June: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell EMGV

The calendar claims it is June. The weather, well, the weather is about as seasonally correct as the stock market is an accurate indicator of the economy—worthless mostly. Presumably we are through covering tender vegetation until October—presumably.

The “Accidental Cottage Garden” in my front yard is still delighting and surprising every day. Now that the red clover (Trifolium praetense) has finished, the poppies (Papaver orientale) are front and center in an amazing variety of colors. The cornflowers (Centaurea montana) are fantastic. I had no idea they came in so many colors, deep red, purple, magenta, hot pink and, of course, cornflower blue. There are still several plants I have not identified. Can’t get out there with the book between rain showers. Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) will be the next major player.  What’s exciting in your garden?

Cornflowers (Centaurea montana) come in many colors! Photo by G. Crispell.

Lawn Care

If you have heretofore procrastinated on this item it is TIME to fertilize warm season grasses (i.e. Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine). It is also the best (and really only) time to fertilize Centipede. The general recommendation is for one-half pound 15-0-14 or equivalent per 1000 square feet. Should you desire to be truly accurate-GET a FREE SOIL TEST. Kits are available for contact-free pickup at the Cooperative Extension office, 721 Foster Street, Durham.

It would be difficult to core aerate our clayey soils too much, so a day or two after a rain (like any day this spring) or a good irrigation would be an ideal time do just that.

When mowing warm season grasses a good rule-of-thumb is to remove one-third of the new growth per mowing.

If you have been drooling over your neighbor’s Zoysia lawn, June is a good time to start your own with sod or plugs.


After getting your FREE SOIL TEST in order to avoid overfertilizing, now is the time to feed your dogwoods following the recommendations.

Vegetable gardens would like a side dressing of fertilizer about now to maximize production.


Again, for the procrastinators out there, if you want a crop this year better get these plants (too late for seeds) in the ground ASAP: tomatoes*, peppers, black-eyed peas, lima beans, green and wax beans, pumpkins, sweet potatoes.

Start (from seed) Brussel sprouts & collards to set out in mid-July.


Coniferous evergreens like pines, cedars, junipers, arborvitaes, etc. may be pruned now. (Coniferous evergreens produce seeds in cones.)

Hedges can be pruned now but be advised do not remove more than a third of the total plant top. (The green part.)

Keep pinching your garden mums until mid-July.

Hydrangea macrophylla (the ones with the BIG leaves) can be pruned when the flowers fade.

Azaleas may be pruned until July 4. (An “old wives tale” that works.)

Dieback in ericaceous plants (acid-loving) such as azalea, rhododendron, Pieris, etc. can be pruned out now.  Remember to cut below the damage and to sterilize the pruner with 10% bleach between cuts.

Pest Control & Herbicides

Patrol your shrubs for the following likely suspects: lace bugs, leaf miners, spider mites, aphids and bag worms. Use appropriate measures to curtail their destructive tendencies. If the bag worms have already bagged themselves you will have to hand pick them and destroy them in any manner you see fittin’.

June is also the beginning of the Asian invasion better known as Japanese beetles.  There is a myriad of treatment options out there.

Tomato* early blight could be rampant this year what with all the warm dampness. Watch for dark spots on the leaves and treat with an appropriate fungicide. There are some good organics out there.

June is a good month to eradicate poison ivy, kudzu and honeysuckle. Get ‘em with an appropriate herbicide while they are rapidly growing.

As with shrubs it is time to be on guard in the garden. Several (many?) insects are looking for gourmet gardens to satisfy their gastronomic inclinations. Look for a variety of worms on cruciferous veggies (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower), cucumber beetles on cucumbers (ironically), squash borers on other cucurbits–squash and melons, flea beetles on green beans, tomatoes and eggplant, and aphids on anything green.

Continue with regular pest management programs on bunch grapes, fruit trees and roses.

Use pesticides wisely, sparingly and only when necessary. Always read the label and follow directions.

Other Fun Garden Stuff to Keep You Outside

Water lawns as necessary but try to do it early in the day to avoid evaporative loss.  Watering lawns in the evening promotes disease. Lawns and gardens need about one inch of water per week either from natural sources or irrigation. 

Strawberry beds can be renovated now.

It is also a marvelous time to sit on the deck or patio with a glass of your favorite cold beverage and enjoy your garden. And if your deck is spacious enough for six-foot distancing you can invite friends, but no more than 25. Use triangular spacing.  It’s more efficient. Wear your masks and wash your hands, again.  Stay safe, y’all.

*Speaking of tomatoes, visit our Tomato Grafting Project page for an update about this special project! Learn more

Asian Giant Hornet Not Detected Yet in NC

With the emergence of the Asian Giant Hornet in Washington State, the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is urging North Carolina residents to be vigilant and report potential sightings of the pest.

Asian Giant Hornets are the world’s largest species of hornet, measuring about an inch-and-a-half to two inches long. They have an orange-yellow head and prominent eyes, with black and yellow stripes on their abdomens. The hornet is not known to occur in North Carolina, and our state’s apiary staff have been actively monitoring for the pest with no detections to date.

“The Asian Giant Hornet is a threat to honeybees and can rapidly destroy beehives, but it generally does not attack people or pets,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “There are many wasp and hornet look-alikes that are beneficial insects, so residents are asked to exercise caution before deciding to kill any large hornets.”

Cicada killers and European hornets do occur in North Carolina and can be confused with the Asian Giant Hornet. Residents can visit https://agr.wa.gov/departments/insects-pests-and-weeds/insects/hornets/size-comparisons to see a photo of the Asian Giant Hornet along with common look-alikes.

If you think you have seen an Asian Giant Hornet, take a photo and submit it to the North Carolina State University’s Plant Disease and Insect Clinic. Instructions on digital submission can be found at https://projects.ncsu.edu/cals/plantpath/extension/clinic/submit-sample.html  under Option 3.

For more information about the Asian Giant Hornet, visit the NCSU Cooperative Extension or read our pest alert at https:///www.ncagr.gov/plantindustry/plant/entomology/documents/AsianGiantHornetPestWatch.pdf.

Busting Myths

by Andrea Laine EMGV

One of the things we master gardener bloggers take pride in doing is busting gardening myths. Our approach to accomplishing that is by presenting readers with a common problem or challenge, describing our firsthand experiences, and then sharing recommended solutions from the agricultural research-scientists associated with NC State Extension Services and nearby states that share our climate, soil and other growing conditions.

The approach we generally avoid is saying, “Hey, so-and-so said do this and here’s why you should not follow their advice!” I’m about to break with that tradition because of a gardening “how-to” piece I just read in an international newspaper with a large circulation.

The piece illustrated how to carve a garden out of your lawn using wet layers of newspaper, several sheets thick, and mulch on top. So far, so good. Where it goes astray is instructing you to plant immediately afterward by cutting holes through the paper and through the sod. Why bother with the paper if you’re going to need to cut the sod anyway? And, guess what, sod is a living being, too. While it is still trying to live under that newspaper it is competing with your annuals or vegetables for water and nutrients. For best results, leave that newspaper and mulch in place, untouched (except for watering) for six months, so whatever was underneath (sod or weeds) ceases to grow and is well on its way to breaking down into compost. By the way, cardboard works as well as newspapers*.

The newspaper and writer had good intentions. We are living in unusual times — people across the US and around the world — are staying home to minimize the spread of Covid-19. It is springtime and people are gardening; even people who rarely if ever gardened before. That’s great!!! Gardening has many benefits to our physical and mental well-being, and to the environment.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. So, whether your motivation to garden is putting food on your table, enjoying pretty flowers in your landscape, or sprucing up the yard or lawn to help pass time while you are staying home, master gardeners can teach you how to do it right. Let the over-simplified instructions and pretty pictures in mainstream newspapers, magazines and social media inspire you. When you are ready to take action, seek out sources devoted to the area of gardening that you are most enthusiastic about. NC State Extension’s archive of horticulture publications and fact sheets is a great place to begin. (After following this blog, of course!) And you can always send us a question at durhammastergardener@gmail.com.

Further Reading

*Consider planting a container garden while waiting for your newspaper to breakdown.

Horticulture publications and fact sheets from NC State Extension

Better ways to carve a garden out of your lawn or over a bed of weeds

Extension’s Durham County Center news and information