for the stream.

Once the stream was complete, I added plants. Matching the existing rhododendrons would have been difficult, so I chose Pieris japonicum, Illicium parviflorum, and a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum dissectum) to replace the shrubs that had died. Shade tolerant perennials, including many hellebores and ferns, were planted and the garden was finished with a fresh layer of mulch.

The “Finished” Product: (no garden is ever finished, is it?)

The dry stream has been very effective at moving rainwater away from the shrubs and perennials and is one of our favorite views from the house.

Lessons learned: Some online tutorials for creating dry streams recommended lining the stream bed landscape fabric before adding gravel and rocks. I opted to skip this step, but wish that I hadn’t. Soil and debris accumulates in the stream, and has covered some of the river rock. A landscape fabric base would make cleanup and maintenance easier. Currently, it is difficult to know where the bottom of the stream is supposed to be and to be sure I’ve uncovered all buried river rocks. This stream is several years old now, and I am planning to lift the rocks and add landscape fabric under them.

After a hard rain

If you have a larger, sunnier area than my backyard, you may wish to consider building a rain garden instead: 

Rain gardens are shallow bowl shaped landscaped areas that allow rainwater and runoff to filter into the ground. A rain garden can hold water for up to two days and can help prevent erosion. Native plants and shrubs that are planted in the rain garden attract beneficial insects and wildlife. There are some do’s and don’ts for choosing a site for a rain garden, including: 

  • Do not place rain gardens uphill of homes, septic systems or wellheads  
  • Locate at least 10’ away and downslope of the house foundation, crawlspace or basement (if home is on a slab locate downslope of foundation).  
  • Locate 25’ away and downslope of a septic system drain field.  
  • Locate 10’ away and downslope of a well head. 
  • Avoid underground utility lines BEFORE you dig (Call 1-800-632-4949 or 811 in NC).
  • The best location for the garden will be in partial to full sun (at least 4 hrs of sunlight).


Rain Gardens:



Dry Streams:


French Drains: