Growing Well in the Garden

It’s August and my garden (and myself) are showing signs of weariness. So I turned to my fellow Extension master gardener volunteers to find out what is growing well in their gardens. There are plant picks and care tips in the vignettes that follow to inspire us all; and if too late for this year, then definitely for next year! All photos were taken by the master gardeners.  — Andrea, Blog editor

Missouri Primrose

I seeded these indoors in early 2018 and planted outdoors after April 15th in 2018. For the past six weeks I have awakened to new blooms every morning and they have exceeded five feet in height. As a bonus the solitary pollinators sleep in them at night to be ready for the morning harvest! Missouri Primrose will have a perpetual place in my garden. – Brandon W.

Caladium and Coleus

My front porch plants are doing well. I have been planting caladium and  coleus every summer for 30 years. I love the combination and it also goes really well with the pink knockout roses in front of my porch. I think this year I will try to save my caladium bulbs for the first time ever. — Kerry H.

Coral bells and hostas

Coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea) loves the shady side of my house. It has thrived in this spot for about five years and never fails to surprise and delight. It’s an evergreen plant with maximum height of a foot-and-a-half and a spread of slightly less. The hostas are doing well, too!  — Carol T.


Almost all of the plants in my garden are perennials. For the first time since I was a child living in hot and dry Texas, I decided to plant Zinnia seeds this year- as a nod to a childhood long past. Thank goodness I did; It is practically the only flower blooming along the edges of my mostly shade garden. It is definitely drought tolerant and deer resistant and planting them will make every child feel like a successful gardener! Also, it is a simple delight to see what color might unfold on top of their tall  sturdy stalks during the course of this hot dry summer.  — Cy G.


Both Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop) and Agastache rugosa ‘Golden Jubilee’ are in this photo. I wish you could see the multitude of bees and butterflies that are feeding on the spiky blooms. Throughout the blistering heat wave, these plants have been alive with pollinators. This is my second year with them. They get a bit “floppy” late in the season, so I’m going to try aggressive deadheading this year and see if I get more new growth and less flop. During the hot, dry weather I make sure they get one good soaking a week. — Tina F.


Cleome or spider flower (Cleome hassleriana) is a fragrant, sun-loving annual. Mine are still growing tall, producing blooms and lots of seeds. – Cathy L.

Lesser known

Solomon Seal (Polygonatum spp.) on left, is a native herbaceous perennial that grows well in shady areas. Quarter-inch blue-black (poisonous) berries dangle from the stem in the fall. Pictured here is one with variegated leaves. Weeping love grass (Eragrostis curvula), on right, is an ornamental grass whose leaves turn yellow to bronze in winter. It is used as erosion control on highway right-of-ways. – Beth A.

Learn more about the characteristics of each of the above mentioned plants at


Year after year our bronze fennel is host to swallowtail caterpillars. Since rethinking our lawn care routine, the fennel has a bigger following than ever with a variety of bees, other insects and even a praying mantis who’s motives might be suspicious. The fennel is easy care with an occasional drink and it readily reseeds to keep the patch going strong. — Lynne N.

Beginner’s Luck?

My gardening interests are primarily focused on creating an aesthetic and pollinator friendly landscape, along with a few herbs. This year I decided to try a tomato plant. I bought a golden tomato shrub plant at the farmer’s market. It is doing so well! I’ve lost two tomatoes to blossom end rot, but have harvested a dozen already and have 30 more on the plant.  — Kerry H.

Tomato ‘German Johnson’

Here is one of my German Johnson tomatoes, a really sweet, pink variety. I planted some in the garden and put one plant in my homemade self-watering bucket. I really like the self-watering bucket. All month (July) I have had tomatoes. This is the first time ever I have had an indeterminate really continue bearing. It is eight feet tall and blooming. I think having uniform moisture is the best thing about the self-watering bucket. – Linda D.

Coming up on Thursday, more “Growing Well.”

In Praise of Weeding

by Bob Shaw, EMGV

Weeds, I once thought, are a curse. Perhaps the Lord, looking down on Carolina and musing that it was just too nice, sent Gabriel to bring us extra hot weather and especially bountiful crops of weeds[1]. I still think weeds are a curse but have found with them, now and then, a little satisfaction. 

Time is important. Before I retired I weeded when I could, but I was often away and, by mid-July, had surrendered my yard and gardens and, when I passed by them, looked the other way. Now I have time to keep after weeds and have discovered a sort of tipping point:  After several years of faithful but not obsessive weeding, I now hold the weeds at bay and mid-summer no longer looks so bad.

During weeding, one can pass into an agreeable meditative state or one can wear a portable radio and multitask. One can relax. A serious mistake is unlikely unless you are weeding someone else’s yard and, anyway, nature is so forgiving.

I don’t eschew herbicides; but use them sparingly – on that dratted Bermuda grass, say.  Some weeds, especially after rain, come out, root and all, rather easily;  crabgrass, the promiscuous Japanese stilt grass, and henbit for example. And getting down close to the ground to weed shows us so much more; the weeds themselves and their habits, occasional interesting bugs (very useful if we discover a trail of ants about to foray into our house). Early this spring, during weeding, I found myriads of beautiful red and black box-elder bugs under our maples. Sometimes, joy of joys, we may encounter a really good bug, perhaps a praying mantis.

Let’s give weeds their due – remarkable, aren’t they? Looking over a bed that seemed, at first, weed free, I spot a weed and, pulling it up, spot another close by. Soon, a forest of weeds has appeared where none seemed to be just a minute before. And how do they spring up so promptly after a rain? Coexistence isn’t an option – weeds, like Japanese beetles, don’t know about sharing.

In life we seek positive results. And so it is with weeding:  What is more positive than standing up from a pile of rooted-up weeds and admiring an immaculate garden bed?  Even better, sometimes one can put that pile into the compost bin and turn it into useful stuff.2  If only the rest of life were like that.

Photo captions, clockwise from upper left: Box-elder bug (credit: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,, henbit, Japanese stiltgrass, Bermuda grass.


1 Lucifer may have participated.  If lawns are in hell, they are planted in Bermuda grass.  And a close reading of Job would surely turn up a reference to Bermuda grass.

2 Avoid composting weeds if they have begun producing seeds.  NC Extension Gardener Handbook, What not to compost

Photo credits

May: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Rhododendron in bloom. Photo by A. Laine.

Ahh, May. The lovely month. The month for mothers, proms, college graduations and the first great beach weekend—Memorial Day. It is generally not too hot and rarely too cool. The month of balmy days that lead to enchanting evenings on the veranda (deck, patio, veranda—whatever). Enjoy the evening.  There’s gardening to be done on the morrow.

Lawn Care
Warm season grass people: It is your turn. If you didn’t fertilize the lawn in April, get to it. A good slow release fertilizer that meets the requirements notated in your SOIL TEST results is in order. Also, sharpen those mower blades.

Cool season grass folks: Just mow it, but not less than 3 inches high. “Do not,” he repeated, “fertilize cool season grasses until Fall.”

Speaking of fertilizing; long season vegetable crops like tomatoes, beans and squash (among others) will benefit from a side dressing six to eight weeks after germination. (What?! You didn’t start your own from seed? You bought plants at a Big Box? Give them a week or two in the ground and then side dress.)

While you have the bag open throw some fertilizer at your summer annuals and perennials, too.

Azaleas and rhododendrons and camellias and other ericaceous (acid-loving) plants will benefit from a shot of acid fertilizer about now.

May is the second-best time in the veggie garden. (Everybody knows harvest is the best time.) It is time to plant beans (snap, pole, bush limas, etc.), cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, southern peas, peppers—sweet and hot, pumpkins, squash, watermelon and, for you non-competitive types, tomatoes.

Gladioli bulbs may be planted now as may begonias, geraniums and other annuals that you didn’t plant in late April.

Spring flowering shrubs (e.g. azaleas, camellias, etc.) may be pruned as soon as the blooms fade.  Azaleas may be pruned until July 4th without cutting off next year’s buds.

Overgrown hedges can still be pruned.

Keep pinching back garden mums until mid-July.

Hand prune azalea and camellia leaf galls. They are generally not harmful to the plant, but are unattractive.

I realize your grandmother always cut back the daffodils and iris and other spring bulbs as soon as the flowers faded. I urge you to resist the temptation to carry on that tradition. The bulbs need that foliage to make the sugars that will provide the energy to bloom again next year. Wait until the foliage itself yellows before whacking it off and relegating it to the compost heap. The bulbs thank you.


  • Always, always ONLY spray when necessary and READ & FOLLOW label directions.
  • Monitor rhododendron species including azaleas for borers. Spray if necessary.
  • Spray iris beds for iris borers which you probably will not see.
  • Scout for and spray as necessary for bag worms. They are on the move this month.
  • May is a good time to begin to try to eliminate poison ivy/oak (Rhus radicans) and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). Best wishes.
  • Begin spraying squash vines for borers.
  • Monitor the blueberry plants for borers. Spray as necessary.
  • Continue the never-ending spray programs for roses, fruit trees and bunch grapes.
  • Other insect pests active now include azalea lace bugs, boxwood leaf miners, euonymus and tea scales, spider mites (especially on coniferous evergreens), the ubiquitous aphids and the bane of my gardening existence—white flies.
  • If (or more likely when) your tomatoes show signs of blight, begin a fungicide regimen.

Other Things To Do in May That Could Quite Possibly Include the Garden

  • Dance around a May pole.
  • Celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
  • Mulch stuff.
  • Put out a flag on Memorial Day and thank a veteran.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle: How I Got a Cupboard For My Gardening Tools and Supplies

by Wendy Diaz EMGV

We all know that we can help the environment by reducing, reusing and recycling all the stuff we need, use and buy. Last year our family upgraded to a larger screen TV that rendered our large oak entertainment center obsolete (Photo 1). I tried to donate it as a piece of furniture to reuse stores, however, they would not take it. A local consignment shop told me to just throw it away. Now I can’t throw things in a landfill if I feel they could be of use to somebody and when I couldn’t find a stranger to take it, it became clear that it was up to me to reuse and find another purpose for this well-made but outdated piece of furniture.

Photo 1 Before: Empty old oak entertainment center. Photo by Wendy Diaz, June 10, 2018

After a quick search on the Internet, it became obvious that I wasn’t the only one with this idea. There were abundant images of repurposed entertainment centers mostly transformed into wine racks or portable liquor bars and children’s play kitchens (think sink instead of TV). Nevertheless, there were a few enterprising gardeners who repurposed this large piece of dated furniture into a tool storage unit for their garage or back porch. And that is how our oak entertainment center became one garden cupboard (Photo 2) and a TV stand.

Photo 2 After: Repainted and retrofitted into a garden cupboard. Photo by Wendy Diaz, December 7, 2018

The top third of the entertainment center was a detachable unit and my husband attached rollers to the base and that became our new TV stand. The remainder two-thirds of the unit became my garden cupboard for tools and supplies. My husband was skeptical at first because he didn’t want to take up valuable real estate in the garage next to his work bench but after I discarded a damaged bookcase where we kept various tools and fuel etc. he became a believer and now stores these items in a more organized and easily retrievable fashion (Photo 3).

Photo 3. Interior of garden cupboard with hooks for tools and storage for garden supplies.  Photo by Wendy Diaz, December 7, 2018

My repurposing supplies included paint brushes, one gallon of discarded green paint from a recent kitchen renovation, left over wallpaper from an old bathroom remodel, a few hooks and a $3 piece of board (purchased from the Scrap Exchange in Durham). The board was used to block the large open back in the former TV section of the entertainment center. I left some former electrical chord holes in the back for ventilation and I repainted and reused most of the shelves. After two weeks of painting whenever I was free for a couple of hours (total of about 8 hours), I was able to store most of my garden items (with the exception of my long-handled tools) as well flower pots and the spreader on the wide top which freed up more floor space in the garage. The shelves were covered with burlap coffee bean bags to prevent scratching of the paint and I even have a small shelf for repotting small pots (Photo 4).

Now everything has a place and I have almost a place for everything! It also feels pretty good that I am helping nature, if just but a little, by not taking the old furniture to the dump.

Photo 4 Potting shelf in garden cupboard. Photo by Wendy Diaz, December 7, 2018


Composting in Place

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

Late winter is one of my favorite times to work in the garden. This afternoon I enjoyed one of those days. The temperature was just right (55-degrees); The sun was shining after a solid week of rainy days; and I was engaged in a productive yet meditative task. I cut back a small stand of ornamental grasses: three pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), a beautiful native species, and one pampas grass (Cortaderia selloanna), a classic ornamental that grows fast and gets big.

Grasses generally require full sun and these two types are no exception. Well-drained soil is also a plus; a gentle sloping property like mine is perfect. These grasses are drought tolerant once established and deer resistant.

It is important to cut the dried ornamental grasses down to 4 to 6 inches from the ground annually in late winter. This affords new shoots the warmth of sunlight and better air circulation. The dried stalks are excellent brown additions to a compost pile, but I decided to practice “composting in place” instead.

grasses compost tools.jpg
I used a pair of freshly-sharpened manual scissor sheers to cut the dried stalks a few inches off the ground; and hand pruners to snip the stalks into small pieces which I let be where they fell atop the soil. This practice is called composting in place. Photo by A. Laine.

Highlights of Pink Muhly Grass

Pink Muhly Grass, four feet tall at maturity, is showy in the fall, at a time when flowers on many other plants have faded. It’s flower stalks feature wispy plumes of dark pink that gracefully sway with a breeze. Come winter the stalks fade to tan as do the grassy parts.

Highlights of Pampas Grass

Pampas grass can grow 6 to 10 feet tall and are hardy to Zone 7b. Mine was expanding almost too quickly when an unusually long cold spell in winter 2017 effectively set it back a few years in size. I have read that they are difficult to remove once established, so it may have been a blessing! It’s leaves are sturdy, flat and green. It’s flower is a light tan plume atop a tough tan stalk.

Sources and Additional Reading

Maintaining ornamental grasses:

Pampas Grass:

Pink Muhly Grass: