Master Gardeners


In response to Covid-19 the Plant Clinic is closed until further notice. Citizens are encouraged to call the admin office for assistance (910) 798-7660.

The New Hanover County Master Gardener Volunteer Association has more than 300 members who volunteer thousands of hours each year, providing information to the community and helping make the Arboretum gardens beautiful.

Master Gardeners answer questions in the Plant Clinic and on the clinic’s hotline; provide gardening education to groups through the Speakers Bureau; help maintain the demonstration gardens by planting, weeding, mulching and pruning; and hold major plant sales that help fund educational projects at the Arboretum. The association also has monthly meetings with educational speakers.

The Plant Clinic provides accurate, research-based information to consumers on topics including how to select the right plants for your site, how to identify weeds, insects, and plant diseases, and how to avoid overuse of garden chemicals. In 2013 the Plant Clinic served more than 6,000 people.

The clinic, which has served the community since the late 1970s, can be reached by calling 910-798-7679 or 910-798-7680, or by visiting the office in the Hutaff Building of the Arboretum, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Master Gardeners also provide seasonal plant clinics at the farmers’ markets in downtown Wilmington and at Carolina Beach.

Classes for those who want to become Master Gardeners are conducted each year in February and March. If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener, call or visit the Plant Clinic or contact Danyce Dicks at or 910-798-7662, to be put on a list for future classes.

These days with the struggling economy people are looking for ways to save money.   One way to cut corners is to grow your own food.  It might actually be the first time you could answer questions like where was your food grown, what type of soils and fertilizers were used in its production and were any pesticides or fungicides applied to the plant material?

If you love to cook, especially with fresh herbs, then you might enjoy a culinary herb garden.  Nothing beats the flavor of freshly picked herbs in soups, stews, sauces, casseroles, pastas, salad and many other dishes. Here are some steps to follow to get started in the right direction.

The first and most important step is picking the right location.  It should be located close to the house so that you don’t have to go far to get your herbal ingredients.  Six to eight hours of sun a day is ideal for any herb garden.  Proper placement is necessary because once harvested the herbs may look less desirable.

Second, you should always start a garden with great soil!  Most culinary herbs need a well-drained, fertile soil to grow their best.   Herbs like organically rich soil, so amend your beds with compost before planting.  Then mulch with organic material such as shredded bark after planting.  The compost provides nutrients for the plant and aids in root production.  The mulch will eventually breakdown into organic matter over time.

Although many herbs are drought-tolerant, moisture is needed to maintain active growth. Water herbs thoroughly and then allow the soil to dry out somewhat before watering again. Plants should be watered early enough in the day that leaves can dry before nightfall. Some herbs, particularly most annual herbs, need additional soil moisture for best growth.

Consider what kind of look you are leaning toward.  Do you want a formal or informal herb garden?  Formal gardens, such as knot gardens, are attractively laid out in beds with brick, gravel or paved walkways in between. Beds can have themes such as Italian or Asian herbs.  Informal herb gardens are a mix of many different types of herbs designed more like a cottage garden with plants spilling onto walkways.  These informal designs are less about looks and more about production.

Mix up the types of culinary herbs you’re growing with an eye for design.  There are three types of herbs herbaceous, evergreen, and annual.  Herbaceous herbs, such as oregano, chives, tarragon and mint, die back each winter but return in the spring.  Evergreen herbs, such as rosemary and sage, stay green year round.  They need spring pruning in order to control their shape.  Annuals, such as, basil, cilantro and dill will die when we receive our first frost.  You will need to replace these each year. Be sure when planning your garden to incorporate all three types of herbs into your design.

Grow the herbs you like to use in the kitchen.  If you like cooking Italian food, make sure you have plenty of basil, parsley, thyme, and rosemary.  If you like Asian foods grow Thai basil, lemongrass and hot peppers.  If you like Mexican cuisine, grow cilantro, or chili peppers.

Finally, don’t be afraid to add color to your herb garden.  Flowers such as pansies, violas, marigolds, geraniums and roses compliment a herb garden well.


Photo of Susan Brown
Susan Brown
Extension Agent, Agriculture – Horticulture
New Hanover County, North Carolina

Flowers to Chase Away the Winter Blahs

— Written By


Even though it’s still early, our gardens are beginning to awaken from their short winter slumber.  I’ve noticed new growth on daylilies and roses already.  If a bit of new growth doesn’t quite chase away your winter blahs, consider adding Japanese flowering apricot to your garden.  It always blooms in January and February in shades of white, pink and red.

Japanese flower maple; prunus mume

Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) is similar in habit and appearance to some of the smaller flowering cherries that bloom a bit later in the season.  Expect a small tree with a rounded branch structure reaching 20 feet or so.  This winter wonder isn’t too fussy about soil as long as it’s well-drained.  You will notice better growth and flower bud set in soils with a bit of extra organic matter; especially if your soil is very sandy.

Full sun is a must for the flowering apricot.  Even small amounts of shade will the reduce flower bud set.  As the tree develops, lower branches are often shaded to the point that they die.

You won’t see this particular Prunus in every garden center, but it’s not impossible to find.  The Japanese have been playing with this plant long enough to have more than 250 named varieties, but the choices in our neck of the woods are much smaller.  ‘Peggy Clarke’ is a popular selection that bears double flowers in a deep-rose shade.  ‘Kobai’ has red, semi-double flowers on a vigorous plant.  Weeping selections such as ‘W.B. Clarke’ (double pink flowers) and several white-flowered forms are available.  Most flowering apricots have at least some fragrance.

Japanese flower maple; prunus mume

When we talk about anything in the Prunus genus, we usually begin a long list of pest problems such as white peach scale, peachtree borer and scab.  It’s not impossible to see some of these problems on flowering apricot, but healthy trees don’t usually have significant issues.  Trees that are grafted on peach rootstocks may be attacked by the peachtree borer.

We have several specimens of flowering apricot in the Display Garden at the New Hanover County Arboretum including ‘Peggy Clarke’, ‘Kobai’, ‘Alba Plena’ and ‘Matsubura Red’.

Japanese flower maple; prunus mumeJapanese flowering apricot has never become popular because it blooms well ahead of most people’s bouts of spring fever.  But, if you’re like me and always looking for something else to chase away those winter doldrums, this small tree is just right.

Other members of this genus that bloom just after Japanese flowering apricot are planted in the Arboretum including ‘Okame’, ‘Snow Goose’ and ‘Dreamcatcher’ flowering cherries and the hybrid plum called ‘Blireana’.

Written By

Photo of Al HightAl HightCounty Extension Director(910) 798-7666 al_hight@ncsu.eduNew Hanover County, North Carolina

Updated on Feb 10, 2017

— Written By

Temperatures in the teens aren’t all that common (thank goodness) in southeastern North Carolina.  But, when we do get a cold blast, gardeners always ask about how to protect plants from low temperatures.

No matter what you do there will be some injury on certain plants. Unless it’s a very mild winter oleanders and sago palms suffer.  Open camellia blossoms can’t take the freeze.  Exposed pittosporums – especially the dwarf and variegated selections – are often affected.

So, what are our options for protecting plants against the cold?

plant cover 2

Polyester row cover material or even an old sheet will prevent ice formation on the leaves and buds but may not be enough to protect sensitive plants when temperatures plunge into the high teens. Clear plastic in sometimes recommended but make sure you support it with something to keep it from lying directly on the leaves.  And, if the day warms up, remove the plastic.  The greenhouse effect will get you.

One thing that gets passed around every year is that you can protect your plants by spraying water on them.  Like most things there’s a bit of truth to it, but anyone who believes that they can go out before they turn in for the evening and spray their plants with the garden hose and expect protection will be disappointed.

As water freezes it gives up heat.  This is what protects the plants – not the ice.  Ice has no insulating value.  For water to work it must be applied continually throughout the entire below-freezing event so that heat is continually given up as the ice forms.  This is not practical for most people.  And, the weight of the ice can break limbs.  That’s why you don’t see this method used in tree fruits.  It’s mostly strawberries and blueberries.

Speaking of water, make sure that plants don’t go into these cold blasts on the dry side.  That shouldn’t be a problem with the recent rainfall for plants growing in soil, but check containers because the pine-bark based media will dry more quickly.  One of the biggest culprits in “winter kill” is lack of water.  Once the soil freezes on top, water isn’t available to the roots.  Low humidity and cold northerly winds cause plants to lose lots of moisture from the leaves – aggravating the problem

watering plant for winter freeze

Some people really don’t like the look of the fried leaves.  If you can live with it wait until late February to remove the damaged tissue.

While there’s not much you can do in that situation, avoid early pruning and nitrogen fertilization so plants don’t leave their dormant period sooner than normal. This is especially true for plants such as centipede grass that lose their dormancy very quickly—just three to four warm days.

Bright Winter Flowers

— Written By  The hybrid mahonias are one of my favorite groups of winter-flowering plants.  If you like the Latin they’re listed as Mahonia x media.  I have two selections in my garden – Winter Sun and Arthur Menzies.  You’ll also find Underway and Charity in the trade. Arthur Menzies is a bit larger and more vigorous and blooms earlier in my garden – usually starting around Christmas.  Winter Sun is more compact and starts blooming a couple of weeks later.

This group of plants sports bold, somewhat tropical looking leaves with a thick, waxy cuticle.  This time of year yellow flowers emerge from the center of the plant.  After the bees do their jobs of transferring the pollen around, blue fruits that resemble grapes replace the sunny flowers.  Because the foliage looks a little like holly and the fruit favors a grape, some call this plant “holly grape”.  That name is probably more commonly associated with the older mahonia in the trade – Mahonia bealii.


grape holly mahonia

Mahonias make a bold statement in the winter garden with their interesting texture and bright yellow flowers.

These plants perform best in our climate in partial shade with some protection from the worst winter winds.  References from the Oregon and Washington often suggest that it will grow well in full sun, but our intense summer sun is a bit too much for mahonia.  You’ll get maximum performance in moist, well-drained soil that has been supplemented with organic matter – about like you’d prepare for azaleas and camellias.  After a year or so in the landscape, these mahonias should survive pretty well on natural rainfall.

Soft Caress Mahonia

A completely different group of mahonias has become a garden hit in the last few years.  While these Mahonia eurybracteata selections sport similar yellow flowers, they are much smaller (3 to 4 feet tall and wide) and the foliage looks more like bamboo.  The flowers are bit earlier making their appearance in October.  The most popular of these is one from the Southern Living collection called Soft Caress and is readily available in our area.

Garden Honey-Do’s

My mother always said that idle hands were the devil’s workshop among other things that I tried to ignore as a kid. If you are looking for ways to avoid becoming a conduit for Old Scratch, I have several garden honey-do’s that will pay off handsomely.

Crape myrtles that have finished their first round of blooms can usually be coaxed into an encore performance with just a little bit of work. Use your hand pruners to remove the seed pods that have formed where all those gorgeous flowers were a few weeks ago.  If you have vigorous varieties, prune back to stems that are about the size of a #2 pencil.  This won’t make a lot of sense on less vigorous, smaller selections. Once you’ve removed the seed pods, prune to improve the basic structure of the plant.  Take off the basal sprouts, interior growth that is shaded by other limbs and limbs that are damaged or broken.  When you are satisfied with the shape and have all of those seed pods removed, add a tree and shrub fertilizer with slow-release nitrogen.  The pruning and the fertilizer application will yield lots of new growth.  On that new flush of growth you will have another crop of flowers to brighten those late summer days.

While you’re in the pruning mode, most Knock Out roses need a little “summer shape-up”. Prune the long shoots that are out of character with the rest of the plant and shoots with faded flowers.  Rosarians always suggest pruning just above a five-leaflet leaf rather than a three-leaflet leaf.  I’ve never seen any research to back that up, but it does seem to work.  A light application of that same tree and shrub fertilizer you used on the crape myrtles will get your Knock Outs growing again.

Check all of your conifers – junipers, arborvitae, Leyland cypress – for bagworms. Bagworms hang out in tough, needle-covered bags attached to the limbs.  They emerge from the bottom of the bags to munch away on the needle-like leaves.  Since they don’t have the ability to move around very much, you’ll see large areas of plants that are completely stripped of foliage.  Left unchecked they can weaken these conifers to the point they just give up and die.

Small populations of bagworms can be controlled by removing the bags from the trees and shrubs. Insecticides don’t work as well this time of year because it’s difficult to get the material to them.  Two applications of products such as imidacloprid (Merit, Bayer Advanced) usually knocks them out, though.  The best time to control bagworms is in May.

If you’ve noticed crows and other birds hanging around in your lawn, you may have a problem with fall armyworms. The caterpillars of this nocturnal moth are juicy morsels for the birds, but they can do serious damage to your lawn.  Most often seen on newly-sodded Bermuda grass, they will feed on other grasses in a pinch.

These critters are called “armyworms” because large groups can chew through your lawn quickly like the insect equivalent of Sherman’s march through Georgia. If you don’t see the caterpillars immediately, add two tablespoons of some type of hand dishwashing liquid to one gallon of water and pour it over a couple of square feet of your lawn.  The soap will irritate them and bring them to the surface.

Synthetic pyrethroid insecticides like bifenthrin work quickly but usually require several applications. Professionals have other options if you would prefer to let someone else handle it.

For lots of great information and advice, check out our website, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center Pender County 259-1238; New Hanover County 798-7660;  Brunswick County  253-2610.  You can also find great local information at and on Facebook. Just search for “New Hanover County Arboretum.


Al Hight

New Hanover County Extension Director

Bird Friendly Gardens

Elly May Clampett from the 1960’s hit situation comedy “The Beverly Hillbillies” would be the first to tell you that nothing’s better than having lots of critters around. While you might not have enough wealth borne of “Texas tea” to invite all of Elly’s exotic animals into your garden, it’s relatively easy to create a great space that’s “for the birds”.

Just like the Clampetts with their cement pond, birds like and need water for drinking and bathing.

An artistic bird bath makes a great garden focal point. Place your new garden accessory in an open space that’s fairly close to overhanging branches.  The birds will feel more secure if they can see any feline attackers well before the final pounce.  The branches give them a quick place to go should Morris successfully sneak up on them.

Make sure the bowl has gentle side slopes and that it’s no deeper than three inches in the center.  If you already have a bird bath that’s too deep, add stones or pebbles to give your fine feathered friends something to stand on.

I like to have a couple of stones that are above the water level to give bees and butterflies a place to go for a drink without drowning.

You don’t have to have graduated the sixth grade in twelve years like Jethro Bodine to know that clean water is important for all of the critters. Replace the water every few days and scrub the bowl periodically to remove algae and other crud.  This will also prevent your bird bath from becoming a mosquito breeding ground.

Landscaping that keeps the critters – and you – happy is much easier than boiling “golf eggs” or separating Milburn Drysdale from a dollar. We’ve already added water.  Now, incorporate some food and shelter.

Sunflowers are easy to grow annuals that produce seeds that chickadees, cardinals, goldfinches, blue jays and others love. All you need is plenty of sun and a decent, well-drained soil.

If you have plenty of space, consider using serviceberry or “sarvis tree” if you’re from Bug Tussle. It’s Latin name is Amelanchier . This large shrub reaching 20 feet or so produces berries that make a great pie, but the birds won’t let you find that out.  They’ll eat every juicy fruit at the precise moment of ripeness.  Add it to back of the shrub border and you’ll be able to enjoy the white flowers in March even if you miss out on the pie.

Other bird-friendly plants include zinnias, purple coneflowers, snap dragons, coreopsis, dogwoods, viburnums and ornamental grasses like switch grass.

Hollies are great for food and shelter. Selections like ‘Nellie R. Stevens’, ‘Burford’ and ‘Needlepoint’ produce lots of attractive and nutritious red berries.  Our native American holly (Ilex opaca) is great for the birds but doesn’t transplant very well.  Remember that individual hollies are male and female.  The males won’t produce fruit but are necessary for pollination.

If you’re looking for some quality entertainment, don’t pack your bags for “Californy’. Invite birds, butterflies and other desirable critters by adding water, food and shelter to the landscape.

 You don’t have to be a “double naught spy” to find some help with your gardening problems.   Check out our website, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center Pender County  259-1238; New Hanover County 798-7660;  Brunswick County  253-2610.  You can also find great local information at and on Facebook.  Just search for “New Hanover County Arboretum.  Or, stop by the Plant Clinic at the Arboretum between 10 am and 4 pm Monday through Friday.


Al Hight, NHC Extension Director

Large Patch Lawn Disease

One of my favorite CDs (I know, so 1980’s) is a compilation of hits by the Temptations. While few singers will ever come close to matching the skill and emotion of David Ruffin, I will have to disagree with him when he painfully intones that “I wish it would rain”.  We’re about 4 ½ inches above normal for the year, so let’s leave the gloom behind for a little Katrina and the Waves “Walking on Sunshine” action.  How’s that for an obscure 1980’s song reference?

Obscure references aside, the changes in the weather make for interesting things happening in the garden.

Early last week large patch – that irritating fungus disease that causes circular areas of our lawn grasses to die – was still at work. We usually talk about large patch being a problem from late summer to mid-fall and early spring.  Once the temperatures really warm up, it goes into hiding hanging out in the crowns of the grass.  But, the relatively cool and wet weather this spring has kept it active.

Turfgrass researchers at N.C. State University are working on large patch. But, the recommendations haven’t really changed so far.  Traditional fungicides such as Heritage and Banner Maxx should be applied around Labor Day and again four to six weeks later.  Applications in the spring will stop the development, but will not cure the problem.  If you are using liquid products, you need to apply twice as much solution as you do for weed control products (a minimum of 2 gallons per 1000 square feet).  Granular fungicides are available and work well.

A new class of fungicides called the SDHI group is finding its way to the marketplace now. These promise to be less expensive and very effective in managing large patch.

Some problems aren’t nearly so easy to spot. I had the opportunity to do some sampling of two older southern magnolias growing side-by-side in a city landscape recently.  One looked robust with lots of new growth.  The other had new growth but had dropped many of the older leaves and had what tree people call “terminal dieback”.  That’s a fancy way of saying that the limbs die from the growing points back toward the main part of the tree.

The list of problems on southern magnolia is pretty short – scale insects and a canker or two. Their root systems are very aggressive and don’t usually fall victim to things in the soil such as nematodes and phytophthora and pythium root rots.  Think about how good the root system must be.  Have you ever seen a southern magnolia blown over after a tropical system comes through?

When the answer isn’t obvious we start eliminating possibilities. Soil samples taken separately from each tree’s root area are great.  Pulling actual leaves and having them analyzed for nutrient content is another step.

In this particular case we did both. The soil samples came back essentially the same.  Not much help there.  But, the leaf sample showed deficiencies in calcium, manganese and boron.  It will be interesting to see if this southern magnolia responds to the nutrients.

Extension professionals and Master Gardeners spend lots of time trying to figure out what’s wrong with your plants and providing science-based recommendations. Sometimes, like with large patch disease, it’s pretty easy to diagnose.  Others, like our southern magnolias, take a little more digging.

Our Plant Clinic is open Monday through Friday between 10 am and 4 pm to help you solve garden problems at the New Hanover County Arboretum – 6206 Oleander Drive in Wilmington. Help us out by bringing representative samples of what’s going on.  Photographs are often helpful for context.  You can also check out our website, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center Pender County  259-1238; New Hanover County 798-7660;  Brunswick County  253-2610.  You can also find great local information at and on Facebook. Just search for “New Hanover County Arboretum.

Al Hight, NHC Extension Director

Lawn Perfection an Elusive Goal

If you haven’t already figured it out, southeastern North Carolina is one of the worst places in the world to have a gorgeous lawn. We often have winter temperatures that injure warm-season grasses like centipede and St. Augustine. It’s too blasted hot in the summer for even the most heat-tolerant cool-season grasses like tall fescue to survive. Throw in weeds, ground pearls, high pH, large patch, dollar spot, chinch bugs and all of the other issues and you have tough turf growing conditions.

In the face of all of these problems and armed with at least one large glass of chilled California chardonnay (it’s too hot outside for my usual red), I humbly offer my lawn care philosophy which may be especially helpful for recovering perfectionists..

You’re Not in Kansas (or New York or Connecticut) Anymore

If you have just moved from cooler climes, hit the delete key on your brain’s computer when it comes to lawn care. While the basics of taking care of a lawn – mowing, fertilizing, watering, aerating – are the same, the timing is completely different from what you did up north with tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. For example, applying nitrogen in September and November makes a lot of sense for tall fescue, but would be all wrong for centipede.

Not sure when to do what? Cooperative Extension has lawn maintenance calendars for the popular grasses. Visit our Plant Clinic at the New Hanover County Arboretum staffed by capable Master Gardeners Monday through Friday between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm for a hard copy or check out N.C. State’s Turffiles website at .There is a wealth of information available concerning insects, weeds, diseases and basic management in addition to the lawn calendars.

Stop Beating Your Head Against the Wall

The only good thing about beating your head against a wall is that it feels so good to stop. Lots of people do the lawn equivalent of this by attempting to grow turf where it has no chance. Even our most shade-tolerant grass – St. Augustine – needs at least six hours of sun per day. If your place has lots of dense tree canopy, you have two choices. Grow more shade-tolerant ground covers and shrubs or cut some of the trees down. I’d lean toward the former rather than the latter.
Ditch the Perfectionism

Coming from a background of working on golf courses and being involved with landscaping and irrigation, my personal expectations have always been pretty high. Having recently celebrated the 24th anniversary of my 29th birthday, I have realized that perfection is an elusive and expensive goal with lawns and everything else in life. Dial your expectations back a notch. The world isn’t going to stop spinning if you have a couple of weeds.

Right Plant, Right Place

This “right plant, right place” phrase may be a bit overused, but it’s just so absolutely correct when it comes to having a nice lawn.

If you really don’t care about lawns and lawn care and just want something to hold the world together, centipede is your best choice. You’ll need fairly acid soils (pH 5.5 or so), plenty of sun and very little wear and tear for it to work, though. And, you’ll have to accept the apple-green color and coarse texture.

Some of the newer zoysias like Crowne, Zorro, Zeon, Empire and JaMur look promising for slightly better shade and wear tolerance compared to centipede. Crowne, Empire and JaMur have a medium texture and can be mowed with a standard rotary mower. Zorro and Zeon are finer textured and look best when cut with a reel mower.

Where the kids and dogs play requires Bermuda grass. Just remember that Bermudas need lots of sun to grow well. A selection called Celebration works well under less intense management. TifGrand is a genetic dwarf variety that shows promise for home lawns.

Consider a Redesign

The space around your home should be designed to accommodate things that you and your family like to do. Add a patio or deck for entertaining. Even the simplest bubbling pot will provide the soothing sound of flowing water. A fire pit is perfect for allowing you to enjoy your garden in fall, winter and early spring. Turf is important for play and visually holding a landscape design together. But, if growing a healthy lawn is a struggle, incorporating other elements can increase your enjoyment and limit your frustration.

Need Help?

For answers to your lawn care and gardening questions visit, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center Pender County l 259-1238; New Hanover County l 798-7660; Brunswick County 253-2610.

Al Hight, NHC Extension Director

Native Plants

“Going native” in the garden is almost as trendy now as my favorite powder blue leisure suit was in 1975 (white belt and shoes were fashionable options). But, just as I had to exercise extreme caution around open flames in that bulletproof polyester, you should take a close look at the plants we use in gardens before you decide to only use natives.
Love those traditional southern gardens bursting with evergreen azaleas, hydrangeas, camellias, crape myrtles and gardenias? Unfortunately, they are all Asian imports.
Another issue in the native plant debate is how to define the term. The National Arboretum suggests that a native plant is one “occurring naturally in a particular region, ecosystem or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention.” That sounds pretty straightforward. But, one of the signature plants of the southern United States that’s considered a native – Southern magnolia – did not grow naturally in the Wilmington area.
As gardeners we don’t care about such hair splitting and nit picking. We just want plants that look good, don’t have lots of problems and aren’t invasive. And, the idea that natives are always better adapted isn’t true in the disturbed soils of the average subdivision.
I’m not trying to steer you away from natives. There are lots of great plants we can use. But, unless you are a purist, a combination of natives and introduced plants will provide a more pleasing garden.
As the home of the North Carolina Azalea Festival, Wilmington gardens must have azaleas. The azalea police will find you eventually if you don’t. Even though the popular evergreen types aren’t native, consider types that drop their leaves in winter like Coast Azalea or Piedmont Azalea with white to light-pink blooms. If purity of purpose isn’t a goal, try some of the hybrids with bright yellow and orange blooms like the Aromis. While beautiful in flower their deciduous nature means they need a space that allows them to put on their spring show and then fade into the background. Part-shade, moist, high organic matter soil and good drainage are required.
A native garden superstar is our state flower – flowering dogwood. Nothing says “spring is here” as well as its white to pink bracts. But, like most superstars, flowering dogwood is temperamental. That same well-drained, moist, high organic matter soil is a must as is a place with bright light and protection from intense midday sun. Start small with a plant grown in a container. Local nurseries will have well-adapted selections. If you want pink go with those that are sold as “red” such as ‘Cherokee Chief’.
Even though southern magnolia isn’t technically native to Wilmington, the large evergreen leaves with brown undersides, waxy white early summer flowers and interesting seeds make it a popular landscape choice. And, unlike flowering dogwood, it is tough and easy to grow. Smaller selections like Little Gem and Teddy Bear won’t overwhelm smaller gardens.
Those of you who have made the mistake of removing the lower limbs of southern magnolia and endured the constant leaf cleanup may find this plant as desirable as one of those acetate shirts we wore with leisure suits (mine had palm trees). But, situated properly, this plant is a great choice.
Other great native trees include river birch with its peeling bark, the stately bald cypress and tupelo or black gum.
For showy spring flowers look for Old Man’s Beard. The white, fleecy flowers on this 15 to 20 foot small tree support its common name.
The selection of native perennial flowers, shrubs and trees is as wide as the lapels on a 1970’s era sport coat. And, with high demand for natives, nurseries continue to expand their offerings.
A list of native plants of North and South Carolina is located at

Al Hight, NHC Extension Director

Southern Garden Chic

During a class last week on of the students asked me what I considered an elegant garden. Elegance is, of course, in the eyes and mind of the individual. I have visions of graceful Japanese maples, stacked-stone retaining walls, fountains and outdoor kitchens with enough BTU’s to make Lucifer envious.
All that Architectural Digest stuff is nice, but I’m a good, old southern boy who was raised way back up in the woods where the dancing was square and the harvest gold “cook stove” was inside the house. So, I started thinking about what a garden would look like done in “redneck chic”. That may sound like an oxymoron, but we may just start a new garden trend in Beverly Hills and Boca.
Nothing says “redneck style” like a petunia bed encompassed in the remnants of a rear tire from your favorite ‘B’ John Deere, ‘8N’ Ford or ‘M’ Farmall tractor. The fading rubber resists the ravages of even the most poorly- operated Snapper or weed whacker. Show your patriotism by painting the garden edging red, white and blue in summer. Red and green is a nice touch during the holiday season.
It’s still all about the plants, though. You’ll have to bring in the high-organic matter soil, get the pH right and use the slow-release fertilizers to keep the annual flowers happy. Show your classic taste by making sure that the flower color palette doesn’t clash with the current colors of your tractor tire.
No garden for those of us who are perennially lacking in sophistication is complete without multiple references to those former dirt-track demons of NASCAR. Mark the driveway entrance with a “Dale Earnhardt Way” street sign. Soften the harsh vertical element by planting a Chinese wisteria vine at its base so you can enjoy the fragrant purple flowers in spring. After several years of growth, the wisteria will bring even more pleasure when you can break out the chain saw and beat it back into submission.
If you can’t get the chain saw started, just let the wisteria keep growing. It will provide great cover for that rusting hulk of Monte Carlo in the front yard. And, since it loses its leaves in winter, you’ll be able to take advantage of seasonal dynamics in your landscape design. Spring will be awash in flowers. Thick, green foliage will dominate in summer. As fall turns to winter you’ll have the wonderful textural play of twisting, gray stems embracing the rotting, Fisher Body sheet metal.
Trees are a “must” in any garden design. Southern chic demands the incorporation of at least one Chinaberry. That’s Melia azedarach if the Latin stuff turns you on. Bi-pinnately compound leaves might suggest a somewhat tropical look – especially if you’ve already had a beer or twelve. There is even a variegated leaf form, but you’ll have to prune it heavily each year to keep if from reverting to the regular green leaves. The hard, bony seeds that persist through the winter are unrivaled as “wrist rocket” ammunition.
Whether your idea of elegance is a complex cabernet or getting that perfect one inch of head on a draft Bud, I hope you agree that we take ourselves WAY too seriously.. Laugh a little. It won’t bring peace to the Middle East, but it just might make you feel better.
Need Help?
After this article I’m sure I do. Seriously, if you need answers to your lawn care and gardening questions visit, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center Pender County l 259-1238; New Hanover County l 798-7660; Brunswick County 253-2610. Search Facebook for “New Hanover County Arboretum” and check out our new website at

Al Hight, NHC Extension Director

Crape Myrtle

Seasoned southern gardeners know that – while there are few hard-and-fast rules – you must have certain plants. Wilmington is home to the North Carolina Azalea Festival, so evergreen azaleas are a requirement. If you fail to do so the azalea police will eventually catch you. Camellias are the same even if the enforcement might be slightly less stringent. Buck this trend and you will be informed that Interstate 40 does have west-bound lanes that lead to the north-bound lanes of Interstate 95.
When the temperatures tickle the triple digits, it’s the time for another southern garden must-have to take center stage – crape myrtle. This summer superstar sports showy blooms in shades of pink, white, purple, lavender and red. Handle it right and you can have 3 months of color with minimal challenges beginning in late May and continuing through September.
Choosing the Perfect Crape Myrtle
Crape myrtles come in a wide array of sizes ranging from dwarfs that remain at three feet to towering trees reaching 45 feet. The smart move is to choose a variety that is just the right size for its particular garden location. Unfortunately, this point is over ignored and large growers such as ‘Natchez’, ‘Fantasy’, ‘High Cotton’ (white flowers) and ‘Muskogee’ and ‘Biloxi’ (pink flowers) that ultimately grow to at least 30 feet are planted where a 15-foot plant is needed. This poor choice results in horrific pruning practices that are often called “crape murder”.
Check with your favorite garden retailer about varieties they recommend.
Growing Crape Myrtle
Crape myrtles aren’t particularly fussy. Average soil that is well-drained but not terribly drought-prone and plenty of sun are all that’s required. Soil pH’s between 5.5 and 7.0 are acceptable but iron deficiencies will show up as you flirt with 7.0 and above.
While most crape myrtles are grown with 3 to 7 stems, you can find what nursery growers call a “standard”. That just means it has one main trunk. If you’re planting along a walkway or in a relatively formal garden like the Tribute Garden at the New Hanover County Arboretum where you need clearance for people to walk, the single-stem form makes sense. But, the picture of a crape myrtle in most people’s minds is multi-stemmed.
Plants, like children, should be trained when they are young and relatively easy to work with. That means setting the basic form and removing crossing limbs, suckers and basal sprouts.
But, the aforementioned “crape murder” is always a bad idea. Many people believe the plants bloom more after heavy pruning, but research proves that to be false. The result is weakly attached limbs that shear in a wind storm and plants that lose their natural beauty and form. Crape myrtles will tolerate it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
Crape myrtle selections that bloom earlier in the season (June through early July) are easy to coax into a second bloom. As the flowers fade and form seeds, remove the clusters of seed pods and add a bit of nitrogen to support new growth. If the days are long enough and it’s still hot, you will be rewarded with lots of late-season color.
Problems with Crape Myrtle
Crape myrtle aphid, a light-green critter that clusters on the undersides of the leaves and drinks the sugary sap, is the most common insect pest. Leaves covered in shiny and sticky honeydew let you know the aphids are around. Left unchecked sooty mold will grow on the honeydew prompting the oft-asked question, “Why have my crape myrtles turned black?”
Check the undersides of the leaves as you walk through the garden for the aphids. And, learn to recognize the larvae and adults of lady beetles that are busy eating aphids and aphid eggs. This battle plays out on the ‘Osage’ (light pink flowers) in my garden each year. Sometimes the aphids finally win and I have to spray, but let them help you as long as you can. For those trying to avoid traditional pesticides, insecticidal soap works reasonably well if you cover the aphids with the spray solution. Traditional insecticides such as bifenthrin and acephate control the pesky critters but will remove the lady beetles in the process.
Powdery mildew, a fungal disease, distorts the new growth during cool weather in the spring. The best solution is to plant varieties with resistance including the many named for Native American tribes.
Cercospora leaf spot, another fungal disease, can cause leaf drop during warm, wet weather. It usually doesn’t warrant treatment with fungicides.
Clemson’s Cooperative Extension Service has an excellent publication at that discusses these problems in more detail.
For answers to your gardening questions visit, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center Pender County l 259-1238; New Hanover County l 798-7660; Brunswick County 253-2610.

Al Hight, NHC Extension Director

The Speakers Bureau

Speakers Bureau Reaches Out

The Speakers Bureau has made presentations to hundreds of people since its beginnings, providing information to help area residents grow healthy, sustainable gardens and landscapes.

If you are part of a group–garden club, homeowners association, church group–that needs to provide interesting programs for members, consider booking a program by the Speakers Bureau.

We have prepared about a dozen topics, all slide presentations, with a moderator (Master Gardener) available on your site or at the Arboretum (depending on availability). If you meet at the Arboretum, we can also do a tour of the gardens. At your site, a table and electricity are all the absolute requirements, although a screen or blank wall is helpful for projection (we can bring a screen only if absolutely necessary). Virtually any size group is welcomed.

General information

The New Hanover County (NHC) Cooperative Extension has developed a new and exciting program for our community. Master Gardeners are available to give educational lectures to local audiences on a variety of plant-related topics; the information can help average homeowners manage their landscapes. The lectures topics include turf management, tree and shrub selection, using native and drought-resistant plants, environmentally friendly pest management, and best practices for vegetable and fruit gardens.

The lectures are presented by a Master Gardener using PowerPoint slides, with many colorful pictures. Each program provides an entertaining topic overview with enough technical detail to be helpful yet not overwhelming. The programs run from 45 to 60 minutes in length but can be structured to fit an organization’s schedule. A question-and-answer period will be conducted at the end of the presentation.

We will provide a computer and projector for the presentation. You will need to provide a projector screen if possible, a small table for the projection equipment and an electrical outlet. The equipment set-up will require 10 minutes and can be completed prior to your meeting. For your planning purposes, the total time for the presentations will be between 45 and 60 minutes, including the Q&A. The presentations can be scheduled during the day or in the evening.

We think you will find the presentations entertaining and educational. For more information or to schedule a speaker, call Jon Wooten at 910-395-2332.

Program Descriptions

Trees for the 21st Century
This presentation discusses the attributes and advantages of trees that will do well in the Cape Fear region. It features pictures and information on small and medium size trees that will compliment the average home owner’s yard. It also reviews some of the challenges that face gardeners in this region and how to overcome them. The presentation is colorful with lots of pictures.
Living with the Natives! Gardening with Native Plants in the Cape Fear Region
Southern Turf: Grasses that Run
Earth-Friendly Landscape Practices
Landscape to Improve Resource Efficiency
Gardening in New Hanover County
A Cut Above
Krazy Containers
Coastal Landscape Plants

NC Cooperative Extension and Arboretum: 6206 Oleander Drive • Wilmington, NC 28403 • Phone 910-798-7660 • Fax 910-798-7678
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