Saturday, August 19, 2017

Native Perennials with Pharmaceutical Pasts

Image result for cone flowers and bee balm
Many common perennials grown today for their ornamental value, such as
magenta-flowered  beebalm and purple coneflower (foreground), have rich medicinal histories.
By Rita Pelczar
The American Gardener, AHS
July/August 2017

For centuries, Native Americans used a wide variety of indigenous plants to treat whatever ailed them. Early European settlers followed suit, learning medicinal uses for the unfamiliar flora they encountered either by trial and error—a risky business—or from the locals. This herbal lore passed from generation to generation until the advent of modern medicine about a century ago. 

Before then, many native plants were grown in home gardens more for their medicinal usefulness than their ornamental qualities. Several of these species still grace gardens across the country today, though many people don’t realize the significant role they played in health and healing before alternative pharmaceutical options existed.

Certain ornamental North American trees and shrubs have medicinal uses, but this article will focus on herbaceous perennials. The following are some of the most garden-worthy, widely available, and historically interesting among them (see the chart on page 31 for additional selections). Please note that how to use them as herbal remedies and their medicinal efficacy are not the focus of this article; it is intended to be informational rather than instructional. 

Commercially Marketed Herbal Natives
Among the most well known and well researched medicinal native perennials are coneflowers (Echinacea spp.). Ethnobotanical studies have revealed that numerous Native American tribes used coneflowers in a variety of herbal remedies for hundreds of years. Today, millions of people around the world use echinacea-based products to bolster their immune system or to diminish the duration and severity of a cold.
The species most commonly used for these purposes are purple coneflower (E. purpurea, USDA Hardiness Zones 3–9, AHS Heat Zones 9–1), pale purple coneflower (E. pallida, Zones 3–10, 10–1), and narrow-leaf coneflower (E. angustifolia, Zones 4–9, 9–1). Health products labeled with “echinacea” often contain extracts from at least two of these species. Studies have found that each of these plants produces various chemicals with antioxidant, antimicrobial, and immune-boosting properties.
Native across eastern and central North America, these coneflowers are easy to grow, drought-tolerant, and make lovely additions to sunny spaces. Their showy flower heads, composed of pink-purple rays surrounding distinctly raised cones, attract butterflies, bees, and seed-eating birds.
They reach between two and four feet tall, and bloom all summer long.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis, Zones 4–9, 8–4) is another widely used and well known medicinal native perennial. Historically it has been used for ailments involving mucus membranes. For example, Iroquois healers used a decoction of the root to treat whooping cough, diarrhea, stomach ailments, earache, and eye irritation. Its thick yellow rhizomes also have been used to make a dye. After early explorers exported the plant to Europe, it became popular there for medicinal purposes, too.
Because of overharvesting and habitat loss, the plant is now an endangered species across its native range from New Hampshire and Minnesota, south to Alabama and Georgia. Fortunately, many reputable nurseries now propagate and sell goldenseal for both home gardens and commercial production. It’s one of my favorite plants for a woodland garden, forming a groundcover of large, palmately lobed leaves on short stems that reach six to 12 inches tall. Small, white, tufted flowers appear in spring, followed by a showy raspberrylike fruit that appears to sit atop the leaf. Best growth occurs in a moist, moderately shady spot with slightly acidic soil.

Mint-Family Medicinals
Many native plants with herbal properties belong to the mint family (Lamiaceae). They share traits such as square stems, opposite leaves that may be aromatic, and small two-lipped flowers arranged in whorls or clusters. Those that spread with rhizomes may need a firm hand to keep them within bounds. The genus Salvia boasts quite a few North American species that are both medicinally significant and highly ornamental. From the West Coast, hummingbird or pitcher sage (S. spathacea, Zones 8–11, 10-7) inhabits the coastal hills of central and southern California.

Indigenous peoples in that region used it to treat colds and sore throats, and scientific analysis has revealed that it contains antimicrobial compounds. This plant grows about two feet tall and spreads to about three feet across. Its spikes of fruity-scented, magenta blooms begin appearing in winter in warmer regions, and continue through summer. As the common name implies, they attract hummingbirds. It prefers dappled shade, but also will adapt to full sun. Though quite drought-tolerant, a bit of irrigation helps extend the flowering season and keep the plant evergreen where winters are mild.
For more medicinal species, see full article from The American Gardener:

Reminder: Fall Board Meeting of The Garden Club of NC, Sept. 10-11

See late registration and more information:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Are Climbing Plants Really Bad for Your House?

At a Santa Barbara, California, residence by architect Marc Appleton,
family dog Sunny sits outside the ivy-covered den. Photo by Mary E. Nichols.

We've all heard the ugly rumors: Ivy and other climbing plants will ruin the façade of your home. But according to landscape architect Kim Hoyt and a 2010 report by English Heritage and the University of Oxford, that's not always the case. In reality, it depends on where your house is and what the exterior is made of. Hoyt often tells her clients that if the plant is growing on masonry where there's good sun exposure, there shouldn't be a problem. Climbing vines are more likely to cause issues on wood siding and in damp climates; plants like Boston ivy suction onto surfaces with adhesive pads, allowing them to go up and under the wood, trapping in moisture and eventually rotting the façade.

In short, it's absolutely okay to leave the magical greenery crawling up your walls alone as long as the conditions are right. And it won't just look beautiful—the English Heritage report states, "We now have strong evidence that ivy reduces the threats of freeze-thaw, heating and cooling and wetting and drying (and associated salt weathering) through its regulation of the wall surface microclimate."

Just came to the realization that your residence isn't the best spot for a climbing vine? Hoyt assures us there are other ways to achieve a similarly verdant, old-world look. Your best bet: Grow vines up a screen or metal armature placed in front of an exterior wall to fool the eye from afar.

With the case of the climbing plants closed, here are a few of our favorite exteriors brought alive with lush foliage.
View examples of climbing plants used for architectural enhancement at:

Friday, August 4, 2017

Free Late Season Classes by Durham Co. Extension Master Gardeners

Outsmarting Critters will be offered Aug. 27 at the Durham South Regional Library.

Here is a listing of late 2017  Extension Gardener Seminars. Presentations by Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers ALL CLASSES FREE!  

Planting Now For a Fall Harvest 
Saturday, August 12, 10 a.m. to noon. 
Durham Garden Center
Presented by Faye McNaull and Lynne Nelson, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteers.  Now is the right time to plan your cool weather garden.  A remarkable variety of tasty vegetables (including root crops and greens) can be happy and healthy when the temperature drops and your tomatoes and squash are all but memories.
Durham Garden Center  4536 Hillsborough Rd, Durham, NC 27705.  Requires registration. RSVP by either signing up at the store, calling the store at 919-384-7526, or emailing an RSVP to:

Planning Now for a Fall Harvest
Saturday, August 26, 10 to 11:30 a.m. 
For Garden Sake Nursery
Presented by Doug Roach, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. Now is the right time to plan your cool weather garden.  A remarkable variety of tasty vegetables (including root crops and greens) can be happy and healthy when the temperature drops and your tomatoes and squash are only memories.  It's also the time to prepare for crops that will rejuvenate your soil overwinter and those that can be harvested early next summer. We will be offering tips on simple ways to extend your growing season in the Fall.
For Garden’s Sake Nursery  9197 NC Hwy 751, Durham NC, 27713. Requires registration. To register, email or call 919-484-9759. 

Outsmarting the Critters: Dealing with Deer, Rabbits, Squirrels, Moles & Voles
Sunday, August 27, 3-4 p.m.
South Regional Durham County Library
Presented by Georganne Sebastian and Darcey Martin, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteers. Come learn about the latest techniques and tips for out-smarting the critters who dine on our Durham gardens.  
Programs at the Durham County Public Library - South Regional Branch, 4505 S Alston Ave. - registration is required. Register online at the Durham County Library website Click on "Events" to find the full calendar of events.  Go to the date of the class and sign up. You can also call the Information Desk at South Regional Library to register:  919-560-7410. 

Lawn Care
Tuesday, September 12, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Presented by Charles Murphy, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.  Maintaining a beautiful lawn in our area is a challenge for many of us.  Extension Master Gardener Charles Murphy will discuss the pros and cons of cool season and warm season grasses, optimal lawn care for our Piedmont climate and soil.  He will introduce you to the best maintenance methods and untangle the confusing range of lawn care products.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St. - Requires Registration. Call 919-668-1707 or email        
Buy Healthy Plants and Plant Them Well
Tuesday, September 26, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens.
Presented by Chris Apple, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. 
Healthy plants stand a better chance of thriving in your garden. This presentation will review what you should look for when purchasing and planting plants. Chris will discuss plant sources, how to evaluate a plant, how to correctly plant a tree, shrub, groundcover or perennial and then what is necessary to establish a plant.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St. - Requires Registration. Call 919-668-1707 or email

Raised Beds – If You Build Them, the Veggies Will Come
Saturday, September 30, 10 to 11:30 a.m.
For Garden Sake Nursery
Presented by Doug Roach, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. This class will cover the advantages of raised bed gardening, including recommendations on locating, preparing, sizing and constructing the bed.  Doug will also offer helpful tips on using journals to record plant successes and failures, crop rotation, companion planting, improving your soil, protection from critters, and plant support. He will discuss such potential problems and pitfalls as contaminated beds or pest infestations.     
For Garden’s Sake Nursery  9197 NC Hwy 751, Durham NC, 27713. Requires registration. To register, email or call 919-484-9759. 

Straw Bale Gardening 
Tuesday, February 27, 2018, 6:30 to 8 p.m. 
Sarah P. Gardens
Presented by Georganne Sebastian and Darcey Martin, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteers. Growing a successful vegetable garden is challenging enough if you have terrific soil in which to plant, but with poor soils it can be virtually impossible.  Straw Bale Gardening allows anyone, even those with the worst soil conditions, to grow a terrific garden that is productive and much less labor intensive.  Let us teach you how! 
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St. - Requires Registration. Call 919-668-1707  or email

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

August Calendar of Triangle Gardening Programs

See a comprehensive listing of educational horticultural programs around the Triangle during the month of August on Triangle Gardener:

Friday, July 28, 2017

Plant Spotlight: Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Asclepias incarnate. Swamp milkweed can be used in rain gardens and stormwater gardens to filter pollutants and support monarch butterfly habitats. Photo by myiarchus22, CC BY-NC-2.0

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is a native, perennial and toxic pink wildflower plant found in swamps, shores, thickets; marshes, moist meadows. Asclepias is the milkweed family of wildflowers essential as a monarch butterfly food source. The swamp (incarnata) variety of milkweed can be grown in urban rain gardens and other residential areas prone to poor drainage.
Erect, perennial herbs with milky juice; leaves simple, alternate, opposite, or whorled, narrow; flowers 5-parted, in rounded clusters, white, greenish, yellow, orange, or red; fruit dry and inflated, erect, and with many hair-tufted seeds
Growing Season:
Early to late summer
2-4 ft.
Up to 4-inch, opposite, narrow, lance-shaped, smooth leaves; milky sap is less juice than most species; short-stalked to stalkless
1-to 2-in., dull pink flowers, clustered at the top of a tall, branching stem; five recurved petals; elevated central crown, divided
Weedy in disturbed areas, native or naturalized in waste places, roadsides, fields; landscape in flower gardens as herbaceous perennials
All parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested. Symptoms include vomiting, stupor, weakness, spasms. The toxic principle is cardiac glycosides and resinoids. TOXIC ONLY IF LARGE QUANTITIES EATEN.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

BOOKS: JC Raulston Arboretum Director's "Gardening in the South"

Gardening in the South: The Complete Homeowners Guide
Author: Dr. Mark Weathington
Publisher: Timber Press (2017)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320 pp.
Images: 397 color photos
ISBN-10: 1604695919
ISBN-13: 9781604695915

Extension Specialist, Urban Horticulture
NC Cooperative Extension
Learn from a pro, MARK WEATHINGTON is director of the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University. His more than twenty years of experience gardening in the South include serving as a horticulturist for the Atlanta Botanical Garden and director of horticulture for the Norfolk Botanical Garden.

He packs decades of wisdom into this definitive handbook sharing exactly what it takes to grow your dream garden in the South including everything from a comprehensive A–Z guide of the best plants for the region to how to work with southern climates, seasons, and soils.

Pore over design ideas for all types of outdoor spaces, and follow a quick-glance, year-round maintenance chart tailored to southern specifics.

 Filled with insider tips, this go-to manual should be on the shelf of anyone who gardens in the unique conditions of the South.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Flower Show School: Course I in Advance, NC

AUG 21-23, 2017

The Flower Show School is open to all who desire to enrich their knowledge of horticulture, design and flower show procedure. This national certification program is managed by the National Garden Clubs, Inc.

Course I is sponsored by Winston-Salem Judges Council and will be held at the Hampton Inn Advance, in Advance, NC.
Register by July 24, 2017 by using the this brochure: 

Full Certification Schedule:
  • Course I:   August 21-23, 2017
  • Course II:   March 12-14, 2018
  • Course III: September 17-19,2018
  • Course IV: April 15-17, 2019

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Summer Shade with Live Oaks in the South

Take cover in the shade under a Quercus virginiana this summer!
Tours in Louisiana are available:
Photo: Plantation Balcony view from Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, LA. Photo by J.S. Corser, Durham Co. Master Gardener.

Clemson University Extension Consumer Horticulture
HGIC 1014
The Live Oak

The live oak (Quercus virginiana) is the principal evergreen oak in South Carolina. Although it is adapted to all of South Carolina, it favors conditions along the coast, where it grows wild. The full development of the live oak in South Carolina can be expected only within the warm, humid environment of its natural range. It tolerates cold extremes up through the Piedmont (not the mountains), but will grow more slowly and may suffer from ice storm damage.

Mature Height/Spread
Live oak is rounded and wide spreading, growing 40 to 80 feet tall and 60 to 100 feet wide. In the forest it stands erect, growing 100 feet tall, but in open landscapes the sprawling horizontal branches arch to the ground and form a broad, rounded canopy.
Growth Rate

This tree grows moderately fast in youth, producing 2 to 2½ feet of growth per year if properly located and maintained. Trees grown outside the coastal region will grow more slowly. The growth rate also slows with age. One of the longest-lived oaks, it may live 200 to 300 years.

Ornamental Features
The live oak is probably best known for its massive horizontal limbs that give old trees their majestic character. The trunk can grow to more than six feet in diameter. The leaves remain intact through the winter, then yellow and drop in spring as new leaves expand. Trees growing further inland, however, become semi-evergreen, losing some leaves in fall and winter. The waxy leaves are resistant to salt spray.

Live oak (Quercus virginiana) leaves and acorns.
Lindsay Caesar, Horticulture Department, Clemson University.
The small (1 inch) acorns are dark brown to black when ripe, and are primary food for many wildlife species along the coast. They are produced in clusters of one to five.

Live oak is susceptible to leaf blister, a fungal gall that disfigures leaves but does no appreciable harm. Several insect galls are also found on live oak. No control is available. Oak wilt is a serious fungal disease that can kill infected trees within a year or two of infection. This disease occurs in only six counties in South Carolina: Chesterfield, Kershaw, Lancaster, Lee, Darlington and Barnwell. For more information on problems of oak, refer to the fact sheet HGIC 2006, Oak Diseases & Insect Pests.

When grown in the South Carolina Piedmont, outside of their natural range, live oaks may be injured or killed by cold temperatures or ice storms. For this region, select cold-tolerant cultivars or seed-propagated live oaks with proven cold hardiness.

Landscape Use
Live oaks are reminiscent of the Old South, especially when planted along avenues or drives leading to old plantations. Although used extensively for street tree plantings, in time the roots will lift sidewalks or streets if planted too close. It will do well as a lawn specimen provided it is given plenty of space.

Although it responds best to plentiful moisture in well-drained, sandy soils, it tolerates drier, more compacted sites. Once established, it is drought-resistant. It prefers sun but tolerates more shade than other oaks because its leaves function throughout winter.

Pruning is only necessary to develop a strong branch structure early in the life of the tree. It should be trained with a central leader. Eliminate young multiple trunks and branches. Prune in mid-to late summer to avoid oak wilt disease.

Cultivars & Varieties
  • Highrise® - This was the first patented cultivar of live oak. It was discovered as a seedling growing in Orangeburg, SC. It has a uniform, upright pyramidal growth habit with a mature height and spread of 30 to 40 feet and 12 to 18 feet, respectively.
  • Cathedral Oak™ - This cultivar has a pyramidal canopy when young that becomes broad to ovoid as it matures. It is expected to have a mature height and spread of 40 to 80 feet and 60 to 120 feet, respectively.
  • Millennium Oak® - This cultivar has the traditional, picturesque growth of live oak and has a predictable growth rate and habit. Expect a mature height of 50 to 75 feet and a spread of 60 to 100 feet.
Revised by Bob Polomski, Extension Consumer Horticulturist, Clemson University, 02/14. Originally prepared by Debbie Shaughnessy, HGIC Information Specialist, and Bob Polomski, Extension Consumer Horticulturist, Clemson University. New 05/99; Images added 11/06 & 12/15.

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2017 Gardeners' Advice Fair: July 25

Bring all of your gardening questions to the Gardeners Advice Fair!
Experts will be on hand at Duke Gardens from 6:30-8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

GCNC Fall Board Meeting in Cary: Sept. 10-11

Saturday, July 1, 2017

July Calendar of Triangle Gardening Programs

July is busy with many educational and fun gardening programs across the Triangle!
See a a comprehensive listing from Triangle Gardener magazine:

Friday, June 30, 2017

Pest Spotlight: Powdery Mildew

Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x 'Zuni') with powdery  mildew. Neem oil extract horticultural oil can
help smother powdery mildew infections. Photo by J.S.Corser, Durham Co. Extension Master Gardener.

Clemson Cooperative Extension
Publication HGIC 2049

Powdery mildew is the name given to a group of diseases caused by several closely related fungi. Their common symptom is a grayish-white, powdery mat visible on the surface of leaves, stems, and flower petals. There are many hosts; and although this disease is not considered fatal, plant damage can occur when the infestation is severe.

Disease Cycle
In spring, as daytime temperatures rise above 60 °F, the fungi responsible for powdery mildew begin to produce spores (conidia) which are dispersed into the air. Infections occur when they contact a suitable host and environmental conditions are favorable. Initial symptoms are small, circular, powdery, white spots which expand and eventually join as infections progress. Infections spread as spores produced in these white patches move by wind and splashing rain to other locations on the plant or nearby plants.

The fungus survives the winter attached to plant parts and plant debris such as fallen leaves. As weather warms in spring, the process begins again.

Favorable Conditions
Humidity is an important factor related to the onset and spread of powdery mildew. Unlike most fungi, these do not require free water to germinate; only high levels of relative humidity. High relative humidity favors spore formation, and low relative humidity favors spore dispersal, which explains why powdery mildew tends to be a problem when the days are cool and the nights are humid. Temperature is also a factor. Although powdery mildew can occur all season long, it is less common during the heat of the summer.

Powdery mildew is caused by several different species of fungi, and they each have a limited host range. In other words, observing powdery mildew on oak leaves should not be cause for concern for nearby zinnias. Plants that commonly become infected with various powdery mildews include; azalea, crabapple, dogwood, phlox, euonymus, lilac, snapdragon, dahlia, zinnia, crape myrtle, rose, pyracantha, rhododendron, spirea, wisteria, delphinium, oak, English ivy, photinia, blueberry, pecan, cucumber, and squash.

As powdery mildew fungi grow over the plant surface, they develop structures that are inserted into plant cells enabling them to extract nutrients necessary for growth and spore production. This results in a general decline in growth and vigor of the host, as well as the common visible symptoms.

Abnormal growth, such as leaf curling, twisting, and discoloration may be noticed before the white signs of the fungus are visible. On dogwood, for example, leaves may take on a yellowish or reddish cast in summer or may develop reddish blotches or dead, scorched patches. The white powdery growth is not always apparent.

When visible, the powdery fungal growth can usually be found on the upper surface of the leaves, and tends to begin on lower leaves. As the disease progresses, leaves become dwarfed, curled and generally distorted. In severe cases, leaves will turn yellow or even dried and brown.

Powdery mildew fungi will also infect flowers, causing them to develop abnormally or fail to open. On azaleas and rhododendrons, small areas of dead tissue are often seen.

Powdery mildew creates other effects that are not readily visible. For example, a severely infected plant may have a reduced level of winter hardiness. Trees have also been observed to leaf out later in the spring after being infected the previous season.

Cultural Controls
As with all diseases, optimum plant health is the first line of defense. This begins with selection of healthy plants that are planted properly and in the proper location, giving attention to requirements for light, soil, and moisture. Space them so they are allowed to grow without being crowded and water thoroughly during establishment, and later during dry periods. Avoid overhead irrigation which raises the level of relative humidity within the plant canopy.

If powdery mildew is noticed on a few leaves, simply removing them will help with control. At the end of the growing season, prune out infected stems and remove fallen leaves which can serve as a source of further infection. Suckers are common on crape myrtle, dogwood and other plants. These should be pruned as they develop because they are especially susceptible and the disease will spread from them upwards to other plant parts.

Fertilize to optimize plant health, but avoid overfertilization with nitrogen as it stimulates young, succulent growth which is more susceptible to infection.
Plants with a severe infection should be monitored closely the following spring so that if infections reoccur, they can be treated early.

When possible, select plants that show resistance to the disease (see Table 1).

Chemical Control

Ornamental Plants: For fungicides to be effective, they must be applied as soon as symptoms are noticed. Product labels will provide information on how often to spray. When ranges are given, use the shorter interval during cool, damp weather. Be sure to cover both the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves.
Table 2 lists fungicides labeled for ornamental plants. Myclobutanil, propiconazole, thiophanate-methyl,  have systemic properties and can be sprayed less often than sulfur or copper-based fungicides. When powdery mildew persists and sprays are repeated, it is recommended to rotate (alternate) fungicides to decrease the chance of fungi developing resistance.
When deciduous plants are infected, consider the season. Generally, foliar diseases occurring in late summer do little damage. The leaves have already produced food for the plant and are going to fall off soon anyway. Just be sure to rake and dispose of them as they fall.
As with any pesticide, read the label and heed all precautions. Sulfur, for example, can damage plants if applied when temperature and humidity are high.
Vegetable Plants: For information on vegetable crop disease controls and tolerant varieties, consult the Clemson Extension publication EC 570, Home Vegetable Gardening, and other Home & Garden Information Center fact sheets.

Table 1. Plants with Resistance to Powdery Mildew.
Kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa‘Milky Way’, ‘Milky Way Select’, ‘National’
Cornus florida x kousa hybrids‘Aurora’, ‘Constellation’, ‘Celestial’, ‘Stellar Pink’
Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida‘Cherokee Brave’, ‘Springtime’, ‘Pygmy’, ‘Jean’s Appalachian Snow’, ‘Karen’s Appalachian Blush’, ‘Kay’s Appalachian Mist’
Crepe Myrtle: The Lagerstroemia indica x faurieri hybrids‘Apalachee’, ‘Fantasy’, ‘Hopi’, ‘Miami’, ‘Osage’, ‘Tonto’, ‘Tuscarora’, ‘Tuskegee’, ‘Wichita’, ‘Acoma’, ‘Sioux’, ‘Natchez’
Phlox‘David’, ‘Delta Snow’, ‘Natascha’, ‘Robert Poore’
ZinniaPulcino and African varieties, Zinnia angustifolia, Profusion Cherry, Profusion Orange
Hybrid Tea Rose‘Duet’, ‘Eiffel Tower’, ‘Grand Slam’, ‘Mister Lincoln’, ‘Tiffany’, ‘Jamaica’, ‘Matterhorn’
Floribunda Rose‘Golden Slipper’
Grandiflora Rose‘Camelot’, ‘Queen Elizabeth’, ‘John S. Armstrong’, ‘Pink Parfait’
Rugosa Rose‘Rugosa Alba’, ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’, ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’, ‘Topez Jewel’, ‘Alba’, ‘Alba Semi-Plena’
Monarda‘Marshall’s Delight’, ‘Cambridge Scarlet’

Table 2. Fungicides for Powdery Mildew Control on Ornamental Plants.
Active IngredientExamples of Brand Names & Products
Note: These active ingredients are listed in approximate order from most efficacious (best control) to least, but this also depends upon the plant and species of powdery mildew fungus.  Be sure to check the product label for which plants can be sprayed with that product.  For many vegetable crops, sulfur, copper-based products, chlorothalonil, horticultural oil, potassium bicarbonate and Bacillus subtilis can be used for powdery mildew control.
1 Do not apply sulfur if temperature is greater than 90 ºF or to drought stressed plants.  Do not use sulfur in combination with, or within 2 weeks before or after the use of horticultural oil treatments.  Sulfur will also control mites.
2 Do not apply horticultural oil if temperature is greater than 90 ºF.  Horticultural oil may injure Japanese, armur and red maples, cryptomeria, junipers, cedars, redbud, smoke tree and hickories. Add 3 tablespoons of horticultural oil to a gallon of water with 3 tablespoons of baking soda for better powdery mildew control.
RTS = Ready-To-Spray (hose-end sprayer).     RTU = Small, pre-mixed bottle.
MyclobutanilSpectracide Immunox Multi-Purpose Fungicide Concentrate
Sulfur1Safer Brand Garden Fungicide Concentrate; & RTU
Hi-Yield Wettable Dusting Sulfur
Southern Ag Wettable or Dusting Sulfur
Bonide Sulfur Plant Fungicide
PropiconazoleFerti-lome Liquid Systemic Fungicide II Concentrate; & RTS
Bonide Infuse Concentrate; & RTS
Banner Maxx Fungicide
Martin's Systemic Fungicide
Thiophanate-methylCleary’s 3336-WP Turf & Ornamental Fungicide
Southern Ag Thiomyl Systemic Fungicide
ChlorothalonilOrtho Max Garden Disease Control
Garden Tech Daconil Fungicide Concentrate
Hi-Yield Vegetable, Flower, Fruit & Ornamental Fungicide
Southern Ag Liquid Ornamental & Vegetable Fungicide
Tiger Brand Daconil
Ferti-lome Broad Spectrum Landscape & Garden Fungicide Conc.
Monterey Fruit Tree, Vegetable & Ornamental Fungicide Conc.
Bonide Fung-onil Concentrate
Horticultural Oil2Ferti-lome Horticultural Oil Spray Concentrate
Monterey Horticultural Oil Concentrate
Southern Ag ParaFine Horticultural Oil
Bonide All Seasons Spray Oil Concentrate
Neem Oil ExtractSouthern Ag Triple Action Neem Oil Concentrate
Ferti-lome Rose Flower & Vegetable Spray Concentrate
Garden Safe Fungicide 3 Concentrate
Garden Safe Neem Oil Extract Concentrate
Monterey 70% Neem oil Fungicide/Insecticide/Miticide Conc.; & RTS
Copper-based FungicidesBonide Liquid Copper Concentrate
Camelot O Fungicide/ Bactericide Concentrate
Monterey Liqui-Cop Fungicide Concentrate
Natural Guard Copper Soap Fungicide Concentrate; & RTU
Southern Ag Liquid Copper Fungicide
TebuconazoleBayer Advanced Disease Control for Roses, Flowers & Shrubs Conc.
Potassium BicarbonateBonide Remedy
Bacillus subtilisAgraQuest Serenade Garden Disease Control Concentrate

Caution: Pollinating insects, such as honey bees and bumblebees, can be adversely affected by the use of pesticides. Avoid the use of spray pesticides (both insecticides and fungicides), as well as soil-applied, systemic insecticides unless absolutely necessary. If spraying is required, always spray late in the evening to reduce the direct impact on pollinating insects. Always try less toxic alternative sprays first for the control of insect pests and diseases. For example, sprays with insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, neem oil extract, spinosad, Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.), or botanical oils can help control many small insect pests and mites that affect garden and landscape plants. Neem oil extract or botanical oil sprays may also reduce plant damage by repelling many insect pests. Practice cultural techniques to prevent or reduce the incidence of plant diseases, including pre-plant soil improvement, proper plant spacing, crop rotation, applying mulch, applying lime and fertilizer based on soil test results, and avoiding over-head irrigation and frequent watering of established plants. Additionally, there are less toxic spray fungicides that contain sulfur or copper soap, and biological control sprays for plant diseases that contain Bacillus subtilis. However, it is very important to always read and follow the label directions on each product. For more information, contact the Clemson Extension Home & Garden Information Center.

Pesticides updated by Joey Williamson, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University, 10/16. Revised by Joey Williamson, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University, 11/09. Originally prepared by Chuck Burgess, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University. New 09/05.

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Free Summer Harvest Classes for Briggs Ave. Community Garden

Briggs Avenue Community Garden.

Three exciting opportunities are coming up for learning about harvest at the Briggs Avenue Community Garden. The classes are free for Briggs Plot Owners and Master Gardeners. They will be conducted by Durham Co. Extension Agent Cheralyn Berry and Brandon Walton at the Durham County Cooperative Extension Office at 721 Foster St. in downtown Durham. Please email Pana Jones at or call 919-560-0525 to register for one or all of the classes.

Tomato Tasting with Craig LeHoullier, NC Tomato Man 
Saturday, July 15, 9 - 11 a.m.
Mr. LeHoullier has collaborated with Briggs Garden to grow out some of his newest genetic lines of tomatoes. Come hear him speak about his research and taste some of the newest tomatoes on earth. He will have his book, "Epic Tomatoes" available for sale.

Preserve the Harvest: Water Bath Canning
Saturday, July 29, 9 a.m. - Noon
Save the taste of summer the easy way by water bath canning. Delicious tomato sauce and pickles can be enjoyed all year round when you have the skills to make your own. Simple food science concepts will be explained for safe technique.

Preserve the Harvest: Pressure Canning
Saturday, Aug. 26, 9 a.m. - Noon
Many foods can be safely pressure canned for convenience and health. Enjoy delicious dishes your family will love by learning how to make them ahead in large batches to serve during busy weeks. Save freezer space and be prepared for winter power outages with a full pantry of tasty meals. Simple food science concepts will be explained for safe technique.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Burt's Bees Turkey Coop Permanently Installed in Durham

Burt's Bees HQ in American Tobacco District with Burt's Turkey Coop.
All of Burt Shavitz's antique and curious possessions were painstakingly moved from Maine and
arranged authentically as he lived.

Celebrate National Pollinator Week and visit the Burt's Bees turkey coop permanently located at the American Tobacco Warehouse District in Durham.

The relocation took approximately five months with the addition of air conditioning and a bathroom.

 Photos by J.S. Corser,
Durham Co. Master Gardener.

Pollinator topiaries installed outside
of the Burt's Bees turkey coop.

District 9 Presidents Meet in Durham for Annual Meeting

The Presidents Meeting of the District 9 of The Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc. met Thursday with over 30 District members representing 16 garden clubs in attendance.
The meeting was hosted by the Durham Council of Garden Clubs and was held at the historic John Sprunt Hill House. Meeting tables and the dining area were brightened by several floral arrangements created by State Secretary Pat Cashwell and Vice District 9 Director Catherine Phelps, both ladies hold national credentials as flower show judges. Gourmet tea refreshments were provided by Robin Marin of Town & Country Garden Club.
District 9 Director Marcia Loudon led the agenda and distributed an administrative binder to each club president or club representative. She presented critical dates, details, forms, etc. within the binders she created, emphasizing that all of the information can also be sourced on the GCNC website ( of which she is editor.
Past District 9 Director Andrea Lewis took a minute to promote the 2018 GCNC Annual Meeting, to be held April 15-17, 2018, in Chapel Hill, NC. “Orange You Glad It’s Spring?” is the theme created by the Orange County Council of Garden Clubs hosting the event. Andrea invited District 9 garden clubs to help volunteer for the meeting. Please contact her at:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

BOOKS: The New Shade Garden

The New Shade Garden: Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Change                             
Author: Ken Druse
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (April 14, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1617691046
ISBN-13: 978-1617691041

From Amazon...

There is a new generation of gardeners who are planting gardens not only for their visual beauty but also for their ability to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In The New Shade Garden, Ken Druse provides this generation with a comprehensive guide to creating a shade garden with an emphasis on the adjustments necessary for our changing climate. Druse offers advice for common problems facing today’s gardeners, from addressing the deer situation to watering plants without stressing limited resources. Detailing all aspects of the gardening process, the book covers basic topics such as designing your own garden, pruning trees, preparing soil for planting, and the vast array of flowers and greenery that grow best in the shade. Perfect for new and seasoned gardeners alike, this wide-ranging encyclopedic manual provides all the information you need to start or improve upon your own shade garden.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Outsmart the Weeds in Vegetable Gardens

Grow vigorous vegetable crops and manage them to outcompete weeds!

By Megan Gregory, EMG
Extension Gardener Newsletter,

With warm weather and rapid weed growth, many vegetable gardeners are reaching for hoes and spading forks. Gardeners can save labor by understanding weed life cycles and eliminating conditions that encourage weed growth (such as bare soil with excess nutrients). To outsmart the weeds in your garden, include practices in three categories of weed management:

1. Exclude weed seeds and propagules. Avoid bringing weeds into your garden by using only finished compost that has reached 140°F for a week or more, by using seed-free straw (rather than hay) for mulch, and by cleaning tools and equipment.

2. Use cultural practices to keep the soil covered and favor crops over weeds. Practice crop rotation. Vary when you till and plant because tillage stimulates weed seeds to germinate. To prevent summer annual weeds, establish an early spring crop. To prevent winter annual weeds, establish a long-season summer crop.

Grow vigorous vegetable crops and manage them to outcompete weeds. Use ideal planting dates and transplants to help crops grow quickly and shade the soil. Test your garden soil and apply only the nutrients you need for healthy crops, as excess nutrients will encourage weed growth.  Use drip irrigation or water at the base of your crops. Avoid watering between rows.
Include cover crops in rotations. Cover crops are sown between cropping cycles to enrich the soil and suppress weeds ( Once cover crops are cut down, the shoots can
be used as mulch around crops. Here are some tips on using cover crops to suppress weeds:
  • Plant summer cover crops (such as millet and cowpea) in May or June to outcompete  summer annuals and prevent germination  of winter annuals.
  • Plant overwintering cover crops (such as rye and hairy vetch) in the fall to outcompete winter annuals and to prevent germination of summer annuals the following spring.
  • Cover crops can also suppress creeping perennials like bermudagrass or nutsedge. Till the soil to fragment the weed, remove as much  as possible, and follow with a thick seeding  of the cover crop.

3. Use mechanical practices to block weed growth and kill weeds at critical times. Use mulches to deprive weeds of light. In vegetable beds, straw or cover crop residue can control annual broadleaf weeds. In paths, landscape fabric topped with wood chips can suppress bermudagrass. Use hand-weeding, hoeing, or shallow tillage sparingly. Attack weeds when they are small enough to be killed by hoeing or shallow tilling.  Avoid deep tillage, which brings weed seeds to the surface and damages soil structure.

For more information on weed identification and management, visit  With thoughtful planning, you can outsmart the weeds in your vegetable garden.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Durham Pollinator Garden Tour Features 13 Gardens: June 24

Celebrate National Pollinator Week by taking the Durham Pollinator Garden Tour on June 24!

Organized by Keep Durham Beautiful.
 Gardens on Tour:
  • Angier Avenue Neighborhood Farm...
  • Oak Church Garden
  • Immaculate Conception Community Garden
  • Edison Johnson Community Garden
  • NCCU Campus and Community Garden
  • Morehead Hill Community Garden
  • Briggs Avenue Community Garden
  • Sandy Ridge Elementary Garden
  • Lowes Grove Middle School Garden
  • Parkwood Community Garden
  • North Street Community Garden
  • Keep Durham Beautiful Demonstration Garden

Tickets can be purchased at:

Friday, June 9, 2017

Durham Celebrates National Pollinator Week (June 19-25, 2017)

The late Burt’s Bees co-founder Burt Shavitz in front of his turkey coop in rural Maine. The coop has been relocated to the Burts Bees headquarters in Durham's American Tobacco District. Photo Getty Images.
Durham is a certified Bee City USA and during Pollinator Week many local organizations will be hosting events to help raise awareness of the importance of pollinators and healthy habitat.
Come on out and learn about pollinators while having a great time!


Wednesday, June 21, Bee Downtown hosts the Bee Bash at the Durham Hotel from 6-8 pm
Thursday, June 22 and Friday, June 23, Burt's Bees will host tours from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Burt’s Bees will give tours of founder Burt Shavitz’s iconic cabin, a roughly 300 square foot converted turkey coop, at Burt’s Bees headquarters, American Tobacco Campus.
Saturday, June 24, Keep Durham Beautiful hosts a Pollinator Garden Tour from 9 am-1 pm. Tickets available for purchase
Saturday, June 24, Honeygirl Meadery hosts Wild Berry Mead Making from 2 - 4 p.m. at Honeygirl Meadery
Saturday, June 24, the Museum of Life and Science hosts Pollinator Day from 9 - 2 p.m.
Sunday, June 25, the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association will be working to restore vital pollinator habitat and beautifying a new pollinator garden from 12 - 3 pm. RSVP for this volunteer opportunity

See Keep Durham Beautiful for links to register for Pollinator Week events:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hub Farm Receives $24K from Town & Country Garden Club

Town & Country Garden Club presented a $24K check in May to the Durham Public Schools Hub Farm. The monies came from proceeds of the garden club's 2016 Awesome Auction. Funds will be directed toward the purchase and construction of a teaching greenhouse.

Garden Product Spotlight: Avenger Natural Weed Killer

Avenger Organics Avenger Natural Weed Killer is a non-selective, post-emergence herbicide that quickly and effectively kills weeds, grasses and broadleaves without causing harm to the environment.

The active ingredient d-limonene (citrus oil) naturally strips away the waxy plant cuticle, causing it to dehydrate and die.

University and independent testing results prove that Avenger Weed Killer is as effective, but faster acting when compared against leading synthetic herbicides. When tested against non-organic ‘natural’ herbicides that contain vinegar (acetic acid), citric acid, clove oil or fatty acids (soap), it is more effective with quicker results.

June Calendar of Triangle Gardening Programs

What's on tap for June's educational and DIY gardening programs in the Triangle?
Check Triangle Gardener Magazine:

Friday, May 26, 2017

Garden Spotlight: Discovering American Cemetery Gardens in Europe

Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, Northern France.

By Diana Lambdin Meyer
Garden Destinations, Spring 2017

On the day before Memorial Day (Sunday, May 28, 2017) in the U.S., children in and around Montfaucon, France will lay more than 14,000 long stemmed red roses on the graves of American servicemen who gave their lives here in the final days of World War I. This is the site of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, the largest American burial ground on foreign soil. It is hallowed ground and a masterpiece of landscape design and gardening.

Among the most beautiful gardens in Europe are the American cemeteries managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission, a federal agency formed in 1923, just five years after the end of WWI, to properly maintain the final resting places of 124,905 soldiers and American civilians who lost their lives in service to the United States. There are 25 cemeteries and another 26 monuments or markers on foreign soil that honor this sacrifice from other wars, including the 94,000 who are listed as missing in action or were buried at sea.

The ABMC employs 73 gardeners to maintain the meticulous landscapes, designed by French-born, Philadelphia architect Paul Phillipe Cret and overseen by General John Pershing, leader of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I.

The original plan for the eight World War I cemeteries in France, Belgium and England was void of flowers of any kind, instead focusing on both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs to create a distinctly American look in Europe. However, by the time work began in the 1930s, French and Belgian citizens living near the burial grounds had already planted a number of roses and other perennials at the American cemeteries. Not only would it have been a shame to destroy healthy, well-established flower beds, it would not have been a good community relations move. The land for all cemeteries has been deeded to the U.S. Government in perpetuity at no charge.

The first to be completed was the Flanders Field American Cemetery at Waregem, Belgium, a six acre cemetery honoring 43 soldiers missing in action and 368 burials. The original planting list, precisely maintained today, includes maple, birch, elm, oak, Swiss poplar, flowering plum and weeping willow.

Flanders Field American Cemetery. Photo by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Square hedges of Norway spruce and English yew, trimmed to 1.3 meters by .5 meters, are complemented by additional hedges of small leaf boxwood and dwarf boxwood with equally detailed trim specifications outline the burial spaces. Hibernica yew, oval leaf privet and Irish ivy can also be found throughout the cemeteries.

Mixed colors of standard roses fill various beds and pink and red climbing roses adorn the wrought-iron fences to the cemetery. Additional flower beds are filled with blood red wallflowers and a blue pansy border in the spring. Summer flowers include rose geraniums and blue lobelia borders.

Although the size and design varies, these plantings are the basis of all American cemeteries on European soil. And of course, red poppies, the official flower of World War I based of the poem by Lt. John McCrae, can be found in paper or plastic forms around the gravesites and monuments, left by respectful citizens visiting from the around the world.

The US did not enter the war until April 1917 and already millions of lives had been lost in France and Belgium. So as we remember the lives lost during those brutal four years of global conflict, American and otherwise, we can also quietly give thanks for the efforts of so many volunteer and professional gardeners who keep their final resting places so beautiful.

Diana Lambdin Meyer is a travel writer whose grandfather, Sgt. Wilbert Eastman, survived the trench warfare of World War I and came home to find peace in his own little garden in southern Illinois.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

2016 Durham's Finest Trees: The Winners

FIRST in FINEST: Lemur Center Dawn Redwood.
Photo by Wendy Diaz, Durham Co. Master Gardener.
Winners of the 2016 Durham's Finest Trees (DFT) program were announced at the Trees Over Durham meeting in April. The DFT program is in part managed by the NC Cooperative Extension Durham County Master Gardener program and Durham's Sustainability Department.

Durham's Finest Trees program recognizes significant trees in Durham County, promotes discovery and ability to identify trees, and helps preserve the best examples of specific tree species, particularly native and those trees well adapted to Durham County. The program also promotes awareness of trees in the Durham community and hopes to catalog fine examples of magnificent specimens of trees due to their size, setting, historical importance, or significant feature.

Durham tree lovers of all ages are invited to submit their nominations for significant trees in Durham County on a rolling basis.  The next deadline is October 1, 2017 for 2017 nominations ( Nominations received prior to October 1 of each year will be considered for awards that year. Anything received after October 1st will be considered in the following year. Trees on private or public property can be nominated in each of the three categories: largest, historical, or meritorious. Preference will be given to native North Carolina tree species. Non-native trees may be considered if they are of a species, subspecies, variety or cultivar proven to be relatively long-lived and well-adapted to North Carolina. Winning trees will be recognized on Durham's Arbor Day. Please read the official rules before submitting a nomination.

The following 2016 DFT winners were all measured for girth by Durham Co. Master Gardeners Wendy Diaz and Robin Barth. NC Extension Foresters measured the trees for height using a tool called a clinometer. See the Extension publication of how to measure a tree:

Winning tree photos were taken by Wendy Diaz.

1. Lemur Center Dawn Redwood (Large/Historical Category) - 94 feet high, 102 inch circumference, 61 feet canopy; (private property, view from street/parking lot) 3705 Erwin Road/Duke Lemur Center. Photo taken December 1, 2016.

2. Cranford Rd. Dawn Redwood (Large) - 106 feet high, 110.5 inch circumference, 57 feet canopy; (private property, view from street) 2260 Cranford Road/Duke Lemur Center. Fall photos December 1, 2016.

3. Virginia Av. Loblolly Pine (Large) - 99 feet high, 103 inch circumference, 52 feet canopy; 2244 W. Club Blvd & Virginia Ave. These photos were taken October 29, 2016.

4. Main Street Ash (Large) - 54 feet high, 146 inch circumference, 65 feet canopy; 403 E. Main St. Photos taken October 29, 2016.

5. Parkwood East. Cottonwood (Large) - 68 feet high, 98.5 inches circumference, 66 feet canopy (view from the street/parking lot); beside Parkwood baseball field.
Photo taken  May 18, 2017.


6. Parkwood Catalpa (Large) - 43 feet high, 85 inches circumference, 44 feet canopy; In front of Parkwood Manor & east side of Revere Rd. Photographs taken October 26, 2016.

7.  Stagville Plantation Osage Orange (Historical) 4 trunks - 70 feet high, 45 inches circumference, 50 feet canopy; 5828 Old Oxford Hwy. Photos taken September 16, 2016 Photograph is of an adjacent Osage Orange Tree with unusual fruit.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

BOOKS: The Foodscape Revolution: Finding a Better Way to Make Space for Food and Beauty in Your Garden

The Foodscape Revolution: Finding a Better Way to Make Space for Food and Beauty in Your Garden
Author: Brie Arthur
Publisher: St. Lynn's Press (March 15, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1943366187
ISBN-13: 978-1943366187

From Amazon...

Foodscaping visionary Brie Arthur looks at under-utilized garden spaces around homes or in the landscaped common spaces of planned communities – and she sees places where food can be grown…lots and lots of it. And not in isolated patches, but inter-planted with non-food ornamental plants for year-round beauty. This is a new way of looking at public and private spaces, where aesthetics and function operate together to benefit individuals and entire communities. In The Foodscape Revolution, Arthur presents her status-quo-shaking plan to reinvent the common landscape – in a way that even HOA’s would approve. Call it food gardening “in plain sight,” and having it all.

In this entertaining and informative book, you’ll learn which edible and ornamental pairings work best to increase biodiversity, how to situate beds to best utilize natural water and light resources, and most importantly, how to begin an enriched gardening lifestyle that is beneficial, sustainable and empowering. With full-color photos, design plans, simple projects and bountiful tips, The Foodscape Revolution can be life-changing.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

District 9 Presidents Meeting in Durham: June 22

The District 9 Presidents Meeting of the Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc. will be held in Durham on Thursday, June 22, 2017. The meeting will commence at 10 a.m. at the John Sprunt Hill House 900 S. Duke St., Durham, 27707.

All Garden Club Presidents should attend to receive their GCNC information for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. Please contact District 9 Director Marcia Loudon if you have any questions.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Backyard Composting of Yard, Garden, and Food Discards

Kitchen vegetable scraps can be frozen first to expedite
breaking down cellular walls before adding them to the compost bin.
By Rhonda Sherman,                                           
Extension Solid Waste Specialist
Publication date: April 7, 2017AG-791;
Last updated: April 7, 2017

Instead of disposing of yard trimmings and kitchen scraps, you can compost them in your own backyard. Composting is an easy, fascinating, and natural way to recycle. Compost can be made from most organic materials such as leaves, kitchen scraps, and yard trimmings, and it can improve the health of your soil and plants. You can be as involved as you like with your compost pile: simply stack things up and wait for nature to take its course, or turn, water, and monitor the pile to speed up the process. When mixed with soil, compost increases the organic matter content, improves the physical properties of the soil, and supplies essential nutrients, enhancing the soil’s ability to support plant growth. Compost can also be applied to the soil surface to conserve moisture, control weeds, reduce erosion, improve appearance, and keep the soil from gaining or losing heat too rapidly. This publication explains how to build and maintain a compost pile and use the compost in your yard and garden.
Compostable Materials
Organic materials that can be composted are commonly characterized as “browns” and “greens.” Browns are sugar-rich carbon sources (carbonaceous) that provide energy to microorganisms, absorb excess moisture, and provide structure to your pile. Browns include dead fallen leaves, newspaper, straw, sawdust, napkins, cardboard, twigs, hay, dryer lint, and bark. Greens are protein-rich nitrogen sources (nitrogenous) that provide moisture to microorganisms. Greens include grass clippings, vegetables and fruit, coffee grounds, tea leaves, livestock manures, and alfalfa.
The following list provides examples of organic materials that may be added to your compost bin:
  • Autumn leaves, twigs, yard trimmings
  • Grass clippings
  • Vegetables and their trimmings
  • Fruit and their peels
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea leaves and bags
  • Paper napkins
  • Cereal boxes
  • Sawdust from deciduous hardwood trees
  • Bamboo skewers
  • Paper egg cartons
  • Pizza boxes
  • Twigs
  • Paper bags
  • Houseplant leaves
  • Paper rolls (towel, toilet paper, wrapping paper)
  • Cotton balls and swabs
  • Paper plates
  • Straw and hay (no persistent herbicides; see Extension publication AG-727, Herbicide Carryover in Hay, Manure, Compost, and Grass Clippings)
  • Nut shells (no walnut shells—they can be toxic to plants)
  • Stale herbs and spices
  • Wine corks
  • Toothpicks
  • Paper baking cups
  • Hair and fur
  • Dryer lint
  • Vacuum contents & floor sweepings
  • Pencil shavings
  • Newspaper
  • Loofahs
  • Cotton, wool, linen, silk, hemp, burlap, felt
  • Office paper, junk mail, envelopes (no plastic)
  • Used matches
  • Yard trimmings
  • Nail clippings
  • Freezer-burned vegetables and fruits
  • Aquarium water, algae, plants
  • Soiled paper
  • Dregs from juice, beer, wine
  • Spent potting soil
  • Dead blossoms
  • Eggshells and crustacean shells
  • Paper table cloths
  • Spoiled tomato sauce, paste
  • Dead flowers, blossoms
  • Potpourri
  • Beer and wine-making leftovers
  • Seaweed
  • Evergreen garlands and wreaths
  • Jack-o-lanterns
  • Dry dog, cat, fish food
  • Bread, tortillas, pitas
  • Cereal and crackers
  • Chips (tortilla, potato, etc.)
  • Cooked pasta, rice, other grains
  • Soy, rice, almond, coconut milk
  • Crepe paper streamers
  • Yarn, thread, string, rope, twine
  • Cork
  • Wood chips and bark
  • Dryer sheets manufactured by Seventh Generation or Method 
You can store food scraps in a container until you are ready to add them to your compost pile. Some people freeze food scraps in a container; others reuse a plastic container with a lid, or use a purchased compost kitchen container, and keep it under their kitchen sink or on the kitchen counter. Food scraps should be buried inside the pile to avoid attracting rodents.
Yard waste suitable for composting includes fallen tree leaves, grass clippings, straw, and non-woody plant trimmings. Although grass clippings can be composted, it is better to leave them on the lawn where they will decay and release nutrients, reducing the need for fertilizer. (See NC State Extension publication AG-69, Carolina Lawns.) When adding grass to a compost pile, mix it thoroughly with leaves so it does not compact and restrict airflow.
Newspaper and other types of paper can be composted, but the nitrogen content is low, which decreases the decomposition rate. If paper is composted, it should make up no more than 10% of the total weight of the material in the compost pile. It is better to recycle paper curbside or take it to a community collection site.
Some materials may pose a health hazard or create a nuisance and therefore should not be used to make compost.
The following types of organic materials should not go into compost piles:
  • Dog or cat feces and litter, and dirty diapers (may contain parasites and pathogens)
  • Meat, fish, bones, fats, grease, lard, oils, eggs, or dairy products, such as butter, milk, yogurt, and sour cream (may create odors, attract rodents and flies)
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides (residual chemicals may kill beneficial composting organisms or affect plants where compost is placed)
  • Diseased or insect-infested plants (diseases and insects may survive and be transferred to other plants)
  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs (release substances that might harm plants)
  • Weeds that have gone to seed
  • Weeds with invasive roots, such as dock weed, alligatorweed, or bermudagrass
  • Used facial or toilet tissue (may contain pathogens)
  • Charcoal ash or coal (resists decay and may contain substances harmful to plants)
  • Pressure-treated lumber, pressed wood, plywood (contain toxic chemicals)
  • Heavily coated paper (e.g., magazines, catalogs, wrapping paper, greeting cards with metallic inks, photographs)
  • Wood ash (a handful or two may be added, but too much may harm microbes, slow the composting process, cause smelly ammonia gas releases, and reduce nitrogen)
  • Pine needles (waxy coating resists decay)
 Getting Started
Set up your compost pile or bin in a convenient location that is more than six feet away from your home or wooden structures. To help it retain moisture, place it in a shaded area within reach of a garden hose. The location should be a flat, open space that is protected from flooding or runoff to surface waters or wells. Keep the areas in front of and above the pile or bin clear so you can work without difficulty.
You do not need to use a bin to compost. Some choose to use a bin to keep the pile neat, help retain heat and moisture, or because they live in a neighborhood where a bin would be more appropriate than an open pile. Many people make their own compost bins using concrete blocks, wooden pallets, wire mesh, 55-gallon drums, or garbage cans. Others construct a three-compartment wooden bin using plans from the Internet. There are a variety of manufactured composting bins available, including enclosed, spherical, or tumbler styles. Although meat, fish, bones, and dairy should not be added to a compost pile or bin, they can be placed in an in-ground digester such as the Green Cone.
Composting Methods
There are two basic styles of composting: (1) single batch, where you add materials all at once to form a pile; and (2) continuous pile, where you add organic materials as they become available. Build your pile three to five feet high and at least three feet in diameter so it can become self-insulating to retain heat. Add four or five inches of carbonaceous materials (browns), then two or three inches of nitrogenous materials (greens), and keep alternating the layers. Another method is to thoroughly mix up browns and greens during loading. Be sure to thoroughly water each layer to ensure even moisture distribution. Toss in a handful of soil on each layer to introduce more microorganisms. Top the pile with four or five inches of carbonaceous materials to prevent flies and other pests and provide a filter for odors.
For a simple compost recipe, combine leaves, grass, food scraps, and coffee grounds at a 2-to-1 ratio mixture of browns and greens. To help get your compost pile hot, dust small amounts of one or more of the following (in meal form) on top of your greens: alfalfa, bone, hoof, soybean, canola, cottonseed, or blood. Adding a mixture of water and molasses, sugar, syrups, or flat soft drinks also helps to activate your compost pile.
Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratios
Leaves are the primary organic waste in most backyard compost piles; however, different types of leaves have varying carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratios, which can affect the decomposition rate in your compost pile. For optimal decomposition, the ideal C:N ratio is from 25:1 to 35:1. Maple leaves have a C:N ratio near 30:1, so with the right moisture and frequent turning, maple leaves can break down in several weeks. Oak leaves have a C:N ratio of about 60:1 and contain high levels of decay-resistant tannins, so they take a lot longer to break down. Mixing oak leaves with high nitrogen materials will accelerate their decomposition. Table 1 lists C:N ratios for some commonly composted materials to help you determine the appropriate mix of materials for your pile.

Carbon-to-nitrogen ratios of commonly composted materials:
  • Autumn leaves 30-80:1 Vegetable scraps 15-20:1
  • Straw 40-100:1 Coffee grounds 20:1
  • Wood chips; sawdust 100-500:1 Grass clippings 15-25:1
  • Mixed paper 150-200:1 Animal manure 2-25:1
  • Newspaper; cardboard 560:1  
Source: Dickson, N., T. Richard, and R. Kozlowski. 1991. Composting to Reduce the Waste Stream: A Guide to Small Scale Food and Yard Waste Composting. Ithaca, NY: Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service.
The Composting Process
Because decomposition happens on the surface of materials, particle size and shape are crucial to the composting process. Chopping materials into smaller particles creates more surface area and accelerates decomposition. Use a chipper, grinder, or a machete to reduce particle size, or place materials in a bucket and use a square-end shovel to chop them into pieces smaller than two inches. Don’t get carried away, because very fine particles will prevent air from flowing into your compost pile. To reduce the size of fallen tree leaves at little cost, run a lawn mower over them before or after raking. The shredded leaves can be collected directly if the lawn mower has an appropriate bag attachment. Rigid particles provide structure and ventilation to your pile, so it is beneficial to layer in small branches.
The decomposition process will slow down if there is too little or too much moisture. Approximately 40% to 60% moisture is needed in the pile. At this moisture level, the pile should feel like a wrung-out sponge. The compost is within the right moisture range if a drop or two of water can be squeezed from a handful of material. If no water can be squeezed out, the materials are too dry. Too much moisture will slow the decomposition process and produce unpleasant odors. If this happens, add dry leaves, paper, or sawdust to absorb excess moisture. Most often, compost piles are too dry, which slows down the composting process. Open piles can be covered with a tarp to hold in moisture.
Compost piles need ventilation. Anaerobic (lacking oxygen) piles smell bad, compost slowly, and produce dense, wet, and smelly compost. Aerobic piles with oxygen throughout will produce little or no odor. To aerate the pile, turn the organic materials with a digging fork or shovel. If you are unable to turn the compost pile, poke it with an aerating device or broom handle to help air flow into it. Mixing the pile once per week by moving the material from the outside to the center will hasten the composting process. A pile that is not mixed may take three to four times longer to produce useful compost.
During the early phase of decomposition, organic acids are produced and the compost pile becomes more acidic. Some people advocate adding lime during this stage to increase the pH of the pile and increase microbial activity; however, lime converts nitrogen to ammonia gas, thus removing nitrogen from the pile. Crushed clam or oyster shells, eggshells, and bone meal tend to reduce the acidity of composts. Over time, the pH in the pile rises so that the acidity of the composted material becomes near neutral.
Compost piles produce heat as microorganisms feed on waste. Pile temperatures must exceed 131°F to kill most pathogens harmful to humans and pets, and they must surpass 145°F to destroy most weed seeds. A pile temperature that climbs to 160˚F, however, can kill decomposers and slow the composting process. Temperatures will be hottest in the center of the pile, and they will be cooler on the outer edges. If the pile does not heat adequately, it may be too small, there may not be enough oxygen or nitrogen, or it may be too dry or too wet. (See Table 2 below to troubleshoot common problems.) Turn the pile when the center begins to feel cool to the touch. Turning the pile helps revive the heating process by introducing oxygen and undecomposed material into the center.
Some people ask, “Should I add worms to the pile to help it compost faster?” No, your compost pile should be too hot for worms to tolerate. Vermicomposting, in which earthworms break down the ingredients, is a different process. See Vermicomposting in North Carolina for more information.
It takes one or two years to compost if you leave the pile alone, or several months if you aerate the pile weekly. The pile will shrink 20% to 70% depending on the organic materials it contains.
Troubleshooting composting
  • The pile smells like rancid butter, vinegar, or rotten eggs. The pile is too wet, or there is not enough air, or there is too much nitrogen. Turn the pile; mix in leaves, straw, sawdust, or wood chips.
  • The pile is not heating up. The pile is too small, too dry, or does not contain enough nitrogen. Make the pile larger, provide insulation, add water while turning, and add nitrogen sources.
  • The pile is attracting animals. Food scraps are not well covered or meat and/or dairy products were added. Cover food with brown leaves, wood chips, or finished compost; keep meat and/or dairy out of the pile; enclose the pile in 1/4” hardware cloth.
  • The pile is damp but won’t heat up. There is not enough nitrogen. Mix in grass clippings, food scraps, and other sources of nitrogen.
  • The pile is dry. There is not enough moisture or too much airflow. Water and mix well; cover loosely with a tarp or landscape fabric to help hold in moisture.
  • The pile is damp and warm in the middle but nowhere else. The pile is too small. Add more material and moisten.

When heating ceases, cover the pile with a fabric weed barrier and let it cure for six to twelve weeks. During that time, mist the compost to keep it slightly damp and poke it occasionally to let air in. As the compost cures, particles will shrink, organic acids will dissipate, and pH will stabilize and move closer to neutral. Compost is basically ready to use when you cannot recognize the original materials, the pile temperature is less than 10 degrees warmer than ambient, it is dark brown or black, and it smells earthy (not like ammonia or rotten eggs). To make sure the compost is fully mature and stable, test it on radish seeds to make sure it does not prevent germination or damage the plants. You can send a sample to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services* to determine the levels of nutrients, C:N ratio, pH, and soluble salts.
Using Compost
For smaller particles of compost, and to separate coarse, unfinished materials from finished compost, a simple screen can be made with half-inch mesh hardware cloth and a wood frame. Place the screen on top of a wheelbarrow or inclined at an angle on the ground. Load the screen with compost and use your gloved hand or a square-end shovel to scrape the compost against the screen. Remove the screen to reveal sifted compost. Organic materials that were too large to pass through the screen may be added back into your compost pile.
Potted plants, garden and field crops, lawns, shrubs, and trees can benefit from compost. In clay soils, compost improves aeration and drainage, and makes it easier to work with hand tools. In sandy soils, compost increases water-holding capacity and increases soil aggregation. Compost may suppress some plant diseases and pests, and it encourages healthy root systems. Although compost contains macro- and micronutrients, it is often not enough to supply all plants’ needs. Thus, you should have your lawn and garden soils tested** and fertilize accordingly. Your local Cooperative Extension center has soil test boxes and instructions.
*Send compost as “Waste Sample” to North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services: Agronomic Services—Waste/Compost Analysis.
** Send soil as “Soil Sample” to North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services: Agronomic Services—Soil Testing.