To Do in August

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Just in case you were napping when it happened, IT’S AUGUST! The dog days are here. That means at our house that the dog is permanently camped on an AC vent.  Who knows? Maybe she’s got the right idea. However, if you are one of those people who insist on torturing yourself in the garden, here are some hints to get you in and out of it quickly.

About the only things that will benefit from fertilizing in August are strawberries. If you don’t have strawberries don’t even think about fertilizer.

Plant pansy seeds in flats for transplanting into the landscape in mid-September. (You can do it in the cool kitchen!)

Bulbs to plant in August include Lycoris (spider lily), Colchicum (autumn crocus) and Sternbergia (autumn daffodil).

Sow seeds for Delphinium (larkspur), Stokesia laevis (Stoke’s aster) and Alcea rosea (hollyhock) now for a dazzling display next spring.

Go all in for a fall veggie garden by planting beets, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, radish, spinach, winter squash and turnips.

NO!! DO NOT! Sharpen and oil the shears and hang them back up where you can find them in January.

Watch for spider mites in coniferous evergreens and potted annuals especially if the plants are water stressed. Spray if you must.

Keep up with your rose program.

Peach and nectarine trees need their trunks sprayed for borers at the end of August.

Watch the cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, etc.) for worms and spray squash (except butternut) for squash vine borers.

Maintain the weekly program for bunch grapes and fruit trees.

August is an effective time to apply broadleaf herbicide on Similax (greenbrier), kudzu, Campsis (trumpet creeper), and Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria).

Lawn Care
If you think of grubs as, well, grubby now is the time to apply an appropriate pesticide.

It is time to prep bluegrass and fescue lawns for fall overseeding. Sorry, but if you want Yard-of-the-Month next spring ya gotta overseed in the fall. The other option is a really big natural area (with HOA approval, of course). Or you could look into sustainable landscaping which is really cool stuff.

Other Activities to Make You Hot and Sweaty
Take your landscape plan out (You DO have a landscape plan, right?!?) and see what you might be ready to add to the yard in the fall. Fall is for planting.

Water stuff when Mother Nature is slack in that department.

Build a compost bin.

Dig your Irish potatoes. This time of the year I dig them in a sour cream potato salad.

August is also your last chance to chill out and rest up before fall planting and harvesting season.

Coping During Japanese Beetle “Season”

by Kathryn Hamilton, EMGV

At this time of year, Japanese Beetle “Season,” my favorite gardening tool

Beetles are most sluggish in early morning.

is a plastic fork.

When disrupted, beetles are supposed to fold their hind legs and fall. You are supposed to be able catch them with a container of soapy water. In my experience that’s true only about half the time. Sometimes they must be pointed in the right direction; other times they need to be fished out from between the layers of a rose petal, and at still other times, they must literally be pried off the flower. Apparently, even Japanese beetles have a survival instinct!

Japanese beetles (Popilla japonica) are attracted to the foliage, fruits, and flowers of nearly 300 different plants, among them: roses, crape myrtle, hibiscus, purple-leafed plums, grape leaves, and geraniums.  If you are a Piedmont gardener, chances are very good that you have encountered these pests in recent weeks.

skeletonized squash leaf
A skeletonized rhubarb leaf.

The good news is that Japanese beetles are unlikely to destroy established trees or shrubs. Skeletonized leaves and flowers will grow back once the beetles disappear. The better news is that within 30 – 45 days of their onset they will be gone.

Here are some takeaways to help you cope with Japanese Beetle “Season.”
1. Only one generation occurs each year. They typically emerge in early June and are gone by mid-July. You may see an isolated beetle during the rest of the year but ground zero is late May until early July.

2. Beetles emerge when the temperature is “just right.” Scientifically this equates to approximately 1,000 growing degree days. (Here’s a scientific explanation of growing degree days.)  If the weather heats up faster beetles are likely to appear sooner. Weather conditions also determine the grub population, their larval stage. Damper weather typically means more grubs. More grubs mean more beetles.

3. Japanese beetle traps should not be considered control devices. Designed to attract beetles, rather than trap them, they can increase the beetle population in your back yard. Furthermore, if not emptied every couple of days, the beetles will rot inside, releasing an ammonia which repels them. Instead of going into the trap, they are likely to tap your hibiscus.

4. Where practical, cover the plant with light netting.

5. Just say “no” to things they don’t like. But who could imagine a garden without roses?

6. Rose experts advise picking your roses and bringing them inside. They can beautify your property the rest of the year.

7. Japanese beetles aggregate in response to odor released by damaged plants and a pheromone released by female beetles. I usually cut the least-damaged roses and leave one or two that have been attacked. They are always one of my best beetle-harvest sites.

Beetles in every corner of beat up rose
There are at least eight beetles in this “trap.”

8. Another tip, before cutting a rose to bring inside,

Rose closed sepals
Because the sepals haven’t fallen, this rose, if cut, will not open.

be sure the sepals have fallen or the rose will not bloom.

9. You can, of course use insecticides, a discussion of which is outside of this posting. However, any insecticide will have some negative effect on other insects, including those which are beneficial. The North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual lists pesticides and their relative safety for bees. Should you opt for an insecticide, prune all the flowers first. There are label restrictions against using most insecticides on flowering plants and when pollinators are present. Read the label for detailed restrictions.

10. Insecticides only treat the exposed petals. So, if a bud opens throughout the day, the unprotected petals are just another meal. And, unless they are systemic, insecticides must be reapplied after a rain.

My bottom line strategy: I cut my best roses and leave a few that have already been attacked as traps. Several times a day, I am single-mindedly devoted to search and destroy missions, first dumping the beetles into a container of water soapy water then  finishing with a flush down the toilet.

Further Reading:

Japanese Beetles on Ornamental Landscape Plants

Japanese Beetles

Insects: Japanese Beetles



Be Mindful About Watering

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

logo nature.The good news is there are currently no drought advisories in North Carolina. The southeast received an average of 7.05 inches of precipitation in May, way above normal. So, we entered June strong. But with the heat index pushing temperatures way past 90°F this week, gardeners do need to be mindful about watering.

Here are helpful reminders:

  1. During periods of extremely hot weather, a plant can lose water through transpiration faster than its roots can take water from the soil, which is why we see wilting on hot days even when we’ve had ample rainfall. Learn more.
  2. Watering deeply once per week will generally do more for a plant’s sustainability than shallow watering more frequently. Learn more
  3. If your garden contains recently planted trees or shrubs, keep a close eye on them during extreme weather conditions. Learn more.
  4. Plants grown in containers will likely need more frequent watering during hot weather; twice a day (early morning and later afternoon) is not unusual. Avoid watering anything after sunset. Learn more.
  5. Don’t overlook the lawn. Turfgrasses are unable to photosynthesize (produce food from sunlight) without water. Learn more.

Even warm season vegetable plants have their limits and will temporarily stop bearing flowers or fruits during heat waves. Knowing when to water, how to water, how much, and how often to water can make or break your garden. Follow these reminders and keep your plants happy and healthy despite the heat.



Ask a Master Gardener

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

Who knew being a master gardener could bring families together?!

One recent Saturday afternoon, I received a voicemail from my sister, Laura, who lives on Long Island, near the town where we grew up and my mother and I gardened. At first I was worried–had someone died, was there trouble of some kind in the family? I thought of calling her straight away without hearing the message. You see, Laura never calls me. In 30 years that we have lived apart, I’ve always been the one who places the ‘every now and then’ calls that stand in for an in-person visit. I took a deep breath and listened to her voicemail … She just purchased a houseplant and had a question.

Laura knew that I, being an extension master gardener volunteer and lover of almost all things gardening, would be ready, able and willing to answer her question — on the spot if I could, or with a return call or email if I needed to gather more reseaLauraHouseplantrch first.

Don’t have a friend or family member who is a gardener? Don’t despair, my colleagues and I will answer your questions, too! All you need to do is contact our Ask a Master Gardener hotline by phone, email, or in person. Details are at the end of this post.

As Extension master gardener volunteers, our mission is to answer questions specific to your gardening needs. You can expect a research-based, unbiased answer within a reasonable amount of time. Answers are often accompanied by links to additional Internet resources.

Ask a Master Gardener is not just about growing heirloom vegetables, or prized roses, or rare trees. Master Gardeners are present to answer any and all of your questions pertaining to indoor and outdoor gardening in Durham County. If you live in another county, or even another state, contact your county’s Cooperative Extension Services office for information on how to connect with master gardeners in your locale. Master Gardener programs are in nearly every county in North Carolina and nearly all of the United States.

Contact Information:

Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers
Office hours:  Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
By phone:  (919) 560-0528
In person:  Durham County Cooperative Extension Services building, 721 Foster Street, Durham, NC

Don’t Neglect the Stump

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

There’s nothing more annoying than cutting down a tree and then having to deal with suckers growing from the stump. Arborists say the suckers will subside after a year or two, but that hasn’t always been my experience. So, this winter when we had a few trees in our yard taken down to let in more sunlight, I resolved to address the stumps right away.

I considered three options: Grind the stump, treat it with a chemical herbicide, or encourage it to rot.

Grinding the stump is generally not a DIY project. A stump grinder is heavy machinery that chips away the wood stump to a depth of 12 inches or more leaving wood chips and sawdust in its place. I detest heavy machinery compacting the soils of my landscape as much as some people dislike using chemicals on weeds, so grinding was not for me.

Selected and used properly, a chemical herbicide containing glyphosate or triclopyr will kill the stump as well as the root system. Music to my ears, until I learned that in order to be effective on a stump it must be applied within a few minutes of the cut being made. To accomplish that I would have been underfoot while the arborist I hired was felling trees. Too dangerous, I concluded.

If you choose this route, know that the herbicide can be applied with a sprayer or a paintbrush and depending upon the concentration of the product, you may need to use it full strength. Always follow the directions on the manufacturer’s label for specific herbicides. The most critical area of the stump top to cover is just inside the bark around the entire circumference. This is where the herbicide is most effectively transferred to the roots.

Stumps will eventually rot. You can accelerate the process by covering a stump with a few inches of soil and keeping it moist. It is like composting in place; Microorganisms in the soil will breakdown the wood slowly over time.

The most natural option – encouraging rot – is the one I ultimately chose, even though it does not seem that much different from the neglect I had previously practiced. Still, I have high hopes that I will not be dealing with suckers from the stumps this time around. My research taught me that trees should be cut as close to the ground as possible for the best chance of deterring suckers. The arborist made cuts close to the ground, unlike the DIY cuts my husband and I made a few years ago, as the pictures below illustrate.


About finding and hiring a certified arborist:

Photo credits: Andrea Laine