The Gardener's Dirt Newsletter
January 2021
Feature Article:
BY: Joanne King, Johnston County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer
     Planning a landscape can be an overwhelming task. Whether you want to add new elements, rejuvenate an existing space, or are starting from scratch on new property, a little planning can make your job easier. 

        You can hire a landscape design professional who will draw out your plan on a survey of your property, or you can go it on your own. Either way, you need to establish priorities. You can start with a “must-do” list, and a “wish list”. A must-do carries a high priority and often solves a problem.  It might be an expansive green lawn, fencing, adding a storage shed, playset, a sidewalk to back deck, a fire pit, patio, water feature, a screen to block the view of other property. Everyone’s must-do list is different. Some items solve a problem, and others satisfy a strong preference. A wish list carries a lower priority. It includes items that are usually optional to you, scalable, and easier to implement or change later, like flower beds, vegetable gardens, or specific plant selections. It might also include items that are costly and have to wait when funds are available.  A fire pit might be a must do item that has to wait, but you want to assess its placement early in your planning.  Permanent hardscape elements must be addressed first, whether or not they are implemented sooner, or later. 

        If you have just moved in, it is helpful to observe the elements for up to one year -- sun/shade, wind, water flow, downspout drainage, and deer. Becoming familiar with the existing plants around your house is also helpful as it would be easier to remove what could be a problem later while it is small. Fortunately, at my house, we started out with foundation plants that were appropriate for the space. Not everyone is so lucky. Many suffer from “wrong plant, wrong place” and shrubs look great when small, but can become a problem in a few years. Get a soil test for different areas (foundation shrubs, lawns, where you might want new beds), and follow amendment recommendations. You might find that the Encore azaleas by your front door won’t like the soil they are in, resulting in poor performing plants. 

        Before you tackle any of your wants or needs, evaluate trees and existing structures that cannot be changed. Houses create shade and run-off from gutters, driveways create water run-off, and decks collect leaves underneath. We all love trees or we think we do until you have to deal with damage to limbs, leaves, acorns, shade, roots, disease, and growth reaching over the house. (Trees may seem free but are quite expensive!) If you want grass, a vegetable garden, sun-loving perennials, or roses, you need to address the competition the trees present and decide if it is permissible, affordable, or desirable to remove them. 

        If you don’t have trees and want to add some, they are best planted in the late fall. But keep in mind how big they will get and what other intrusions they may create. We planted a lovely shade tree in our backyard. Over the years, we found roots surfacing in the lawn. Its small leaves shed early when our fescue lawn would be reseeded, and they were nearly impossible to rake up. It was supposed to grow up to 25 feet but it exceeded 40 feet, spreading up over the house. We removed it. Now we have more sun and are waiting to see what changes.   

        Evaluate your anticipated permanent structures for space requirements, cost, and functionality. For example, where can a shed or fence be installed per codes or HOA? If you want a fence structure, does it matter how will it change the sun/shade, wind, access to other areas? Do you want to screen parts of your space so other properties are not in view? Can you use plantings of trees and shrubs to form the screen? 

        These are all questions to ask. In our situation at my home, we discovered a few must-do items soon after we moved in. Runoff from the driveway and a sloping terrain washed away mulch and eroded the beds. In response, we put the abundance of rocks on the property to good use and formed a rock creek where the natural flow of water was. We eliminated part of the bed with a small paver extension of the driveway. It is now where we have screened our trash cans. I wish we had thought about the trash cans back then, as I would have done the extension differently. Poor planning on our part! We also anticipated that ultimately the field in back of our property would be homes one day. So we planted evergreens along the edge to start a screen. The screen was pretty full in about 5 years. 

        I learned early on that any hole you dug for a shrub near the woods is quickly filled with roots from the woodlands. So much for shrubs in the woods to add to the screen! The lawn area closest to the woods after 18 years still struggles with moss and roots. I considered a raised bed, at significant expense, but realized how it would affect drainage in that area. So, I am about to give those areas back to the woods and mulch them out. 

        My point is you can wish all you want. Or you can proceed to solve problems as soon as possible without any forethought of other things you might want to do in the future. Either way, you need to understand the natural elements and limitations of your space. Some things you can change and some things you have to work around, by making adjustments to your wants and needs. After all, planning is a goal, and how you implement is always a work in progress. 

Links with more information about landscape planning

Feature Plant
Magnolia 'Serendipity'
(New "Choice Plant" offering grown and recommended by Johnston County Nurserymen)
By Marshall Warren, Horticulture Extension Agent

Unlike our typical native Southern Magnolia with its large leaves and flowers, Magnolia ‘Serendipity’ is a hybridized Asian magnolia with smaller evergreen leaves and numerous small flowers formed along the stems. The flowers are slightly fragrant (but not as fragrant as a Magnolia grandiflora or Magnolia virginiana). In early spring, an abundance of flower buds open at various times, extending the appearance of blooms over a long period of time. Even before the blooms appear, the velvety brown flower buds are an attractive feature.  And once they are all finally in full bloom, it is a spectacular sight.

Magnolia ‘Serendipity’ is a rounded small tree growing to 20’. It can be grown in full sun to part shade, but the flowers are more abundant in full sun. It can be trained as a large screening hedge, single specimen, or limbed up multi-stemmed or single trunk tree. Because of the many different landscape uses for Magnolia ‘Serendipity’ and its upcoming popularity, the Johnston County Nurserymen are excited to offer this new “Choice Plant ” selection to you pruned and trained into several different options. Be sure to ask for it at your local garden center. 

This Magnolia used to be known as Michelia figo (common name of banana shrub), but it has recently been reclassified as Magnolia figo

If you want to see a large specimen of this tree in person, visit the JC Raulston Arboretum and you will find it located on the outside left of the lath house entrance. 

JC Raulston Arboretum director Mark Weathington video link of Magnolia ‘Serendipity’

Grow Native
Taxodium disticum
Bald Cypress
By Margy Pearl, Johnston County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

I have been impressed with bald cypress trees since first seeing them with my grandparents at the famous Florida Cypress Gardens in the early ‘60s. Growing up to 120 ft., with trunks up to 6 ft., and heavily draped with Spanish moss, they were a mysterious, majestic, and memorable sight!

        Bald cypress trees typically grow along rivers or in swamps, sporting the iconic knobby root growths called “knees” that grow above the water allowing them to “breathe”. Although bald cypress trees prefer moist, sandy, slightly acidic soils, do you know they are tolerant of many soils and you can easily grow them in your landscape in full to partial sun? There is a gorgeous example in the median at the top of Dove Lane in my Walden neighborhood in Clayton. A handsome tree in any season, it’s especially stunning with bright orange/red feathery needles in October!

        Bald cypress, a deciduous conifer, is also one of the world's longest-living trees. They are very disease, insect, and fire-resistant, act in wet areas as flood control, and actually improve water quality. Valued for construction in cabinetry and flooring, due to its rot resistance, it’s been traditionally used for barrels, railroad ties, shingles, and fencing.

        A bald cypress tree adds tremendous wildlife value to a landscape, especially for birds. Many waterfowl and wading birds, including wood ducks, as well as turkeys and evening grosbeaks, rely on the seeds from the small cone and the Spanish moss contain food for yellow-throated warblers. The trees provide breeding sites for a variety of frogs, toads, salamanders, and catfish. 

A unique trip where you can see these awesome trees is the 90 minute Pamlico Riverboat tour from the NC Estuarium in Washington, NC. As the FIRST Estuarium in the world, this unique facility contains a treasure trove of fascinating interactive exhibits, beautiful native gardens, and a great gift shop, too. The boat tour is included with the $5 admission fee! The Estuarium tour guide was a lifelong resident of the area with a wealth of information on the history and biology of the river and the area wildlife. Immense bald cypress trees lined the river edges, many draped with Spanish moss or native vines, and some with osprey nests!  


Veggie Tales
Lessons Learned in the Garden
By: Felice Chadwick, Johnston County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer
It is almost time to put this year into the history books. (Thank goodness!) I am already thinking about plants and ideas I want to try next year. BUT before I move on, I like to review (and document!) what was successful this year and what could be improved upon in the future.
A couple of months ago I put together a Clayton Community Garden Lessons Learned list for 2020. While reviewing this list, I recognize a few common themes:

 Organization and Scheduling

  • having flexible workdays and a variety of tasks allowed volunteers to pick days and tasks they preferred which resulted in great participation and enthusiasm
  • having a diagram of the entire garden and labeling each box and bed made it easier to communicate what tasks were needed where
  • updating the garden diagram as different areas were planted helped identify where additional work was needed

Succession Planting and Crop Rotation

  • documenting what vegetables are planted where and when is essential for succession planting and adequate crop rotation – four years of history is preferable
  • projecting when to remove plants and replace with another crop is needed to increase overall productivity – for example, bush green beans should be treated as determinant and pulled after their primary harvest is complete – letting them continue was inefficient, but pole green beans produced another significant harvest when temperatures decreased in the fall
  • starting fall crops was challenging due to continued high temperatures – getting cool-season crops to germinate by direct seeding was difficult; we need to start fall transplants indoors to be able to harvest before cold weather and to postpone pest and disease problems until plants are more mature

Pest and Disease Management

  • documenting insect and disease problems encountered, how they were managed, and the results should provide valuable information for next year’s garden and allow us to be more proactive and effective
o  pickleworms showed up extremely early and are a problem for
all plants in the gourd family: cucumbers, squash, zucchini,
melons, pumpkins, watermelon, etc.
o  young green bean plants must be protected from rabbits
o  protecting blueberry bushes with bird netting was extremely
o  using row covers to protect crops from insects must be
balanced with good airflow to prevent fungal and bacterial
  • choosing disease-resistant cultivars is preferable, especially for cucumbers and squash
  • providing adequate spacing between plants with appropriate mulch increases overall health and productivity
Environment Concerns

  • getting our soil conditions corrected, especially pH, is a priority – soil testing revealed that most boxes and beds are too acidic
  • identifying wet areas and areas with increased shade will allow us to adjust planting plans and techniques for better plant health

Even though I have been gardening for a long time I learned SO much this year from the community garden. I encourage you to reflect on your experiences this year, make note of what did and did not work, and identify opportunities for your garden next year.
Quick Tip
Reading Plant Tags helps you Purchase Plants that thrive in Your Yard
By Barb Barakat, Johnston County Master Gardener Volunteer
“I love it”; but will it grow in the space I can provide? Plant tags help answer that question.

Things to look for and consider before you choose are:
Hours of sunlight – full sun is 6+ hrs. (8 is better) – many plants need full sun for blooms

Hardiness (zone 8A or lower)
or they won’t survive winter

Annuals bloom all season, but only for this year (buy heirloom or native and save seed)

Perennials bloom for 2-3 weeks will come back every year and propagate - spacing is important.

Consider these factors in your design. Height & spread are important
 – As a rule of thumb, taller plants are best behind the shorter ones & consider spread to allow space to walk.

Need more? – full tutorial at
What Master Gardeners Do
Year-End Review of 2020

In this issue, I want to highlight the accomplishments and impact that the Johnston County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers (JCEMGV), has had on the residents of Johnston County over the last year. Even though it was a challenging year dealing with the limitations of COVID, by taking precautions, virtually meeting, and being able to continue education online, the Master Gardener Volunteers continued to remain active in many of our program areas. Without the help of these volunteers, the Horticulture Extension Agent alone cannot adequately meet the growing needs of Johnston County customers.

Having a steady inflow of new Extension Master Gardener Volunteers is necessary to help expand NC Cooperative Extension’s public demand due to the growing Johnston County population. A Master Gardener Volunteer training class was started earlier in the year and a total of 9 students completed the class before the end of 2020, and many have already become certified Extension Master Gardener Volunteers by completing their 40 hours of volunteer service.   

One of the ways educational information and upcoming events are passed along to the public is through The Gardener’s Dirt Newsletter which currently has over 1,534 subscribers. Mrs. Barb Barakat, Newsletter Chairperson says: “Learning, sharing, improving – these have long been the goals of the Master Gardener Program. Back in the day, horticultural research reached the ears of farmers and home gardeners by train – yes, that’s right – a train would travel across the state, stopping at communities, people gathered and learned the latest in agricultural techniques. The Gardener’s Dirt Newsletter is today’s cyber alternative but with the same goal.  It is an honor and a pleasure to be associated with this community newsletter – I love the exposure to the passions of others and to learn from them. A big ‘thank you’ to all the MG who research and write and to all those who benefit from our effort.”

In 2020, of the 69 Master Gardener volunteers, a total of 50 volunteers reported 5800 volunteer hours, devoted 1188 hours to continued education, and traveled over 650 hours to participate in meeting the needs of Johnston County residents. That’s a total of 7638 volunteer hours. A volunteer’s time is valued at $25.43, so their combined time value benefit to the residents of Johnston County is $194,234! This doesn’t include the dollar value in horticultural savings to professionals and consumers because of their education instruction, consultation, and advice in landscaping and gardening. Through calls coming into our Customer Help Line, face-to-face Master Gardener contacts, and people that walked into the Johnston County Center seeking advice, a total of 1503 Johnston County customers had their horticultural questions answered.

Even with the challenges of COVID, the Clayton Community Garden was again very successful. “2020 was a transitional year for the Clayton Community Garden (CCG) after we lost a dear friend and dedicated Master Gardener volunteer, Roy Lewis, on April 7. Felice Chadwick, one of Roy’s A-Z Gardening workshop students and a CCG volunteer since 2015, took on the CCG coordinator responsibility with invaluable support from other JoCo Master Gardener volunteers. Despite the pandemic, a dedicated group of Master Gardeners, MG students, and community volunteers:
  • grew and harvested over 5700 pounds of fresh produce including over 100 pounds of herbs from our newly revamped show-stopping herb garden which garnered much attention from pedestrians passing by the garden; produce was donated to the Clayton Area Ministries (CAM) food bank
  • completed several construction projects to:
o  upgrade open raised beds to raised boxes making them
easier to maintain
o  install a trellis for our new blackberry bed
o  repair the compost bins and the hoop house
o  install much-needed shelving in the storage barn
  • grew plants for the annual spring plant sale which due to COVID were only used at CCG or in the extension office display garden, purchased by Master Gardeners, donated to CAM, or sold to several retail outlets, one of which made a sizable donation to help us with expenses
  • developed and offered to the community an outdoor Vegetable Gardening 101 Workshop and CCG Fall Tour since the weekly A-Z Gardening workshops were suspended

Despite the challenges of 2020, we had great success, learned so much, and enjoyed working together in such a wonderful outdoor environment. We hope to build on this foundation and encourage others to join us in 2021. It seems appropriate to close this update as Roy always ended his communications: “Happy Gardening!!!!”

Tiffany Whichard, a Master Gardener volunteer and head of the Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) community garden located at the Johnston Community College, says: "Thanks to the hard work and tireless dedication of our 26 core volunteers serving a record number of hours, we accomplished a lot. The Team partnered with civic groups, youth, and farm participants, making it possible to contribute 6,173.25 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to six different local food agencies (soup kitchens, food pantries, and community outreaches) all here in Johnston County. We grew 100% organically, 27 different types of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Our emphasis remains on teaching and we managed 37 different educational segments in addition to holiday outreach. We're excited about starting our 2021 season and look forward to making an impact for food-insecure families." 

Mrs. Joanne King, Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens Chairperson said, “There are five teaching Demonstration gardens at the Agricultural Center and 3 landscaped areas that the Master Gardeners have maintained during the year. Our volunteers keep the beds weeded, refreshed with new plants as needed, and watered to ensure a well-groomed display of plant material year-round. All this was managed with the minimum to keep it all thriving, in spite of the restrictions.” 

Since all face-to-face programs with youth were postponed this past year, the Johnston County 4-H Summer Fun program transitioned to a virtual program with the help of 5 Johnston County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers and Johnston County Extension staff. Jr. Master Gardener class leader Valerie Little said, “In June five Master Gardeners hosted 17 virtual campers and discussed several exciting topics: Soil, butterflies, stages of metamorphosis, pollinator's jobs and decomposers. We had a recipe each day that the kids could create along with our chef, Ester, utilizing the theme of the teaching. We also created a craft with the help of Judith and her assistant, Sylvia. Valerie and Sam took turns creating content that followed the Jr. Master Gardener's Wildlife curriculum and kept the campers, ages 5-14, enthralled in all the activities. This was our fourth year to host the Jr. Master Gardener's camp, covering 15 hours of learning in the week. Even though the presentation was virtual, the campers were engaged and the feedback we received reflected as such.”

“In September, two Master Gardeners, Sam C., and Valerie L. hosted an afternoon class with a handful of students, dwelling on the topic of herbs. We had a Show and Tell of the herbs the students had the opportunity to pick seeds up from the Ag Center and several great questions were fielded.”

The Extension Master Gardener Volunteer (EMGV) program was created to expand NC Cooperative Extension Service’s capacity to meet the needs of the gardening public by providing unbiased, research-based, environmentally sound information about establishing and maintaining gardens, lawns, landscapes, houseplants, fruits, and vegetables in ways that protect health and natural resources. Enriched with training by NC State University faculty and staff, EMGV’s love and passion for horticulture along with their variety of lifelong experiences culminate to create highly effective community educators. Because of the efforts of these volunteers, Cooperative Extension is able to have a greater impact benefiting the citizens of Johnston County and beyond.
NC State Extension Plants Database
Take a quick tour to understand how the information and images are organized and then visit the NC State Extension Plants Database to learn all about plants.
Got Gardening Questions?
Our Johnston County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers 

(EMGV) can help with various horticulture questions. 

Email the EMGV at 

or call (919) 989-5380
 to speak with one of our Extension Master Gardener Volunteers
January Gardening Tasks
  • Plants less than one-year-old may need some supplemental water to get through the winter.
  • Watering well just before a cold snap helps plants survive bitter temperatures.
  • Plants with scale insects or spider mite infestations can be treated now with horticulture oil products.
  • To reduce camellia petal blight, collect the fallen flower petals and dispose of them.
  • Perennials like daylilies, Shasta daisy, and peony can be divided when the ground is dry enough to be worked.
  • When searching through seed catalogs looking for key phrases like "heat tolerant" and "tolerates humidity".

  • Winterize your outdoor water pumps, pto pumps, power washers and anything else that may freeze and break. Don't leave hose pipes screwed to faucets when extended freezing weather is expected.
  • Prune evergreens to use for winter decorations in the house by cutting out unwanted limbs that would be pruned in February anyway. Save major pruning for late winter. Holly, Magnolia, and Cedar, foliage will last a long time. Nandina foliage does not hold up well but the berries do.
  • Prevent winter damage to plants from desiccation (drying out), freezing and thawing, and breakage from ice and snow loads. Keep plants watered during dry periods.
  • After tree leaf fall is an excellent time to mulch shrubs, trees, perennials, and herbs for winter protection. Apply a layer 3 inches deep since most perennials are dormant and it's easy to get a wheelbarrow into the garden.
  • Put your cut Holiday tree to use! Cut the branches and lay them over perennials to protect them from the cold. Shred small branches to make mulch.
  • Do NOT prune fruit trees now. Fruit trees are best pruned late winter just before they start to grow in spring.
  • Asparagus crowns can be planted now through March.

  • Prepare the vegetable garden for planting in February by removing weeds and adding compost.
  • If you haven't already, look through seed catalogs for vegetable varieties that aren't easy to find in our area.
  • Consider starting some cool-season crop seeds in a cold frame to get a jump on the season.
  • Mulch strawberry beds with 2-3 inches of wheat straw for winter protection. Remove mulch in spring when blooms appear.
  • Asparagus crowns can be planted through March. New plants should not be harvested for 2-3 years.

Cool Connections
Future Training
How to Train and Prune Fruit & Nut Trees
This fruit tree workshop is a must to attend if you want to learn how to correctly prune newly purchased or overgrown neglected fruit and nut trees. The pruning demonstration workshop will be held on Saturday, January 30th from 10:00 am until 12:30 pm., at the Central Crops Research Station 13223 US Business 70 W., Clayton NC 27520. Johnston County Cooperative Extension and NCDA sponsor this event. Dr. Mike Parker, Fruit and Nut Tree Specialist at NCSU, will be demonstrating how to properly train and prune apple, peach, and nut trees to get the best production from each type of tree. There will be time to answer questions on insect and disease control as well as training and pruning questions.

**This event will be held outside so be sure to dress accordingly.**
NC State University and N.C. A&T State University work in tandem, along with federal, state, and local governments, to form a strategic partnership called N.C. Cooperative Extension.

Declaración Completa (Español) “La Extensión Cooperativa de Carolina del Norte prohíbe la discriminación y el acoso independientemente de la edad, el color de la piel, la discapacidad de la persona, el estado civil y situación familiar, la identidad de género, el país de origen, la ideología política, la raza, la religión, el sexo (incluido el embarazo), la orientación sexual y la condición de veterano de guerra. Colaboración entre las Universidades NC State y N.C. A&T State, el Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos, y los gobiernos locales.

Contact or 919-989-5380 for accommodations related to a disability.

Disclaimer agrichemicals:
Recommendations for the use of agricultural chemicals are included in this publication as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by North Carolina Cooperative Extension nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use agricultural chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage regulations and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact your county Cooperative Extension agent.