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

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