Tarheel Gardening — Wordless Wednesday

Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri.


By: Helen Yoest

The TarHeelGardening blog is published and edited by Helen Yoest. For more information on Tarheel Gardening, please visit our website at Tarheel Gardening- your online resource for North Carolina gardening enthusiasts.


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Sustainable Gardening Practices


The term “Sustainable” gardening seems to have become the buzz word in the gardening community encompassing “green”, “organic”, and “waterwise” gardening practices. Simply put, sustainable gardening is the gardening practice of conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.

Gardening sustainably is not and does not need to be an all or nothing proposition.  You can begin with one practice and build form there.  What’s key is to be aware of what practices you perform and think about them before continuing on with business as usual.  It is also good to understand the available options and grow from there.

Most sustainable gardening practices can be delved into deeper, but a good place to begin is with these lessons:  growing the right plant in the right place, practicing water conservation, bed preparation and maintenance, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM.)

Right Plant, Right Place

Putting the right plant in the right place will save you and your resources.  Many plants can be grown outside their recommend growing range with regards to sunlight and water requirements.  In doing so, however, more time and energy is wasted – water, human energy, time.

Planting a moisture loving plant in dry bed is counter-productive.  Study and know your site.  Plant moisture loving plants in a moist area or be prepared to provide.  Plant drought tolerant plants in a dry area, and so on.  Many gardeners like to push hardiness zones, but it is not advisable to push plant needs.  While you can nurse a shade loving plant planted in the sun with water, it’s not sustainable.

Planting native plants and trees is the ultimate example of the right plant in the right place dictum.  Planting these helps to re-establish the local ecosystem. Native plantings have already adapted to this climate, and the native wildlife have adapted to these plants.


Water conservation can be achieved from many aspects of garden design and harvesting.  The goal for water conservation is to keep as much of the water on your property as possible.  This can be done so by reducing impervious surfaces, slowing falling rainwater enough so as it doesn’t go to the storm drains, building rain gardens, and to water less and smartly.


Most of us don’t want to be denied a plant based on watering needs. But be prudent. Garden water wisely. Understand your garden’s watering zones.  Dragging a hose past 10 drought tolerant plants to water a thirsty one is neither sustainable nor practical.

A waterwise garden design is comprised of three gardening zones:  oasis, transitional, and xeric.

The “oasis zone” is still the area closest to the water source. But now these sources can be drain spouts, rain barrels, the outlet of a French drain, and the area around the front door to easily water your container plants with say, the “wasted” water used indoors.

The “transitional zone” is the area away from the house about midway from the home and the end of the property. Plantings here should be sustainable requiring only occasional supplemental water. Typically, these areas are island beds, driveway beds, or raised beds.

The “xeric zone” is at the property’s perimeter. These plants should be tough requiring no supplemental water. This area can be filled with dependable drought-resistant plants.

The key is to select plants that don’t require supplemental watering or if they do, they can be watered with water collected from nature or clean water from inside the home that would otherwise be wasted.

Water Smart

Water plants directly to the root zone by hand or using soaker or drip irrigation.  Overhead sprinklers are not sustainable due to the water lost through evaporation and wind. Water according to plant needs, not a rigid schedule. Water infrequently, but deeply.



We need to accept the soil we’re dealt or be prepared to amend.  In our area of the Piedmont region of North Carolina, there is clay and sand. In the heart of Raleigh, it’s all clay. As you move outside of Raleigh, you’ll find sandy soil. It is important to read plant labels.  If the label recommends planting in well drained soils, and your have clay, just know some amending will need to occur.  In any garden soil type, you cannot go wrong adding more organic matter.


Reduce or eliminate fertilizer use. If you must use chemical fertilizers, be sure to closely follow the directions on the bag.  Using more fertilizer than directed will not help your plants grow any more.  Over fertilizing also increases the risk of not working its way into the ground becoming available as runoff to pollute local waterways.  Begin a compost pile to create your own organic fertilizer.


Covering garden beds with mulch is one of the best things you can do for your garden. Used generously, mulch breaks down to add nutrients to the soil, helps retain moisture, moderates the soil temperature, improves soil texture, suppresses weeds, and looks great; and it really makes the garden look tidy.  Mulch all uncovered soil for water retention, weed control, and to improve the soil’s structure.


Weeds compete for water with you desirable plants.  Even if the sight of weeds is acceptable in your garden, removing them will help stop the spread of environmental weeds. Find out what plants have become weeds in your area and, if you have them, weed them out or safely kill or contain them.


Composting garden and kitchen waste. In Raleigh, we have separate yard waste pick up.  If yard waste is rid properly, it won’t end up in the landfill.  But if you have the room to compost, then you don’t have to buy it back to use in your own garden.  If more fertilizer is needed, using organic sources only, like aged manure, compost tea, and those that are fish- or seaweed-based can be used.

There a few approaches to building a compost.  Choose whatever type suits your garden — a three-bay heap for a large property, a classic upside-down-bin style to place in an average garden, a tumble-type bin that neatly sits on a paved area or a bucket to keep in your kitchen.

Compost systems can be either hot or cold.  Hot requires regular a turning maintenance.  Cold takes longer to break down, but if you have the room, it is the easiest way to compost.  In cold composting, the kitchen and yard waste only needs to be piled.  After it reaches a certain height, start another.  When that one is full, go back to the other.  Hopefully it will be ready to use when you are.

Mature compost ends up as a delightful humus to use as a soil conditioner in your sustainable garden.


Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective approach to pest management using the most economical means with the least possible hazard to people, property and the environment.

IPM is not a single pest control method, but rather, a series of pest management evaluations, decisions and controls. It’s the judicious use of pesticides.

IPM follows a four-tiered approach:

  1. Determine action threshold.  Sighting a single pest doesn’t necessarily mean control is needed.
  2. Monitor and Identify Pests. Not all insects, weeds, and other living organisms require control. Many organisms are innocuous and even beneficial. IPM programs work to monitor for pests and identify them accurately, so that appropriate control decisions can be made in conjunction with action thresholds.
  3. Prevention.  Rotating between different crops, selecting pest-resistant varieties, and planting pest-free rootstock. Also planting in areas to provide good air circulation prevents problems with pests.
  1. Control.  Effective, less risky pest controls are chosen first, including highly targeted chemicals, such as pheromones to disrupt pest mating, or mechanical control, such as trapping or weeding. If further monitoring, identifications and action thresholds indicate that less risky controls are not working, then additional pest control methods would and could be used, such as targeted spraying of pesticides. Broadcast spraying of non-specific pesticides is a last resort.

As individual gardeners, we can each use these lessons to do a small part to help lessen our footprint on the environment with our gardening practices.  We gardeners make up large number including more than 7 million new gardeners each year.  Each of us can make a difference by avoiding the depletion of our natural resources.

By: Helen Yoest

The TarHeelGardening blog is published and edited by Helen Yoest. For more information on Tarheel Gardening, please visit our website at Tarheel Gardening- your online resource for North Carolina gardening enthusiasts.

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Wordless Wednesday — Blackberry Season!



It’s blackberry season in North Carolina gardens and landscapes. Do you grow blackberries? Do you know there are thornless varieties?


Words by:  Helen Yoest

Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association



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Monthly NC Garden Chores – July

2013 showstopper plants

July is your prize after many months of gardening — from fall prep to spring planning — and you now get to reap your rewards with fresh fruits, vegetables and fragrant flowers. Gardening can continue in your North Carolina garden right through July. We have the weather to garden year round.

It is a time of abundance. July may not the best planting month for Southeast gardens, but it’s a good time to plan and prepare. Check out your local nursery for additions to your landscape, though; if you do plan to plant, just be sure to give any new plantings extra water until they established.

The weeds will not let you rest, but they might slow down to a manageable pace during the dog days of summer. Rainfall will best determine how much time you’ll spend weeding. Little rain, fewer weeds. More rain, more weeds.

Gardening with Confidence Blackberry Punch

Cut back annuals: Cut back summer annuals so they don’t get leggy. A good time to do this is right before you go on vacation; this way, you will be gone as the plants get a fresh start. Petunias benefit from this kind of summer pinch. This cutback from the ends of the stems encourages branching, resulting in a bushier plant.


Practice wise watering methods: July can be a month with limited rainfall. When nature stops providing regular rain, you may need to supplement. Here are some tips to help your garden during a dry season:

  • Chances are your container plants will need to be watered every day. Check by doing the finger test. If the top inch of soil is dry, it’s time to water. Water thoroughly. Small pots will dry out faster than larger pots, and containers in the sun will dry out faster than those in the shade.
  • Add mulch. A layer of mulch, 3 to 4 inches deep, will moderate soil temperature and reduce evaporation. Organic mulches include: composted leaves, shredded pine or hardwoods, and even nuggets. Mulches will also reduce weed production and keep the garden looking tidy.
  • First season plants — those fall and spring additions — will need more frequent watering than established ones. Water new additions two or three times per week until the plants are established. Established plants typically require watering once a week.
  • Conserve water by running a sprinkler during cooler hours, typically early in the morning. This will help reduce water loss due to evaporation. If possible, set up a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose to minimize waste. Watering in the morning hours also allows the water to dry on the foliage, minimizing fungal formation.

Deadhead daisies

Deadhead and deadleaf spent flowers: Remove hosta flowers after the bloom is spent. They’re primarily decorative and not an energy source for the plant, so they don’t need to die back completely before removing.

Deadhead the spent flowers of daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.)Shasta daisies(Leucanthemum spp.), black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) and bee balm (Monarda spp.) to extend the bloom time.

Do those yellow leaves of the daylily make you see red? They do to me. Not only do I deadhead my daylilies, but I also deadleaf. I don’t like the look of yellow or decaying daylily leaves.


Divide irises: Did you have success with your new iris planted this year or in the fall? If not, it could be due to several factors: too much shade, too much fertilizer, too deep a planting, or crowding. July is a good time to correct any of these problems by lifting and relocating or repositioning to a more favorable location.

Plant the iris high with the rhizomes along the surface of the dirt. They will be covered finely and lightly with mulch, but not soil. Make sure you can either see the rhizomes or have the ability to brush away the mulch exposing the bulb.

With the exception of Louisiana variety, irises need six to eight hours of sunlight to bloom and require good drainage. If you have a damp, partial sun location in your garden, plant a Louisiana iris


Harvest summer edibles: Harvest tomatoes when they are ripe. There is nothing better than sinking your teeth into a ripe tomato, warmed from the summer sun. Didn’t plant tomatoes? Visit your local farmers market for a selection of fresh, field-grown varieties.In your home garden, keep an eye out for early blight. Blight is a fungal disease that will cause spots to develop on the foliage. The leaves begin to yellow and then drop. Pinch off foliage at first indication. If too severe, there are several fungicides that can be used to reduce the symptoms.

After the blackberry and raspberry harvest, remove the old fruiting canes to make room for the new canes that will produce next year’s crop.


Manage pests: Do yourself a favor and never look into the “eye” of a bagworm. Bagworms have got to be the most disgusting looking thing ever — to me anyway

Bagworms can be treated by removing them by hand and dropping into a bucket of soapy water. If the bagworm infestation isn’t within easy reach, they can be sprayed with Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt.Bt is a microbial insecticide that’s commonly used to control various caterpillars such as the red-headed azalea caterpillar along with many others, as well as bagworms.

For more information, check out the North Carolina Extension Agency July Garden Calendar.

Words by:  Helen Yoest

Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association


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Wordless Wednesday–Gardening For The Butterflies

Gardening for the butterflies



Words by:  Helen Yoest

Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association



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Telling the difference between English and Spanish Bluebells

English Bluebell Hyacinthoidesnon-scriptaCommon Name:  English Bluebells

Botanical Name:  Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Color: True blue

Type: Perennial bulb

Size: 1 to 1.5 feet x .25 to .5 feet

Soil: Well-drained

pH: Slightly acidic

Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Watering: Average to medium mosture

Zone: 5 to 8

Origin: Western Europe

Use: great in the mixed border, under deciduous trees. English bluebells are tolerant of heavy clay and will even grow under black walnut trees. These can be found through your favorite bulb dealer for gardening and landscaping in North Carolina.

Plant bulbs about 3-4 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart in the fall. Naturalizes well by both bulb offsets and self-seeding in optimum growing conditions. Bluebells are ephemeral, going dormant by early summer.

The English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) will easily hybridize with the Spanish bluebells (Hyancinthoides hispanica), if planted near each other, resulting in different forms appearing through self-seeding.

Bluebells are particularly effective when naturalized in large drifts under deciduous trees or at the margins of shade or woodland gardens.  Bluebells also work well grown in containers, either alone or in combination with other spring flowering bulbs.

We are often asked how to tell the difference between the English and the Spanish bluebells. English bluebell is very similar to Spanish bluebell except English bluebell has fragrant flowers, arching flowering racemes, and shorter flowering stems.

The English bluebell is usually found in the woods and prefers some shade. In nature, it is unusual to find them on open ground. An interesting trait is that when the flowers are fully formed, the stalk of the English bluebells curves downwards. If all the flowers are on one side of the flower stalk, it’s most likely English bluebells. The weight (and gravity) of these flower heads on one side causes the stale to have curving flowering racemes.

BluebellsIn nature, the Spanish bluebells are usually found on open ground; it is unusual to find Spanish bluebells in the woods.  Also, when the flowers are fully formed, the stalk is very straight. Unlike the English bluebells where the flowers are on one side of the stalk, the Spanish bluebell stalks have flowers all around the stalk. 

Words by:  Helen Yoest

Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association

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Wordless Wednesday — Bluebirds

Bluebirds Gardening in North Carolina

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Wordless Wednesday — Adding Color

Color echo purple

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North Carolina Garden Chores — May

Color Tarheel Gardening, Gardening With Confidence®

May brings the end of pine pollen and the unofficial start of summer with the long Memorial Day weekend. Let the prime gardening season begin. Here’s what you can do in the Southeast garden this month. May, and every month of the year, is a great time to garden in North Carolina. Have you check our your local nursery? Tell us what grows in your North Carolina landscape.

Admire blooming trees and shrubs. May is bloom time for southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). These flowers give so much, and we need to do so little for them in return. I like to pluck a magnolia bloom and float it in a bowl of water near where I read or enjoy the garden at the end of the day. It lasts but a day, but what a day it is.The

Endless Summer hydrangea is the first hydrangea to bloom on old and new growth, with the ability to rebloom all summer long. I planted my Endless Summer in 2005. To encourage reblooming, cut the blooms for drying or to put in vases for a fresh arrangement. This will also encourage the plant to set new buds.Prune rhododendrons and azaleas right after flowering.

Enjoy abundant rose blooms. Roses are in full swing right now. Let your roses flesh out; prune less in May so they grow taller. This is usually good advice for the first couple of cuttings. Then you can prune at will, remembering to cut the next five leaflets at an angle.Roses are heavy feeders — in terms of both food and water. Fertilize once a month and give each rose about 5 gallons of water each week (or about 1 inch per week). Water in the morning, at the base of the plant to help discourage black spot.

Cherish blooming iris. Oh, the irises are blooming their little heads off. After they bloom, cut the flower stalks to tidy up the plant. Recently I cut some for a friend. She took a whiff and realized, for the first time, that bearded irises have a lovely scent — making them enjoyable indoors too.Cut the flower stalks of daffodils. Try to ignore the leaves as the plants naturally die back.

Plant annuals. With frosts behind us, you can plant annuals with abandonment. Visit public gardens to see the variety available for planting in our area. The JC Raulston Arboretum is an All-American Selection (AAS) display garden, exhibiting the most recent selection winners.Direct sow zinnia seed at intervals to have cut flowers through frost.

by Gardening with Confidence®

Plant tender summer bulbs. It’s now safe to transplant the amaryllis you grew during the winter. It will not likely bloom again this year but should do so next year.Now that the soil has warmed (make sure it’s at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit), plant caladium bulbs or caladiums potted and already in leaf. They like it warm and can be damaged by cool weather, not just a frost. They are also big feeders, so you’ll need to water and fertilize them consistently during the growing season.Actually, any tender summer bulb, such as cannas, dahlias, ginger lilies and tuberoses, can be planted now.

Grow edibles. With the last frost of the season behind us, it’s now time to plant tomatoes, basil, peppers, cucumbers, and other tender annuals.

Plant an herb garden. If not for you, then for your garden friends. Black Tiger Swallowtail butterfly larvae love parsley and fennel. Let those green worms eat it all.May in my garden is peak lavender bloom time. Each May I’m reminded of why I grow lavender; it can look ratty many months of the year. After it flowers, cut back and shape it.

Discover different wisteria. May is not the ideal time for planting perennials, but they are widely available. If you plan to plant, be prepared to pamper them well. Perennials require extra watering to help them get established.Seeing Chinese wisteria in the wild brings a feeling of wonder. Yes, the color and flowers cascading down from the trees are beautiful, but they aren’t supposed to be there. Think twice about planting one.Instead, consider the rich purple flowers of American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ ); it blooms a little later the Chinese species.

Add a container garden. Every home area has room for container gardens. Find some fabulous pots and fill them with whatever you fancy. Know the amount of sun you get and when.It matters when you select your plants. Containers tend to dry out faster, so container gardens need to be watered more often. This water tends to cause nutrients to leach out, so plants will benefit from an application of a quick-release fertilizer.

by Gardening with Confidence®

Top-dress your garden beds with mulch. Keep your gardens cool, less thirsty and reduce the amount of weeds. I can write volumes on the benefits of mulch. I believe in the power of mulch.For my roses, I use mini nuggets, but for my perennial gardens, I used composted leaf mulch. Picking up a load of mulch reminds me how important it is to make sure yard waste is separated from trash. Yard waste not only is good stuff once it is composted,  but the conservation practice is in everone’s best interest.

Fertilize sustainably. To encourage flowering, use a fertilizer low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus.Fertilizer’s three main ingredients are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, or NPK.

  • 10-10-10 means there is an equal proportion N, P and K.
  • Hydrangeas like a low N and a high P; thus a combination of 10-40-10 would be ideal.

My general rule of thumb to remember what the numbers mean is to start with the first number and apply from the top of the plant to the bottom. As such, N is for the green, P is for the bloom and K is for the root or up and down and all around.

To refresh your understanding of pH, it refers to the acidity of the soil and is measured by the number of hydrogen ions present in the soil. It’s a logarithmic scale based on the power of 10. As such, a pH of 6 is 10 times more acidic than pH of 7. Thus, even a little change in pH can make a big difference.

  • A pH of 7 is neutral.
  • A pH lower than than 7 is acidic.
  • A ph higher than 7 is alkaline.

Most plants like a pH between 6.5 and 7. Hydrangeas like it more acidic than most plants.




Words by:  Helen Yoest

Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association


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Wordless Wednesday — Native Azalea

Native Azalea


Words by:  Helen Yoest

Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association


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