NC State Extension

The Gardener’s Dirt November 2014

Picture of a hand spadeInformation you can really dig into

This newsletter offers timely information for your outdoor living spaces.  Addressing the most common questions ranging from container gardening, tree pruning, wildlife management, to fire ant control, insect identification and lawn establishment.

Click here for a printable version of the newsletter.

Shawn Banks
Extension Agent
Agriculture—Consumer Horticulture

Calling for men and women who love to garden! Become a Johnston County Master Gardener! To learn more about MGs, go to  The 13-week training starts in January 22, 2015. Contact Shawn Banks for more information. Email him at or call 919-989-5380. Click here to access the application which is due January 10, 2015.


Why New Plants Dig the Fall!

By: Margy Pearl – Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

If you asked my husband what question he asks most in the fall it would be: “Where do you want me to dig?” Once the cooler weather arrives, my hunting season starts and I’m on the prowl for new plants. Here are the main reasons why both new plants and I dig the Fall!

A Wide Variety of New Plants (transplants and divisions, too!) Can Be Established:

Evergreens, deciduous trees, shrubs, and spring-blooming bulbs can be successfully planted.

Plant new perennials, especially in large containers, and ornamental grasses.

Picture by: Margy Pearl

Picture by: Valerie Little

Because plants are using less water, this is an ideal time to transplant established plants. Move non-blooming plants so energy can be diverted to root growth. Roots are often lost during the transplanting process. Because there are fewer roots to take up water, you will want to cut back up to one third of the tops.

It’s recommended to divide spring and summer blooming perennials between early September and late October. This gives the roots time to establish before a freeze. In Johnston County our first frost date usually occurs between October 28 and November 15.

Here’s a great tip from Pete Linsner, Manager of Plant Production at the Morton Arboretum in Illinois, “Perennials and bulbs can be planted together without damaging established root systems. Instead of digging through plant roots to layer bulbs, a fall gardener can plant everything at the same time. Not only will this prevent transplant shock to sensitive perennials, but it can save you time and energy, as well.”

Don’t forget those wonderful cool winter annuals that keep the winter blahs at bay! Pansies and violas, flowering cabbage and kale, as well as snapdragons will provide vivid color into spring.

Soil Temperature Encourages Root Growth:

The air may be cool, but the soil is warm! Roots, a huge factor in plant health, are encouraged by the warm soil. In early spring, those healthy roots will produce new growth that continues to develop before the top of the plant begins to generate new stems, leaves, and flowers. When summer heat and potential drought arrives, plants established in the fall have the advantage of three seasons of growth and strength. Their root systems are larger, well-established and better able to take up water. The plants can withstand the stress of temperature extremes and will produce more top growth.

Cool Air Temperature:

Did you know that many sources say Fall usually has more days ideal for plants and planting than spring does? Not only are these lovely cool days less stressful on plants, but on us as well! Those burning rays on foliage and skin are in the past. Only the air is crisp!

Easier to Water:

In the Fall, we usually have enough rain to help establish plantings. If there is not an inch of rain a week, you will need to make up the difference. However, avoid over watering because it can cause root rot, a condition from which plants usually do not recover.

Fewer Pests, Diseases and No Fertilizing Needed:

One of the many reasons to love Fall planting time is that pests, weeds, and disease problems diminish. The cooler night temperatures discourage the insects that bother us, as well. By late summer, you can end the chore of fertilizing plants. Keep in mind that fertilizer promotes new, tender growth that can be damaged in winter.


Before winter, any store that carries plants is trying to sell the last of their inventory. It’s not unusual to find plants 50-75% off! Unapologetic clearance (or Death Row) shoppers know the condition of the tops is not as important as slipping the plant out of the pot to check for those lovely white, healthy roots. If you want several of a particular plant, you may even be able to negotiate a “group rate”!

It’s another cool, beautiful day! Twist-type tiller in hand, I’m heading out to plant some great perennials from the Raleigh Farmers’ Market. The husband and the shovel have the day off!

Additional Sources:

Birds and Blooms Magazine, October/November 2014


Mistletoe, Nothing Usual

Phoradendron flavescents

By Janet Lampe – Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Mistletoe is a semiparasitic plant with beautiful waxy white small berries and small dark green leaves. These plants are usually found growing high on branches of live deciduous, fir, and pine trees.

Picture by: Charlotte Glen

Picture by: Charlotte Glen

There are two types of mistletoe. One type includes those for our Christmas decorations (Phoradendron flavescens) and is native to North America. The other type (Viscum album of European origin) is usually found on apple, lime, poplar, blackthorn, hawthorn, rowan, and willow trees. Both types gain their moisture and nutrients from the bark or limbs of the host plant. When leaves appear on the new plant, photosynthesis occurs.

The European method for growing your own mistletoe suggests finding a healthy tree and placing seeds as high as you can to provide for more sunlight and less chance of nesting for wildlife. Seeds need healthy host bark and light to grow. Mistletoe seeds are naturally sticky.

Berries cut in December can be kept fresh by detaching them and storing them uncovered, in the light so they will not die, but away from children and animals. However, the best time to gather fresh berries is in February.

Older berries will need to be rehydrated for a few hours in a little water. Squeeze the seeds from the berries and remove most of the jelly-like gluey viscin. Seeds will still be sticky and adhere readily to the host tree. Choose young branches. It is best to grow the seeds away from the center of the tree. Place 6 or more on the branch, 20 or more on 4 branches and place a HANGING LABEL to ensure you will find where you have planted the seeds. Germination should occur by March or April. BE PATIENT! They are slow growing. It takes about 4 or 5 years for flowers to be produced, followed by the waxy berries.

It is important that extreme caution be taken with mistletoe. Berries, twigs, and leaves are highly toxic, so immediate medical attention is needed if humans, pets, or animals ingest any part of this plant.

More interesting and important facts:

Mistletoe is the state flower of Oklahoma.

Mistletoe can destroy a healthy tree by overpowering it.

Mistletoe is quite different from other parasites.

Myths and legends of the mistletoe are interesting and it is little wonder that ancient peoples were mystified by its presence.

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” tells of the strong power of mistletoe to those who encounter it.

“Under the Mistletoe” has remained a popular tradition of Christmas where a gentleman may kiss a pretty lady if she permits and then plucks a berry from the twig. When all berries are plucked, kissing ceases!

During the harshest winter days, this small flowering plant offers beauty, color, mystery and wonder!


“Moonseed and Mistletoe” by Carol Lerner

“Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas” by Ace Collins


Fall Fruit and Nut Tree Sale  begin Oct. 1, 2014 through Nov. 14, 2014 at the Johnston County Agriculture Center in Smithfield, NC. You can purchase a variety of fruit trees, blueberries, muscadines, and pecan trees everyday during this time period from 8:00am – 5:00pm. For a copy of the information sheet and order form click here.

All Bugs Good and Bad Webinar Series: Where Have all the Honeybees Gone? Hope For the Future. Friday, November 7, 2014 at 2pm eastern time. The session is 45 minutes long. For more information and the link to connect to the webinar click here.

Become a Johnston Co. Master Gardener:
Calling for men and women who love to garden! Become a Johnston County Master Gardener! To learn more about MGs, go to  The 13-week training starts in January 22, 2015. Contact Shawn Banks for more information. Email him at or call 919-989-5380. Click here to access the application which is due January 10, 2015.


Wild Garlic & Wild Onion

Allium vineale & Allium canadense

By Brenda Clayton – Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

It seems as though we are always fighting a multitude of weeds in our lawns. As if crabgrass, henbit, dandelions, vetch – shall I go on? – is not enough to deal with, now we are looking at wild garlic and wild onion rising 6”-10” above the grass. Mow them down and before you can get the lawn mower put away, they’re already taller than the lawn yet again. What’s a person to do?

Picture by: Shawn Banks

Picture by: Shawn Banks

First, let’s identify this culprit. Wild garlic and wild onion are winter perennials that appear in late fall. They grow from underground bulbs that happily multiply all winter and spring. In the spring, wild garlic produces additional bulbs at the top of the plants called aerial bulblets. Isn’t that wild?

So do you have wild garlic or wild onion? Both have thin, green, waxy leaves. The leaves of wild garlic are round and hollow. The leaves of wild onion are flat and solid.

But what you really want to know is how to rid your lawn of these rapid growers. Remember these are winter perennials and will disappear again in late spring. So go to battle now! Here are several suggestions.

(1) Mow! The more you cut them down, the weaker they become though mowing will not actually kill the bulbs. Next spring, mow before the wild garlic produces those aerial bulblets!

(2) Pull! Use a small sharp shovel or trowel to dig down and pull out those pesky bulbs. You may not get every last bulb, but you will have made a serious dent in the population. However, if you have a yard full, pulling may not be practical.

3) Spray! There are a number of chemicals that can be sprayed to eradicate wild garlic and wild onion. But caution is in order here because you do not want to eradicate your lawn in the process!

Imazaquin will control both plants. November and again in the spring are the best times to treat. Don’t use on fescue. Don’t use on warm season grass during spring green up. You’ll need to wait a month or so after treatment before reseeding, overseeding, or plugging your lawn.

A triple herbicide with 2,4-D, dicamba, and one other herbicide also work well. Always, always read the label and follow instructions carefully. Centipede and St. Augustine grasses are very sensitive to chemicals. So make sure you’re using a spray that will not harm your lawn.

One other tidbit. Because the leaves are waxy, you want the spray to adhere and not slide off. You can purchase a “sticker/spreader” or perhaps even use dishwashing detergent.

It may take a couple of years to rid your lawn of wild garlic and/or wild onion. November is the best month for treatment, again in early spring, and once more next November. Your lawn will thank you, your nose will thank you, and your neighbors will be envious! What more could you want?



Hardy Ageratum, Mistflower, Wild Ageratum

Conoclinium coelestinum

By Margy Pearl – Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Picture by: NCSU

Picture by: NCSU

Formerly known as Eupatorium coelestinum, this native wildflower grows so profusely along roadsides on moist ditch banks at the coast that it’s considered weedy! Controlled in a perennial border, the cool blooms provide lasting color for 8 weeks and is especially striking when paired with yellow and white mums. Mistflower also grows easily in native and/or wildflower gardens, meadows, and other naturalized areas. It makes a great cut flower!

Bloom Time: July to October; mid to late summer till frost.

Height: 1-3 ft.

Foliage: Branching stem; pairs of triangular, stalked, bluntly toothed leaves, 1½”-3” long

Flower: Resembling annual blue ageratum,tiny, fluffy, flowers appear in compact, flat-topped corymbs or clusters (up to 70 flowers per cluster!) extend on short stems. The most common color is blue but some may appear violet to purple. Eupatorium havanense is the white variety.

Site: Grows vigorously inmoist soil; full sun to partial shade. It’s found naturally in moist woods and along the banks of bodies of water. Tolerant of less than ideal conditions.

Maintenance: No serious insect or disease problems. Cut back in early summer to promote denser habit. Divide every three years to control growth of the rhizome-type roots.

Propagation: May be started from seed. Self seeds in moist soil. Division of rhizome-type roots is suggested in the spring but can be done successfully in the fall, if kept moist.

Wildlife: Attracts bees and other insects. It is a great source of late season nectar for a variety of butterflies. Insect-eating birds such as Bluebirds, Orioles, Warblers and Red-wing Blackbirds are attracted by the potential for food. It has bitter tasting foliage that is not grazed by deer or rabbits.


Common Sage

Salvia officinalis

By Shawn Banks – Extension Agent

My first introduction to sage was on Thanksgiving Day at grandma and grandpa’s house. To hear my mother tell the story I took one taste of the dressing and told her “this stuff tastes like those bushes out front smell.” What an accurate description. There were a couple of sage plants out front. One planted on either side of the walkway coming up to the door.

Picture by: Shawn Banks

Picture by: Shawn Banks

Common sage also called kitchen sage, or garden sage can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 4 – 8. It’s native to the Mediterranean area where it grows best in drier soils. When watered too frequently, the roots will rot and the plant will die. This plant will grow in loose, well-drained soil in the ground, but will often do better as a container grown plant. At a height of 2 to 2.5 feet and a spread of about the same sage makes a nice addition to the herb garden, or flowerbed, where it produces a lavender-blue flower in early to mid summer. The flowers are attractive to butterflies and bees alike.

Leaves of this plant are commonly gray green (sage) in color, but there are a couple varieties that have been selected for variegated leaves. The course texture and strong aroma of the leaves helps this plant be deer resistant. It’s the leaf that is generally harvested and used as a seasoning. However, if you don’t like the taste of sage, it has also been used in herbal medicines as a topical treatment for sprains and bruises or in teas to treat sore throat and ulcers. That’s something you can research if you are more interested in medicinal herbs.

Picture by: Shawn Banks

Picture by: Shawn Banks

As for me, I like sage on poultry, especially turkey. Here is a recipe for a rub that will season that turkey right up. The recipe calls for dried herbs, but fresh, finely chopped herbs can be used as a substitute if you have them.

Holiday Rub

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 teaspoons dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried sage

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Mix the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Brush the outside of the turkey with olive oil and generously rub the seasoning mixture over the bird. If you catch the juices from the turkey to make gravy, some of the seasoning will be in the juices.


Food network turkey recipe –

Missouri Botanical Garden: Salvia officinalis –



Collect soil samples for FREE testing, so you’ll know how much fertilizer & lime to add. Test your lawn, flower beds & vegetable garden. Testing should be done every 3 years. The kits are available at the Cooperative Extension office. Clean up and throw away any diseased plant material. Do not throw it in a compost pile. Leaving infected plant material (leaves, fruits, nuts) on on the ground or plants, provides a source of inoculum for re-infection next year. There will be a soil test fee of $4.00 during peak soil test season wich is December1 – March 30 so get those samples in before Thanksgiving.


Fertilize fescue lawns for winter. The November fertilization (near Thanksgiving) is the most important one of the year for cool-season grasses. The soil is still warm enough to permit the growth of strong roots that will enable the grass to withstand next summer’s baking heat. Use a slow-release fertilizer formulated for turf, and apply according to soil test results.


Fall is for planting! September through early February is an ideal time to plant deciduous trees/shrubs and perennials. Plant evergreen plants from September – November. The cool weather permits establishment of a root system before next year’s hot weather. Find pictures of recommended planting techniques at:

It’s time to move shrubs from one place to another. Mulch shrubs/trees, perennials & herbs after the 1st killing frost for winter protection. Apply a layer 3″ deep. Mulch comparisons and general info:

Plant spring flowering bulbs as the weather turns cold. For best landscape effect, plant groups of bulbs in between shrubs, or scatter bulbs in wooded areas; avoid planting bulbs in straight lines. Always plant quality bulbs. Daffodils , Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanicus), and Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) are bulbs to consider. By contrast, Tulips and Dutch hyacinths decline after their first season and are best treated as annuals. Tips for planting/purchasing bulbs at:

Use shredded leaves as mulch. Fallen leaves contain lots of nutrients, but they decompose slowly. Help the process along by grinding up your leaves rather than sending them to the landfill. You don’t need a shredder; simply rake the leaves into rows and run them over with a lawnmower.

Compost your yard waste! As you cut back your perennials in preparation for winter, think about returning that bounty to your garden in the form of compost. Compost is nature’s favorite fertilizer and soil conditioner. Recycle grass clippings, leaves, and non-diseased garden refuse.

For information on how to compost: (This link is currently unavailable.)

Here are some tips on how to protect your plants from cold damage:


Before you put those plants in the ground, consider this …. Landscape with a plan. A well-thought-out landscape plan will produce a more “finished” effect. Analyze your property and draw a simple map, noting which areas are sunny, shady, moist or dry. Consider where you need evergreens for screening, shorter plants to maintain a view, and about creating a landscape that will be appealing throughout all four seasons.

Put the right plant in the right place. Choose plants well suited to the growing conditions in your yard. We can provide many publications describing plants that are well-adapted to our county. Master Gardener Volunteers, nursery professionals, gardening books geared toward North Carolina are also excellent resources.

Allow space for plants to grow to their mature size. A common mistake is placing a large or fast-growing plant where there is not enough room for its full height and spread. The error results in continuous pruning in an attempt to keep the plant to a size nature never intended it to be. Builders and beginning landscapers often place shrubs too close together, because the plants look so small when they come from the nursery. Find out how large the plant can be expected to grow, and place them where they can fulfill their potential.

Put the garden to bed for the winter. Pull out all annuals that have completed their life cycle and cut back perennials.


Winterize your herb garden: 
Rototill the vegetable garden to expose harmful insect larvae and disease organisms to the cold and predators. You’ll be set to plant next spring instead of waiting for the soil to dry out enough for tilling.


Info to help your houseplants through the winter:

If you have gardening questions you would like to have answered contact the Extension Master Gardener Volunteers by phone at (919) 989-5380 or by e-mail at

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Past Newsletters                          Johnston County Lawn and Garden

Written By

Photo of Angie Faison, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionAngie FaisonCounty Extension Support Specialist, 4-H Department, Horticulture, Field Crops (919) 989-5380 (Office) angie_faison@ncsu.eduJohnston County, North Carolina
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