February’s Garden Questions

— Written By and last updated by Tamara Carawan
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Now that we have reached the middle of February, many different garden and landscape questions have flooded into our office. I would like to devote this week’s article to addressing several of these issues to help homeowners learn from their peers.

The first topic involves Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), which is one of the most common landscape trees in the southern US. This plant can grow quickly, blooms from June through fall, comes in several bloom colors, and is tolerant of many different soil types. These plants have few pest problems, but black sooty mold caused by aphids can occasionally be problematic for more susceptible varieties. Recent inquires through the Extension office involve this black sooty mold that forms on foliage, which is often mistaken for disease. Black sooty mold grows on the honeydew that aphids leave behind as they suck on plant sap. The mold does not directly harm the plant but is a clear indication that aphids are feeding in large enough numbers to cause potential harm.

aphids on a plant

Look for aphids to arrive around April and persist through most of the growing season. Natural pests’ predators usually do a good job of keeping aphids in check, but if black sooty mold is present, then an application of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil will help eliminate the honeydew producing aphids. An application of systemic insecticide (ex. BioAdvanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Insect Control) containing the active ingredient imidacloprid can be applied to the rooting areas of trees to provide better long-term control. Follow label directions when applying these products. Imidacloprid may take several weeks to months to move throughout a tree, so applying this product in the fall should provide sufficient time to help fight insects in the spring. Once aphids are controlled, the black sooty mold will stop forming.

Another topic that is coming through our office is general poor growth of various landscape plants and lawns from the previous growing season. Unfortunately, the ailments of last year are not easily resolved several months later. The best course of action is to contact our office as soon as you notice an issue of concern; however, there are several common reasons why many plants decline. The first is poor drainage that leads to excessively wet soil conditions. Roots need oxygen to live and saturated soil deprives roots of oxygen, leading to root death and eventual root disease. Fruit trees, azaleas, boxwoods, and Japanese hollies are some of the plants that suffer the most from wet soil conditions. To learn more about the site requirements for landscape plants, visit the NC State Extension Plant Tool Box.

screen shot of Plant Tool Box Home page

From here you can search through thousands of plants to learn about their site preferences, or use the portal to select plants that meet your specific site conditions. Choosing a plant that fits your specific area will greatly increase your gardening success.

Lastly, go ahead and get those soil samples submitted for the coming season. Soil samples submitted to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Soil Testing Lab will provide valuable information on fertility amendments that need to be made to your soil. However, a soil test will not help correct problems like excessive shade, poor drainage, compaction, or competition from weeds or other plants. If you would like to learn more about different forms of gardening and various resources to support these efforts, then visit the NC State Extension Gardening Portal. You can also give me a call at 252-745-4121 or send me an email at daniel_simspon@ncsu.edu to discuss your particular needs.

Happy Gardening!