February: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Welcome to the newly minted month of ‘Febril.’ Seems like we did this last year. Therefore, beware, lest you let your guard down and get caught by the other new month—Maruary which could easily be just around the corner, lurking, waiting to zap your saucer magnolia blossoms and any other non-cold hardy vegetation. And, it ain’t snowed yet neither. So, as tempting as 70 degrees might be, be smart. Just for the record, I didn’t just pull this stuff outta the air. I done researched it like them professors learned me to in Horticulture (yea, I can spell, too)  School on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. Pay attention, y’all. It’s real stuff.

Lawn Care*

Cool season grasses (i.e. fescue and bluegrass) should be fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer following the recommendation of your SOIL TEST.

Late February/early March is the best time to apply a pre-emergent to prevent crabgrass. There are several easy-to-use granular products on the market. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label for safe and proper handling and application. Calibrate your spreader to ensure accurate application amounts. Too little will not give you effective control and too much may damage the turf.


See Lawn Care above and Planting below.


And so it begins: the vegetable garden. The reason for existence, for frozen fingers in February, summer sunburn and the endless supply of liniment in the medicine cabinet.

It is time for root vegetables and salad. Vegetables you can plant now include cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips. Work a little fertilizer into the soil that was tested in October (while it was still free to do so) following the recommendations of said SOIL TEST.

Be cognizant of soil moisture levels.  It appears that Mother Nature is going to maintain that for now, but she can be really fickle.

If you have been ignoring previous posts, now would be a good time to prune bunch grapes and fruit trees.

Also due for judicious trimming are summer flowering shrubs and small trees. That list includes crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and hydrangeas that bloom on new wood (Hydrangea arborescens & H. paniculata). Blueberry bushes will also benefit from a February pruning.

While you’re out there whack back the ornamental grasses, also.  The new blades haven’t emerged yet and the plants are looking a bit tired anyway.

Got some overgrown shrubs that you’ve been meaning to (or reluctant to) prune heavily? Go for it now.  I understand that if you’ve never done it before it can be a bit intimidating. Trust me. The plant will almost always not only survive, but also thrive. I am aware of the never-more-than-a-third rule, but sometimes that is not enough. If it needs to go back to 12 to 18 inches, go for it. Chances are you and the plant will be glad you did.


The orchard needs attention. Peaches and nectarines should be sprayed with a fungicide to prevent leaf curl. Spraying a dormant oil on the fruit trees will help control several insects later in the year.

Other fun stuff to do outside in February
Perennials can be divided if the soil ever gets dry enough.

Many landscape plants can be propagated via hardwood cuttings this time of the year. Some of the plants in the category are crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species), flowering quince (Chaenomoles species), junipers (Juniperus species), spiraea (Spiraea species) and weigelia (Weigelia species).

Bluebirds will be most appreciative of a through house cleaning before the Spring nesting season. Remove all the old nesting materials and let them start afresh. It’s like clean linens for them.

Oh, yeah. Lest we forget … order flowers or other living things from the plant kingdom for your significant other. Just for the record, guys like flowers and plants, too. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Think positive thoughts about an early Spring and no late freezes.

Additional Reading from NC State Extension

Carolina Lawns: A guide to maintaining quality turf in the landscape

Planting calendar for annual vegetables

Pruning trees and shrubs

Plant propagation by stem cuttings

July 13 class canceled

Please note: The Managing Pests in Your Yard and Garden class scheduled for Saturday, July 13 at For Garden’s Sake nursery in Durham has been cancelled.

This class would have covered Integrated Pest Management (IPM) an approach that uses knowledge about pests and their life cycles, cultural practices, nonchemical methods, and pesticides to manage pest problems.

Learn about IPM from these NC State Extension resources:

Chapter 8 of the Extension Master Gardener Handbook: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/8-integrated-pest-management-ipm

This article from TurfFiles is about insects and other pests you may encounter in caring for your lawn. Scroll to the bottom of its page and you’ll see links to fact sheets on 30 different insects commonly found in lawn and gardens. The fact sheets include pictures to aid in identification. https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/insects/

Give Bees a Chance

by Mark Powers and Karen Lauterbach, Extension Master Gardener Volunteers

Last summer we noted with concern the rapid proliferation of roadside signs advertising spraying to rid yards of mosquitoes and ticks.

Photo by Mark Powers

We have kept honey bees for several years and shuddered to think of the risks these chemical ‘treatments’ would pose to our hard working bees. Last week, we saw the signs nearby, with one across the street from our hives.

Honey bees face multiple challenges in 2019, the worst being the parasitic varroa mites that invaded North America in 1987. These mites attach to honey bee larvae and adults, drain them of vital fluids, and infect them with destructive viruses. We test and treat for mites on a regular basis to control this blight and keep our hives alive. We don’t need another insult to our honey bees, especially one that is man-made.

There are safe, effective ways to control mosquitoes, such as removing any standing water from your property.  North Carolina State University’s Dr. Michael Waldvogel, an Extension specialist in Entomology and Plant Pathology, points out some of the risks of chemical treatments. Pyrethroid pesticides, he explains, do not selectively eliminate mosquitoes and ticks. They kill all insects, including beneficial species like ladybugs, butterflies, and honey bees. Pesticides may knock down mosquitoes for short periods of time. For some application methods this is measured in hours. Mosquitoes don’t respect property lines, and ticks may return on the hides of passing deer and squirrels soon after a yard is sprayed. The $40 a month for spraying can buy little.

Honey bees forage for their nutrition as far away as three miles during daylight hours while plants are blooming. Spraying during these hours is most hazardous to pollinators. If bees forage on toxin-coated plants, they may not make it home. If they do, they could share chemicals with their hive mates.

An online resource, DriftWatch, aims to inform pesticide sprayers about locations of beehives across North Carolina. Homeowners can view the locations of hives near them, and all beekeepers should be sure to register their hives.

As the weather warms, signs advertising spraying for mosquitoes and ticks will sprout like dandelions. But think before you act. If you use practical and nontoxic pest management strategies, you can avoid sprays that indiscriminately kill the insects in your yard and introduce toxins into your environment. Many of our bugs are helpful.

Give bees a chance.


Sources & Further Reading

An article by Dr. Michael Waldvogel describing safe, effective ways to control mosquitoes: https://entomology.ces.ncsu.edu/mosquito-control-around-homes-and-in-communities/

Drift Watch: https://nc.driftwatch.org/map


April To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Hallelujah it is APRIL!! Real Spring is here. Statistical frost-free date is April 11. Get them tomato plants ready!! I mean if the seed packet says 65 days and you started the seeds in mid-February then you should be enjoying that first ‘mater sammich about Easter this year. Right? Well, maybe that’s pushing it a bit, but definitely by Mother’s Day. So, here’s a bunch of stuff to do while you are waiting for the tomatoes.

Lawn Care
This is the first month you may fertilize warm season grasses (i.e. Bermuda, centipede and zoysia) as they should be breaking dormancy soon. DO NOT fertilize cool season grasses again until fall.

Mow fescue and bluegrass at a height of three to four inches.

This is your last chance to put out pre-emergent crabgrass control. The deadline is when the dogwoods bloom. After that, the seeds will have germinated and pre-emergent by definition will no longer be a viable option.


  • See “Lawn Care.”
  • Fertilize any shrubbery that didn’t get fed in March.

Is this what everybody’s been waiting for, or what? By mid-month it is crazy time in the garden(s).

In the veggie garden sow, sow, sow. Melons, squashes, beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, peppers, tomatoes and corn. Presumably you have already amended the soil per your SOIL TEST recommendations. Be sure to plant enough to share with someone who might not have any at all.

Warm season grasses can be planted by the end of the month. Seeding is possible, though not recommended. Plugging and sodding are the better options with warm season grasses. Check out NC State Turf Files for detailed information on all lawn turf types.


Flowering cherry tree photo by Carissa Rogers from pexels.com

  • Remove any winter damage from shrubs and trees.
  • Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs [I.e. azalea (Rhododendron x hybrid), lilac (Syringa species), forsythia, spiraea, wiegelia, etc.] until after the blooms fade.
  • Prune fruiting shrubs [i.e. holly (Ilex species) and pyracantha] while they are in bloom to avoid removing all of this year’s berries.
  • If necessary, prune spring flowering trees [i.e. Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’), flowering cherry (Prunus hybrids), redbud (Cercis species)].


  • ALWAYS check plants for pests before spraying (except for borers which you won’t be able to see).
  • Be on the lookout for the following insect pests: azalea lacebugs, boxwood leaf miners, euonymus scale, hemlock & juniper-spruce spider mites. Spray only as needed following label instructions.
  • Spray iris beds for iris borers.
  • Treat cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) for worms. An organic product containing BT is a good green choice.
  • Spray squash plants near the base of the stem at first bloom to control squash vine borers. Continue this procedure weekly until June 1 using only an appropriate insecticide.
  • Spray apple and pear trees while in bloom with streptomycin to control fire blight. Use two applications: one at early bloom and a second at full bloom. If we have a rainy spring consider a third application.
  • Begin weekly applications of fungicide on bunch grapes.
  • Continue a rose spray program (forever and ever).
  • Begin weekly fruit tree spraying after the flower petals fall off.

Other Exciting Things (or not) to Keep You Happily Outside in the Glorious Spring Weather
Mulch. Mulch, mulch, mulch. The possibility of a hot dry summer always looms large in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Shredded hardwood, pine needles (pine straw), shredded cypress and pine bark in its many guises are all good mulches.

When you are bored or desperate to remain outside to avoid painting the bathroom, dusting the ceiling fans, bathing the cat … whatever, there are and always will be weeds to pull. It is the environmentally sound way to get rid of them and the kids and/or grand kids can help (until they turn 11 at which time the helpfulness gene goes dormant).

It’s Spring y’all.  Go out and enjoy.

Further Reading



Fired Up About Imported Ants

By Carl J. Boxberger, EMGV

Fire ants are a serious nuisance pest in home lawns. They form unsightly mounds in sunny areas in lawns or next to sidewalks and driveways where soil temperatures are greater.

When their mounds are disrupted, their bites and stings can cause pain and serious injury to people or pets they land on.

Description and Biology

Red fire ants are about a quarter-inch long, red-brown, with shiny black abdomens. They are native to South America and, having escaped their natural enemies, thrive in our southern landscapes.

There are three types of adults in a fire ant colony:  winged males, reproductive females and worker ants. Queen fire ants can lay 800 or more eggs per day. Worker ants are sterile females, wingless and protect the colony by feeding the queen, defending the nest, and foraging for food.

As the ant population grows new mounds will pop up to support the growing population. Also, if a mound is disturbed, the queen will be moved and a new mound will surface.


Drenching the mound with greater than two gallons of hot water or mechanical disruption of the mound can reduce fire ant activity, however, fire ants will form new mounds a few feet from the original mound. Do not pour gasoline, diesel fuel, ammonia or chlorine on the mounds as these are dangerous and will contaminate the soil and ground water.

Broadcast pesticides applied over the entire lawn will only control ants on the surface and will not kill the colony deeper in the soil. It may kill beneficial insects as well.

Individual mound treatment is probably the best option for home lawns. Commercially purchased baits should not be placed on top of the mound but placed within a two-foot radius around the mound. The ants will take this bait into the mound and feed the queen and kill the colony.

As with all pesticides read and carefully follow all label directions.


Nest building by fire ants, like common ants, will reduce soil compaction and help aerate the soil. Fire ant diet includes other arthropods including insects, ticks and mites. So, fire ants can be beneficial to the environment.

Today, there are five times more ants per acre in the United States than in their native South America.


NCSU Turf Files – Fire Ants in Commercial Turfgrass, Home Lawns and Landscapes by Dr. Terri Billeisen , Extension Associate, Entomology and Plant Pathology – NCSU

Center for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/insects/fireants.html

Medical problems and treatment considerations: http://fireant.tamu.edu/files/2011/12/FAPFS023_2002rev_Medical.pdf

OSHA Factsheet: https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_Hurricane_Facts/fire_ants.pdf