Why Dead Wood is Good Wood

We Americans tend to find broken things worthless. In our deposable society, if it’s chip, cracked, crushed, or tattered, we carry it to the trash. We even do so with our trees. Think about it; we have a tree that has died. Now what? We call in the tree service to remove the tree. We may or may not grind the stump; this decision is most likely based on where it is. If the stump is easily accessed, the grinding is likely. Mind you, if it is easily accessed, it typically is in an unsightly place. Thurs, call in the grinder!!!

Photo by  Juli Leonard

Photo by Juli Leonard

What if you understood the purpose of dead wood? Would you be more likely to keep a snag or commonly know as a dead tree?

Snags are nothing more than dead trees that are left upright to decay naturally. With the tops removed and ensuring the snag isn’t in harm's way of yours and neighboring property as it decomposes, leaving a partial tree trunk has many benefits. It has wildlife value, and thus, not at all worthless, but wondrous!

Nationwide dead trees provide vital habitat for greater than 1,000 species of wildlife. For the wildlife, every part of a dead tree, in all stages of decay, provide benefits. 

If your garden is a certified wildlife habitat, you know the process required reporting for food, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young. A snag provides all of these except a water source. Here are a few ways snags help our native wildlife: 

Many wildlife are cavity dwellers, so snags provide shelter and a place raise their young, making their homes in hollow cavities and crevice including bats, birds, raccoons, and squirrels. 

Deadwood becomes a food buffet for wildlife looking for a meal by attracting fungi, insects, lichens, and mosses. Hardwood trees, like maples and oaks, tend to make better nesting habitats. Softer wood, like pine, are better for food foraging. Snags also provide ideal hiding places when escaping predators. Additionally, tree holes, nooks, and crannies offer secret places for squirrels and other critters looking to store food. 

Many birds such as hawks and eagles like to sit in good vantage points. A snag with a center trunk in the open is an excellent location for hunting prey.


If you have read this far, I like to think this idea of keeping snags is something you will consider. Help Bee Better Naturally lead the charge! Despite the importance of snags to wildlife, homeowners typically want the dead tree removed. Indeed, most tree services recommend the removal of dead trees in an attempt to control pesticides and fungi, as well as aesthetic points of view. But remember, we at Bee Better are redefining BEAUTIFUL. Yes, a snag is beautiful while you provide the example to share with visitors and guest. 

I’m often asked questions of note, like what about termites? Do you know termites naturally live in our ground? As long as the snag a stone’s throw away, or other measurable, reasonable distance from our home, termites and other pests won’t find their way into your home through a snag. 

Can a property have too many snags? Well, that depends on your property size. On Bee Better Naturally Teaching garden, we currently have one that is nearly finished its nitrogen cycle (slowing breaking away in chunks.) We have another snag of a western pine. Western pines are better suited to colder climates, like the mountains of NC, so we lost her. We still had one for 20 year. I loved the cones. And finally, in the near future, we hope to add four more snags from living loblolly pine trees. 

Something to think about. If you don’t want to create snags from living trees, the use of nesting boxes is a good alternative. 

So you may be wondering when you should remove a snag. As mentioned above, make sure your dead wood isn’t resting on your one house; it becomes a bridge for too many pests. You also don’t want the snag to be in harm's way as it decays and falling on your home or your neighbors. In both cases, you can consider moving the wood for its benefits laying down to use as a natural log.

Be the change. Be the example. Be the light. Leave a snag for your wildlife for a better environment.


Pollinator Plants for Shade


Pollinators will find what they need, no matter what; yes, even shade-loving plants have a pollinator.

The first thing to consider in selecting plants for shade is knowing the type of shade you have. Here’s is a Bee Better Naturally post that will help with this.

Remember, too, there is a lot of overlap. Don’t get too worried if your area is part sun or part shade. Measure the amount so you know for sure! Also, when is it shady. Morning sun is kinder than afternoon sun.

Here’s something to note for shade gardens. Have you ever noticed carpenter bees flying up against the windows of your house or hovering around dark holes in the lawn? Generally speaking, carpenter bees prefer to nest in shady areas. Find a location away from your home for nesting bees. Build a wood pile somewhere in a shady spot; it can even be in a less visible area. A wood pile is also shelter for a wide number of species including, snakes, lizards, chipmunks, and insects for birds to feed.

PARTIAL SUN / PARTIAL SHADE: These two terms are often interchangeable to mean 3-6 hours of sunlight each day. While the terms are interchangeable, there is a default understanding.

Partial shade typically refers to morning and early afternoon sun, while a plant listed as partial sun, relief from the intense late afternoon sun is needed. This shade could be from a structure or the shade from an old oak tree.


Lily of the Valley, Convallaria majalis


Jewelweed, Impatiens balsamina

Money plant, Lunaria annua

Toad Lily

Toad Lily


Campanula, Campanula americana

Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis

Blue mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum 

Early meadow-rue, Thalictrum dioicum 

Joe-pye weed, Eutrochium purpureum

Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis

Downy skullcap, Scutellaria incana

Meadowsweet, Thalictrum dioicum 

Turk's Cap, Lilium superbum

Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima

Broadleaf goldenrod, Solidago flexicaulis

Toad Lily, Tricyrtis hirta

Lawn Violets, Viola spp.

Wild geranium, Geranium maculatum

Eastern Sweetshrub

Eastern Sweetshrub


Glossy abelia, Abelia grandiflora

Red chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia

Common sweetshrub, Calycanthus floridus

Summersweet, Clethra alnifolia

Cornelian cherry dogwood, Cornus mas

Red twig dogwood, Cornus sericea

Winter hazel, Corylopsis pauciflora

American Hazelnut, Corylus americana

Daphne, Daphne spp.

Paperbush, Edgeworthia chrysantha

Dwarf fothergilla, Fothergilla gardenii

Common Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana

Oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia

St. Johnswort, Hypericum calycinum

American holly, Ilex opaca

Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica

Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia

Leucothoe, Leucothoe axillaris

Northern bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica

Mock orange, Philadelphus spp.

Rhododendron, Rhododendron spp.

Fragrant sumac, Rhus aromatica

Tree Peony, Paeonia suffruticosa

Viburnum, Mapleleaf, Viburnum acerifolium

Viburnum, Arrowwood, Viburnum dentatum

Blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium

Flowering Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood


Japanese maple, Acer palmatum

Red maple, Acer rubrum

Red buckeye, Aesculus pavia

Serviceberry, Amelanchier canadensis

Pawpaw, Asimina triloba

Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida

Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis

White fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus

Carolina silverbell, Halesia tetraptera

Persimmion, Diospyros virginiana

Sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana

Sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum

Staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina

Ground Covers

Bishop’s weed, Aegopodium podagraria

Plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

‘Tangerine Beauty’ Cross Vine

‘Tangerine Beauty’ Cross Vine


Crossvine, Bignonia capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty’

Trumpet vine, Campsis radicans

DAPPLED SUN: Dappled sunlight is my favorite kind of sun, if I had to choose. Dapple sun is similar to partial shade. The plants are getting partial sun as it makes it’s way through the branches of a deciduous tree. Woodland plants and under plantings, even for many mosses, prefer dappled sunlight more so than partial shade.

Bulbs--under deciduous trees, providing a shady spot when they are in bloom.

Crocus, Crocus vernus

Daffodil, Narcissus

FULL SHADE:  Full shade means less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, best if it’s morning light. But even in the absence of  direct sunlight, full shade can be a bright light. Plus, full shade likes a filtered  sunlight the remainder of the day. Every plant needs some sun; even those that thrive in full shade.

Virginia Bluebells,  Mertensia virgin

Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virgin


Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica


Coming soon!?!


Pigsqueak, Bergenia cordifolia

Hostas, Hosta plantaginea 

Lungwort 'Lewis Palmer’, Pulmonaria 'Lewis Palmer’

White Wood Asters, Eurybia divaricata

Sweet box,  Sarcococca hookeriana  var.  humilis

Sweet box, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis


Sweet box, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis


American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana

Mahonia, Mahonia japonica


Climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris

Coral bells,  Heuchera  species and hybrids

Coral bells, Heuchera species and hybrids

Ground Covers

Blue Cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides

Bugleweed, Ajuga reptans

Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense

Astilbe, Astilbe species and cultivars

Lenten rose, Helleborus orientalis

Coral bells, Heuchera species and hybrids

Foamy bells, Heucherella hybrids

Russian arborvitae, Microbiota decussata

Mondo grass, Ophiopogon japonicus

Foam flower, Tiarella cordifolia


How-To Make a Hypertufa Trough

Hypertufa troughs are an earthy and natural container that goes with every garden style. Modeled after ancient stone troughs that were once used to hold water and feed for livestock in England and the Orient; later they were repurposed into planters.

The look of these troughs as containers became very popular. When there weren’t enough to go around, or as they became too pricey, people began to make their own.

Lasting Impressions hypertufa trough

A worthy container in their own right, hypertufa troughs should not be considered a poor substitute to the real thing—they are the perfect planter and will provide many years of good-looking service.

Beth Jimenez and Amelia Lane of Lasting Impressions in Raleigh share their recipe for making a hypertufa trough. Once you learn how easy they are to make, you’ll want to make a grouping of several containers.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Amelia Lane with Lasting Impressions.

•    One sheet of 2-inch-thick foam insulation board cut into two pieces 16×6-inches and two pieces 18×6-inches.
•    Serrated knife
•    Eight 3-¼ inch nails
•    Duct tape
•    Tape measure or ruler
•    Marker
•    QUIKRETE Portland cement (No.1124)
•    Perlite
•    Peat moss
•    ½-inch dowel approximately 6-inches long
•    Water
•    3/8-inch-thick plywood board (2×2 feet)
•    Wheel barrel
•    Hoe
•    Gallon container
•    Spray bottle
•    Rubber or latex gloves
•    Mask

Using the serrated knife, cut insulation into two 16×6-inch pieces and two 18×6-inch pieces. Assemble these four sections into a square or rectangle, depending on how you join the ends. Insert two nails through the insulation material–one near the top and one near the bottom–of each intersection.

Wrap tape around the mold to cover the nails, once near the top and once near the bottom, for added reinforcement.

Mark a line two inches from the bottom as a guide to the depth of the hypertufa; this will mark the thickness of the bottom of your trough.

Put on your mask and gloves and measure two gallons cement, two gallons perlite and four gallons peat moss. The amount will allow for some left over material to make trough feet. Mix the dry ingredients in your wheelbarrow with the hoe.

Add one-third cup of reinforced concrete fibers to give your hypertufa trough more strength. These can be found at a concrete building supply store or through Lasting Impressions’ website.

Slowly add water to the wheelbarrow. Start with about three gallons and mix it well with the dry materials. You should end up with a consistency like cookie dough or a graham cracker crust. It should be wet enough to adhere so it doesn’t crumble, but not too wet to ooze water.

Set the mold on the plywood board. Begin packing the bottom with the hypertufa mixture, using your previously marked line as a stopping point. Working a small area at a time, use your hands to firmly press the mixture into the bottom corners and up the sides, making sure to mash one section into another for seamless adhesion for a strong trough. Continue until the sides are covered by a 2-inch-thick layer. Spray water as needed to keep the mixture moist while you are working.

To aid in proper drainage, use a dowel to poke holes in the bottom of the trough. Insert the dowel through the hypertufa until it meets the plywood base. Repeat to make six evenly spaced holes. Leave the trough to dry in a protected area.

Your trough should dry in about 24 hours. After it’s dried and heather hard, carefully remove the tape and nails and pull the sides of the mold away from the trough.

The tough can be used as is, or, if you prefer a textured, aged look for your trough, gently score the exterior with a wire brush or screwdriver taking care to not poke holes in the sides as you work.

Store the trough in a shady area to cure for 28 days. The hypertufa trough gets stronger every day. Your container can be left out in freezing temperatures as long as it is off the ground.

A gathering of hypertufa troughs at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh

A gathering of hypertufa troughs at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh

Use any leftover mixture to create feet for your troughs. These feet will keep your trough off the ground.

Pot up your hypertufa trough with a selection of your favorite plants and enjoy for years to come. Place your hypertufa trough on porch steps, in a garden bed or border, or on the patio. It will work anywhere you choose.

If you prefer to be instructed by experts, Beth and Amelia of Lasting Impressions offer classes to make hypertufa troughs, and they also have troughs ready for sale.

Naturally, Helen


Certification in Sustainable Gardening by Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest


Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest

Bee Better Naturally is excited to announce to #Raleigh- area gardeners, Helen Yoest will be offering a seven-week sustainable gardening certification. This course will also be offered online within the year. Stay tuned!!!

To register, click HERE.

Certification in Sustainable Gardening—Seven-Week Course. We will be offering two classes. One on Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 and the other on Saturday afternoon 1:00 to 3:00.

Class size is limited, register early. 



Over an seven-week period in January and February we will cover 12 modules including The Big Picture, The Future, Waterwise, Mulches, Pesticides, Native vs. Exotic, Creating Wildlife Habitats, Butterfly Gardens, Native Bees, the European Honey Bee, Migratory and Resident birds, and a bonus section. 

Included in the course fee is a notebook for notes and several plant lists and insect control handouts.

Learn from not only an accomplished horticulturist but also a Master of Science environmental scientist!

For more information email Helen Yoest at HelenYoest@gmail.com

Our instructor, Helen Yoest has been a life-long environmental steward of the land and student as well as a retired environmental engineer. Her garden, The Bee Better Teaching Garden won the City of Raleigh’s Sustainable Garden Award in 2015.

Bee Better Naturally is a 100% Volunteer non-profit organization, 501(c)(3)


Module 0—Background—Video—Will Post Soon

Seven-week course: Every Saturday January and February except February 8th, from 9:30 until 11:30 or 1 until 3. Will ask the students what the majority prefers. 

or Thursday evenings in January and February except February 6th, from 6:30 until 8:30

Module 1—The Big Picture

The Big Picture—Helen Yoest’

The Big Picture—Helen Yoest’

1. What is Sustainable Gardening?

2. Right Plant, Right Place

3. Water Conversation

4. Bed Preparation/Maintenance 

5. Fertilizer

4. Mulch

Module 2—The Future

The Future

The Future

1. Climate Change

2. It All Starts with the Soil 

3. Why this Course isn’t Native Only

4. Plant Communities

Module 3—Waterwise Plus Plant Lists



1. Defined

2. Oasis Beds

3. Transitional Beds

4. Xeric Beds

Module 4—Mulches

1. Composting

2. Collected Leaves

Rescued pinestraw

3. Composted Leaf Mulch

4. Manures

5. Pinestraw

6. Green Mulches—Crop Covers

Module 5—Pesticides/Herbicides



1. Organic vs Chemicals

2. Neonics, Neonicotinoids

3. Parsley Example

4. Mushrooms for roundup cure

Module 6—Native vs Exotic 


1. What Matters

2. Where it Matters Most

3. Escaping Cultivation

4. The Future?!?

Module 7—Creating a Wildlife Habitat

Helen Yoest in her Wildlife Habitat

Helen Yoest in her Wildlife Habitat

1. General

3. Food

4. Water

5. Cover

6. Broods

Module 8—Butterfly Gardens Plus Plant Lists

Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden

Module 9—Bees—Native

Wildlife garden

Wildlife garden

Module 10—European Honey Bee Plus Plant List

  1. Honey Bee Facts

  2. Is bee keeping right for you?

Module 11—Birds

Bird Gardens

Bird Gardens

1. Migratory Birds 

2. Resident Birds

Module 12—Bonuses

1. Farming Mealworms 

2. Mosquito Control

3. Tick Control

4. Japanese Beetle Control

5. Fireflies

…more to come


To register, click HERE!

How-To Build a Bird Bubblier

Want to give a gift that keeps on giving? No, I’m not talking about sunchokes, Helianthus tuberosus. Instead, consider making a homemade bird bubbler that will be popular with resident and migratory birds and fulfill your wildlife requirements. Although a birdbath will do, moving water adds additional value.

Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest Bird Bubblier

Still Water Versus Moving Water

While birdbaths are useful, and the Bee Better Teaching Garden has several, a constant source of clean water is paramount for our birds. Did you know birds are three times more likely to die in winter from the lack of water than from the lack of berries and seed?

For our resident birds, still water, like that in a birdbath, works well if cleaned often. Resident birds are familiar with their turf—where the berries are, seeds, fruit, and water. However, what about the migratory birds? In unfamiliar territory, the sound of the bubbler will direct birds to the source. While resident birds are also attracted, the sound ensures migratory birds can find the water as well.

Moving water also stays cleaner. There are two main reasons for this. For one, the pump circulating the water aerates, helping to clean as it moves, and two, the reservoir tub capacity is significant, so debris falls to the bottom.

For this project, I used a 20-gallon capacity tub, but the container can be any size. Greater than 20-gallon capacity is helpful so re-filling isn’t required as often.

To clean the tub every year or two, empty the tub by diverting the pumped water away from the tub

Gather Materials

– Choose a site with electrical power. I put mine right off the back porch so I can sit and read or write while listening to the soothing sounds of bubbling water.

– I used a round, 20-gallon pond tub, found wherever pond supplies are sold. Pond liner material will also work.

– One or two stackable rocks, each drilled with a hole. The number of rocks will depend on how high you want the stone to be. Our stone had subtle undulating surfaces to create tiny pools where the birds could bathe.

– One 4-foot long, 3/4-inch exterior diameter, 1/2-inch interior diameter vinyl tube.

– One 3-inch diameter PVC pipe cut 1/2-inch shorter than the depth of the reservoir tub. While one standing pipe works, three or more is more stable.

– A galvanized woven 1/2-inch mesh, which is a thicker and more sturdier version of hardware cloth.

– Landscape cloth.

– Electrical cord rated for outside use.

– Submersible fountain pump rated to 120 gallons an hour.

Steps to Build the Bubbler

1. Excavate the soil to the shape of the tub. Dig deep enough so the tub is about one to two inches above the soil to keep rain from washing in debris.

2. Set the PVC pipe upright (vertical) in the tub.

3. Put the pump in the bottom of the tub. Attach the vinyl tube to the pump output port. This tube will be threaded into the rock to supply the bubbler’s water. You might need to place. You might have to place rocks on and around the pump to hold it in place when it is submerged in water. Just make sure you do not block the pump’s water intake.

4. Run an electrical cord rated for outside use from the pump to an exterior outlet.

5. Add the galvanized woven cloth over the bubbler area to give the desired shape of your tub, making sure to cover it so debris doesn’t fall in the tub.

6. Cut an opening in the galvanized woven cloth, in an area near the pipe, but not on top of the PVC pipe, allowing the pump to be inserted into the tub and maintained as needed without completely dismantling the bubbler.

7. Fill the tub with water.

8. Place the landscaping cloth over the mesh so debris doesn’t fall into the tub.

9. And now for the hardest part—drilling the 3/4-inch hole in the rock(s). The easiest way to do this is with a hammer drill and a new drill bit. We don’t have a hammer drill in our arsenal of cool tools, so our regular drill had to do. It can be done, but with much patience. Patience isn’t my forte, so I asked my hubby to help. I don’t ask for help often, so when I do ask, he knows I need it. So if you don’t have a hammer drill, or a regular drill with a willing partner to help, have it drilled professionally, or make new friends and ensure they own a hammer drill.

10. Place the large rock on top of the area, after you thread the vinyl tube through the bottom of the rock. This tube supplies the bubbling water.

11. Top dress the area with river rock or other materials to give the bubbler a natural look.

Now, with the sound of moving water, you will keep your resident birds happy and draw in the migratory birds as they are passing through.

Naturally, Helen


July Newsletter & Garden Sustainable Management Practices for the Southeast


Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest is still accepting membership for 2019. Our next Forum is Saturday, July 6th. Click here for details. The topic is on safely controlling Japanese beetles in your garden.

Bee Better Naturally will be offering several workshops for the Raleigh area. They are as follows:

Certification in Sustainable Gardening

Gardening for Hummingbirds

Pollinator Gardens

Forum membership registration for 2020 will start soon. Our tentative discussion topics are:





HOW-TO Grow Oyster Mushrooms

We are excited to announce our Certificate in Sustainable Gardening Program starting in January.

Click HERE to learn more.

This is an important message for those of us who raise monarch butterflies to adulthood. A recent study was released suggesting monarchs raised in captivity lost their ability to navigate south. It is VERY important to note, these eggs, larvae, and adults used in this study were purchased from a breeding house from elsewhere. The study does NOT address eggs and caterpillars collected from our own back gardens and raised in a protective chamber outside. The headline is sensationalized journalism. I wrote to the author the following:

I read your article, Monarch Butterflies Reared in Captivity Lack a Crucial Ability, with great interest. I must say, your title is misleading. Are you suggesting educators like myself are contributing to the problem of monarch migration because we raise monarch eggs or larvae in chambers two to five feet from the milkweed (Asclepias spp.)?

More data are needed. A story like this will spread like wildfire within the environmental, naturalists community when yes, shipping eggs, larvae, or adults from breeding houses may very well be a problem, yet the local educators rearing eggs or larvae laid on their own local milkweed isn’t. You story sensationalize it such that it will make a leap that it is!!! Please make a retraction, clarifying your article.

Saying Reared in Captivity also suggests those raising monarchs locally. Do you see my point?

Helen Yoest

Environmental Scientist, M.S.

However, given the results of this study, Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest recommends to ONLY raise butterflies from your own location and not purchased from a breeding house. Thank you..

Bee Better Teaching Garden released two adult butterflies yesterday! This is my middle child, Lily, age 19.

Bee Better Teaching Garden released two adult butterflies yesterday! This is my middle child, Lily, age 19.

The Bee Better Teaching Garden is peaking now. There always so much color from mid-June on. In early May, our garden was scouted for a tour group from VA. They wondered where the color was. Ha! I’ve been writing about this since 2001. May is our color of green. As hard as I’ve tried, May is green—mostly—at least for us. Come June, watch out; and July, fireworks on the ground!!! So we turned them down. We don’t want to disappoint. Now if it were in June, that would be different.

I’ve added an new category to this website to hold how-tos we have developed over the years. Here are three links we have up already:

How-To Make a Moss Dish

How-To Make Tweet Treats

How-To Make a Bird Bubblier

Thursday, June 27, 2019, I spoke at the Science Cafe for the NC Museum of Science Museum. It was a wonderful evening!

Thursday, June 27, 2019, I spoke at the Science Cafe for the NC Museum of Science Museum. It was a wonderful evening!

July Garden Management


July is your prize after many months of gardening — from fall prep to spring planning — and you now get to reap your rewards with fresh fruits, vegetables, and fragrant flowers.

It is a time of abundance.

July is not the best planting month for southeast gardens, but it’s a good time to plan and prepare. The weeds will not let you rest, but they might slow down to a manageable pace during the dog days of summer. Rainfall will best determine how much time you’ll spend weeding. Little rain, fewer weeds. More rain, more weeds.

What are the dog days? The dog days or dog days of summer are the hot, sultry days of summer. They were historically the period following the heliacal rising of the star system Sirius, which Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. So watch yourself!!!

As a side note, January and July are my two worse months. For January, it is too dark. For July, it is too hot. On this first day of July, I’m counting the days until August.

In the Bee Better Teaching Garden The first week in July is as busy as a week in spring or fall. July is when I do annual cutback, clearing paths for better passage, deadheading and deadleafing of every plant in the garden. The big job is to cut back the hardy mums. A haircut in by the Fourth of July keeps the mums stouter so when they bloom, they aren’t so floppy.

Volunteer sunflowers

Bee Balm, cleome, crinums, coreopsis, lantana, salvias, phlox, ruella, coneflowers, mountain mint, milkweeds, plus the annuals are blooming, especially the petunias and zinnias! Also in bloom are the gardenias, black-eyed Susans, and the crape mrytles are in their full glory. I’m particularly happy with the Phlox ‘Jenna’. I planted in in the fall and it is peaking now.

Deadhead flowers. Keep your flowers blooming longer by removing faded blossoms from your cannas, roses, daisies, and more. As for the seed plants, such as black-eyed Susans, phlox, and coneflower, leave the flower heads for the birds. Once the birds have picked them through, it’s time to deadhead; you will get another flush of flowers throughout the fall.

As I may have mentioned, I have thing for Oakleaf hydrangeas, Hydrangea quercifolia. The ones I have in my back 40 (feet) are the straight species, and have been there for 20 years. The newer varieties show nice shades of fading pink for a longer period of time. Mine go pink then brown rather quickly. I still love the color, especially since my garden accents are a rust color.

The Oakleaf hydrangea peeling bark gains some attention in the landscape as well. As the stems age, the outer bark rolls back to showcase the orange or cinnamon colored inner bark. I like that.

During the month of July, I send time doing an all-plant maintenance once over. I literally groom each plant whether it is dead-leafing, dead-heading, cutting back for a sturdier plant in the fall. This is also the time I thin plants, and share them with the Bee Better Forum members. 

In the Bee Better Teaching Garden The first week in July is as busy as a week in spring or fall. July is when I do annual cutback, clearing paths for better passage, deadheading and deadleafing of every plant in the garden. The big job is to cut back the hardy mums. A haircut in by the Fourth of July keeps the mums stouter so when they bloom, they aren’t so floppy.

One of the big efforts for the Bee Better Teaching Garden is pinching back by a 1/3 each stem of the Hardy Chrysanthemum x rubellum ‘Sheffield Pink’ or the affectionate name Sheffies for those of us who love this late fall bee pollinator. It makes a huge difference if not cut, getting too leggy. It is my Fourth of July tradition!

There is always weeding to do, even though I’m a reliable mulcher, crabgrass happens!

Cut back annuals: Cut back summer annuals so they don’t get leggy. A good time to do this is right before you go on vacation; this way, you’ll be gone as the plants get a fresh start. Petunias benefit from this kind of summer pinch. Cutting back from the ends of the stems encourages branching, resulting in a bushier plant.

Do those yellow leaves of the daylily make you see red? They do to me. Not only do I deadhead my daylilies, but I also deadleaf. I don’t like the look of yellow or decaying daylily leaves.

Divide irises: Did you have success with your new iris planted this year or in the fall? If not, it could be due to several factors: too much shade, too much fertilizer, too deep a planting, or crowding. July is a good time to correct any of these problems by lifting and relocating or repositioning to a more favorable location.

Plant the iris high with the rhizomes along the surface of the dirt. They can be covered finely and lightly with mulch, but not soil. Make sure you can either see the rhizomes or have the ability to brush away the mulch exposing the bulb.With the exception of Louisiana variety, irises need six- to eight-hours of sunlight to bloom and require good drainage. If you have a damp, partial sun location in your garden, plant a Louisiana iris.

Well, do I really need to say, July isn’t the ideal planting time? Guess who planted several things in the garden yesterday? My rule of thumb is that anything can be panted as long as it gets watered. So why was I planting perennials? I have a waterwise design, and I’m not a fan of paying for water.

Select and pre-order your spring-blooming bulbs now while supplies are plentiful. Don’t put off today what will be gone tomorrow. The most unusual bulbs sell out fast. Try something fun such as the species tulip, Tulipa clusiana.

I always like to try something new. After the 4th, I’ll open the Brent and Becky catalog to see what will tempt me this year.

I just received an email from Eden Brothers offering a 60% sale on spring planting bulbs!


2019 garlic harvest.JPG

Harvest summer edibles: Here is 2019 garlic harvest. Bulbs are a bit small, but we also had a LOT of rain.

Harvest tomatoes when they are ripe. There is nothing better than sinking your teeth into a ripe tomato, warmed from the summer sun.

Didn’t plant tomatoes? Visit your local farmers market for a selection of fresh, field-grown varieties.

Did you know you can plant a second (or first) crop of tomatoes now? Yes, you will have tomatoes through first frost!

In your home garden, keep an eye out for early blight. Blight is a fungal disease that will cause spots to develop on the foliage. The leaves begin to yellow and then drop. Pinch off foliage at first indication. If too severe, there are several fungicides that can be used to reduce the symptoms.

This from Craig LeHoullier:  “There are two types of common fungus, Alternaria (early blight) and Septoria cause leaf splotching, with brown spots or lesions, sometimes showing yellowing as well….it can splash up onto lower foliage – so mulching is important to delay this inevitable occurrence, especially where its really muggy and hot. Even with mulching, it does start low and move up the plant–removing blemished foliage slows the progression, and the plants continue with top growth to keep them going. I examine my plants and remove the blemished foliage every few days. Check this resource for common (and uncommon) tomato issues – it is really useful.”

We have a bumper crop of tomatoes right now. Loving them! Yet, I still haven’t had a BLT. I need to fix that soon!

Garlic and onions were harvested; too much rain caused my garlic to be small.

I only ever only want to speak from experience; these are the fruits I grow in the Bee Better Teaching Garden.

I finally have paw paws, Asimina triloba, the second year in a row. I guess I’m on a roll! They took their sweet ole time. My trees are nearly ten years old!

The blueberries are very small this year. I should probably give them some water, but the birds will get them anyway, and they will be fine for my feathered friends. P.S. I went out to water, and well, I think I lost half of my plants! I should have taken better care of them. Even as a native, they need water. Yikes!!!

The raspberries in the Bee Better Teaching Garden are ever-bearring. Although I don’t know for sure, I believe they are ‘Southland’. The first big flush was in late May. Throughout the rest of the summer, I’ll see a few here and there. After the blackberry and raspberry harvest, remove the old fruiting canes to make room for the new canes that will produce next year’s crop.

I like the taste of a real apple, thus so many in the grocery store are not satisfying to me. In the fall, I love going to the Farmers Market and trying all the different varieties.

We grow ‘Transcendence’ crabapple. It was one recommended by J.C. Raulston. Did you know the only difference between an apple and a crabapple is the size? There are lots of fruit in our front yard tree, and I’m already looking forward to my first bite of the season.

We are entering a very dry month. Make sure your birdbaths are full and replenished every 4-5 days.

Echinacea purpurea is a pretty pollinator in Southeast gardens. After it’s finished flowering, keep the seed heads for the birds to feed.

This is our first year with volunteer sunflowers. The native bees are very happy!

To learn more about the Mysteries of the Monarchclick HERE!


Waterwise:  With a waterwise design, watering in the absence of rain is a breeze.  My garden at home, the Bee Better Teaching Garden, was designed with waterwise principles. I have very little watering to do, and what I do have, is a choice. My boxwood collection is contained. and the watering is smart. These containers are near a watering source, so moving around a hose isn’t a big deal.

This is true year round, and particularly true in July and August: Remember, waterwise means using water wisely. It is not xeriscaping! Water new plantings until they are established. At the BBTG, we recommend:

Annuals: Best planted after the last frost. Most annuals will last through first frost. Every day the first week, ever other day the next, and weekly after that in the absence of rain. Give them an inch.

Perennials: Best planted in the fall or spring. Every other day the first week, every third day the two next two weeks, and weekly after that in the absence of rain. Give them an inch.

Shrubs: Best planted in the fall. In the absence of an inch of rain, water deeply weekly for the first year. I bet you don’t do that. I’ve lost shrubs by forgetting this sage advice.

Trees: Best planted in the fall. In the absence of an inch of rain in any given week, water deeply weekly for two years. I bet you don’t do that either. It’s a good idea to begin some new routines!

Practice wise watering methods: July can be a month with limited rainfall. When nature stops providing regular rain, you may need to supplement. Here are some tips to help your garden during a dry season:

  • Chances are your container plants will need to be watered every day. Check by doing the finger test. If the top inch of soil is dry, it’s time to water. Water thoroughly. Small pots will dry out faster than larger pots, and containers in the sun will dry out faster than those in the shade.

  • Add mulch. A layer of mulch, three to four inches deep, will moderate soil temperature and reduce evaporation. Organic mulches include: composted leaves, shredded pine or hardwoods, and even nuggets. Mulches will also reduce weed production and keep the garden looking tidy.

  • First season plants — those fall and spring additions — will need more frequent watering than established ones. Water new additions two or three times per week until the plants are established. Established plants typically require watering once a week.

  • Conserve water by running (if you must) a sprinkler during cooler hours, typically in early morning. This will help reduce water loss due to evaporation. If possible, set up a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose to minimize waste. Watering in the morning hours also allows the water to dry on the foliage, minimizing fungal formation.

Manage pests: 

Bagworms: Do yourself a favor and never look into the “eye” of a bagworm. Bagworms have got to be the most disgusting looking pests ever — to me anyway.

Bagworms can be treated by removing them by hand and dropping into a bucket of soapy water. If the bagworm infestation isn’t within easy reach, they can be sprayed with Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt for short.

Bt is a microbial insecticide that’s commonly used to control various caterpillars such as the red-headed azalea caterpillar along with many other caterpillars, as well as those nasty bagworms. But remember, it will kill our moth and butterfly larvae, as well!

Mosquitoes: Are mosquitoes ruining your summer cookouts? Click here to learn more about safely controlling mosquitoes.

Mosquitoe dunks Short answer: yes. Mosquito Dunks and similar products containing the natural insecticide Bt really do live up to their promise. ... Bt is fatal when larvae eat it, but is harmless to humans and other animals, including fish and frogs. Dunks and Bits kill larvae in standing water like this drainage ditch.

Japanese Beetles: July is also the month of the Japanese Beetle. Popillia japonica. Japanese beetle, is an invasive plant pest that was first introduced to eastern North America from Japan in 1916. The adults are active flyers, but natural spread is slow and they are not able to travel long distances on their own. These beetles may move long distances as hitchhikers on plant material, in roots or soil, or even on cars, trains or planes.

Japanese beetle larvae feed on the roots of turf grass and other plants. Adults are heavy feeders, attacking the flowers, foliage and fruit of more than 250 plant species, including roses, blueberries and grapevines. Japanese beetle skeletonizing a leaf

Don’t be so quick to squish!

This from my Facebook friend, Lynette: “Be sure to check them FIRST to see if they have any tanchid fly eggs on their shoulders. If they do, let them go and the flies will hatch out and consume them from the inside — and produce more flies to dispatch more Japanese beetles. If you see those opaque white dots — one or two or three or more — let them go.”

As summer peaks, you probably can’t see much ground. Consider your plants as a green mulch.

During July, I perform a  full-plant-maintenance. A what? I go into each bed and begin an inspection of each plant. Does it need staking, dead-heading, dead-leafing, or pinching back for sturdier fall presence. These herbaceous materials, or biowaste added to the back 40 (ft.) sheet compost bed. Here, I lay a layer of green and then cover with a brown. Im my case, it happens to be some of the pinestraw I gathered from willing friends.


Learn about the mysteries of the monarch here.

Ready for Monarchs.JPG


We had a predator attack.

We had a predator attack.

Not sure what or how they got in. I got in my messiest garden gear and crawled from one end of the run to the other to see where the predator entered. I found nothing. The coop is fine to. as is the tunnel. Today, they are spending time in the coop until I can figure this out. Lost one of our girls. :(

You grew them, bring them inside.

The topic will be on controlling Japanese beetles without sprays.



 Believe it or not, I started the NC State Fair demonstration garden preparation. This year’s topic will be attracting bluebird.

Mysteries of the Monarch

If I were to give you a butterfly quiz, I’m quite sure you could pass. No pressure. Here we go. Which butterfly has drastically decreased in populations during the last decade? Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you probably know about the decline of the monarch butterfly populations, as upwards of 90 percent.

It’s true and sad. There have been speculations as to why, with suggestions of drought to deforestation in Mexico where the majority of East Coast monarchs over-winter. The science is now pointing to the lack of milkweed (Asclepias spp.) in their summer breeding ground.

Asclepias syriaca , commonly called  common milkweed

Asclepias syriaca, commonly called common milkweed

Milkweed is the only host plant of the monarch butterfly. Many of us believed this loss of milkweed in farms was part of the problem all along; now there is science to back it up. With more and more Roundup-ready acres to meet the demand of corn chips and ethanol in gasoline, for example, we are loosing even more milkweed. Roundup kills weed competition, including milkweed, but not the main crop.


The lifecycle of the monarch is straight forward: Egg—Larvae—Chrystalis—Adult. Their migration, though, is fascinating and a mystery. The butterfly that leaves Mexico in the spring will not return in the fall; rather, returning will be their great, great, great grandchildren.

Monarch lifecycle

Monarch lifecycle

Monarchs leave Mexico in the spring to travel through the Corn Belt region, where there is massive agricultural. In the Triangle area, depending on weather conditions, we might see monarchs migrating in the spring, but more often, we see monarchs from mid-August and later, as they are returning to their winter sites. We may see them earlier, if they got off course.

Pentas lanceolata.  commonly called Pentas—Provide plenty of nectar-rich flowers.

Pentas lanceolata. commonly called Pentas—Provide plenty of nectar-rich flowers.

Adult monarchs emerging in the late fall, and thus preparing for their migration south, are in reproductive diapause. Dia what?  These monarchs won’t mate or lay eggs until the following spring. While in a state of diapause, these migrating monarchs live up to nine months to make the return, whereas the first, second, and third generations lived only two to four weeks!

Decreasing day length and temperatures, along with aging milkweed and nectar sources trigger a change in monarchs; this change signifies the beginning of the migratory generation. How they find their way back to their breeding grounds, both summer and winter, remains a mystery.

Upon arrival to their winter sites, (in the case of East Coast migrations), monarchs aggregate in oyamel fir trees on south-southwest facing mountain slopes in Mexico. These locations provide cool temperatures, water, and adequate shelter to protect the the monarchs from predators and allow them to conserve enough energy to survive winter.

One way you can help the monarch’s journey is to add abundant nectar-rich plants, particularly milkweed, and shelter for the returning monarchs.


Recently, there has been a controversy suggesting the tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, is causing harm to the fall migrating monarchs returning south.

Asclepias curassavica,  commonly known as tropical milkweed

Asclepias curassavica, commonly known as tropical milkweed

The controversy of this non-native milkweed stems from its ability to winter-over in hardiness zones 9-11.

More and more information finds the tropical milkweed that over-winters could cause harm to the monarch by delaying migration. In doing so, according to a study from UGA, the evergreen nature of tropical milkweed may increase the rate at which monarchs are infected by the parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE.) This research revealed the longer the monarch caterpillar remains a resident, the higher number of OE parasites found.

So what does this mean to you? If you live in a zone 7 or colder, tropical milkweed isn’t evergreen. If you live in a more temperate zone, 9 and higher where the tropical milkweed is an evergreen perennial, you may want to cut the plant to the ground by October, so the returning monarchs will continue on instead of staying put.

There are seventy native milkweeds to the US and Canada. So why do we need even to bother planting a non-native variety?  Well, in my garden, it’s what the monarchs seem to prefer.


When Water Falls, Wildlife Listen

I’ve long held the belief that as we age, we’d rather spend more time watching the birds at our feeders than to travel far and wide to see the world. While travel is a must in our youngish years, if for no other reason than to know the best is in our own backyard, but only if we make it so.


Paul English has proven this theory, and he and his wife are expanding their landscape to provide more than just beauty. They know by building a garden for the wildlife, the garden will provide one’s every need, without continuing to travel the world.

Creating a wildlife habitat has just four simple needs, and these needs are no different than what we humans require—food, shelter, a place to raise our young, and water. And the sound of moving water alerts the wildlife. For every living organism, these are the keys to a thriving life.

Although the original design of Paul English’s garden was Asian-inspired, there are aspects, particularly color, that go beyond what's found in an authentic Japanese garden. Click here for Paul English’s backstory. Still, there is no question of his love of the Orient; it shows at every turn. It might be best to describe Paul’s garden as Japanese-inspired, and going forward in other areas of this three plus acre property he shares with his wife Linda, Paul is gravitating more towards Nature-inspired! I like that.

Yes, Paul may be creating an entirely new garden style, but gardens are personal and progressive. A garden should reflect who we are at particular times of our lives. There is no reason to re-do; instead, it’s best to evolve. We can still appreciate a certain style, but grow in our commitment to do more. Paul wants to do more with pollinators and to do that, native plants will reign supreme.

While Paul’s love of the Orient is still deep within him, he is also a naturalist at the core. Now retired, and most of his major travel is behind him and Linda, it’s time to enhance their surroundings further.

The English is anything but!

To be sure, the English’s have the water need for a habitat. Although I somehow imagine, there will be more in his future, if only to include a birdbath within his plans to expand.

Unlike many of us, we are running out of room to add more gardens. Not for Paul. Over the nearly 40 years Paul has owned his home, he also acquired adjoining properties, totaling 3.5 acres. There are houses on some of this acreage, but there is still a lot of areas to work with, including 50-feet long curvilinear bed. This new pollinator bed is framed by grass that also favors wildlife by not being so fussy. Paul’s Nature-inspired journey is to focus on this area by adding in pollinator plants to benefit the birds, bees, and butterflies.

During my visit, Paul showed me some beginnings of what will be a healthy habitat start for birds, bees, and butterflies. Paul is poised to be a disciple of the Bee Better Naturally principals with first learning about sustainability and the rest then falls into place.

Paul mentioned to me the new area wasn’t irrigated; I let him know that is ideal. While all plants require watered until established, Paul would be able to create a garden in a natural style that didn’t depend on regular irrigation. The natives that will go into the new beds are use to our east coast conditions and can tolerate periods drought.

I look forward to future visits to see Paul’s progress as his new journey begins. I suspect the only traveling needed for Paul and Linda will be to walk the beds with the very best margarita I’ve ever tasted in hand.

Check out Paul’s website to see his garden in all season.

Paul English by this waterfall, a place that brings in the wildlife.

Paul English by this waterfall, a place that brings in the wildlife.


‘Color’ Commentary of the Kirsch Garden

On a summer afternoon in early June, I had the luxury of visiting the Kirsch’s garden in Portsmouth, Virginia. Sitting on the back deck with a view of the Elizabeth River, Mike, Carolyn, and I basked in the environment.

As three nature-lovers sipped (very) good wine, the conversation flowed and only silenced long enough as we witness the squirrel’s antics on their dedicated peanut station or to watch the birds flock feeders. I can think of no other way to enjoy the day; time together continued, in our same spots, with coffee in the morning.

Kirsch Garden
Green is a color too.JPG

Viewing the garden, it was clear color was the operative word. As the Ascitic lilies, Lilium auratum, were finishing their show, the daylilies, Hemerocallis spp., blossomed for the second act. Of course, daylilies aren’t lilies at all, but who cares if they are only a Lily-like doppelgänger? It’s about color! Also, if you didn’t know, the genius Hemerocallis comes from the Greek words ἡμέρα (hēmera) or day and καλός (kalos) or beautiful. As such, the Hemerocallis common name is daylily since each flower lasts a day, but what a day it is! And of course, we know they are beautiful.

The color continued with tropicals, mostly in containers; even the containers were wisely chosen to provide color. Colorful containers are an exciting way to give a pop of color in the garden, with hues lasting well-past the summer’s floral glory.

Throughout the back garden, there was only one area void of flowers and other plantings save a blanket of St. Augustine grass. The open designed is low so as not to disturb the view of the river. I understand. Mike mentioned he wanted to garden it, but Carolyn loved the unobstructed view. I wondered if there could be a compromise.

During my time there, we also visited Paul English’s garden in the neighboring town of Chesapeake. (Look for a story soon.) While there were many takeaways from Paul's garden, the one that spoke to me most was a recirculating in-ground reservoir of bubbling rocks. Well, they were actually big boulders. It occurred to me this bubblier would be an excellent addition to the Kirsch's turf area.

Even though Mike and Carolyn have a pond with a waterfall, filled with abundant flowers, their philosophy must be more is better, so why not? On a smaller scale, I built something similar off our back porch. The key for Mike and Carolyn will be to get the scale right. I can help with that if they ask.

I'm with Carolyn, though. The grass is a relaxing square of negative space that also adds to the theme of color. Let us not forget, green is a color too!


A visit to the Kirsch home and garden is about more than great conversation, color, and good wine. Food is holds center stage. Carolyn is an excellent cook, and given the rewards from the river with local seafood, the freshness only enhances the magic of the meal.


With more good wine, our bellies full of the best soft shell crabs ever served, along with fresh corn carved from the cob, and chilled cucumbers in vinegar, we were satiated. Even a BLT with tomatoes fresh from the garden can't compare. I didn’t count, but if I had to guess, I ate at least six maybe seven crabs. It was worth it.

There are glorious places to visit in this world. France, Spain, and Norway come to mind; but nothing compares to a visit with old friends and new conversation on the back porch of a home and garden sited along the Elizabeth River.


June Garden Sustainable Maintenance Practices for the Southeast

To a bee a flower is the fountain of life, and to the flower the bee is a messenger of love. Kahlil Gibran

January February March

January February March April May June

July August September

Welcome to June, friends! June is better since I made it through May, the season of green. That sounds strange, even for me. The weather during the first part of the month was some of the best I’ve experienced in my 30 years living in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the last week some of the hottest.

Each year, I strive to improve on a collection or a season, yet May remains green. No matter what I do, I don’t see sufficient color until June.  There’s always next year, I suppose.

Ah, but in June, color rushes in at a juggernaut speed.

June is a good month in the south; the humidity has not yet arrived (for the most part), the days are long and the kids are out of school, putting us on summer-time. Our routine has changed—a change that is welcome indeed! Summertime also brings garden-time, fresh-food time and, and al fresco dining time. Here are a few things to do in Southeast gardens in June.


If you want to learn how YOU can help the Monarch butterfly and grow milkweed, their only host plant, check out our first online mini course. Includes a download with ten of the most common native milkweeds we can grow. To learn more, click HERE!

Read More!


Salvias, Phlox, Ruella (perhaps too much so!), coneflowers, milkweeds, plus annuals are filling out especially the petunias!

‘Jacob Cline’ Bee Balm

‘Jacob Cline’ Bee Balm

Prune now, benefit later. Do you find it frustrating when all your  Bee Balm, Monarda didyma  ‘Jacob Cline’ bloom at once? By pruning some of your Monarda now, you will delay the bloom time of those plants. Deadhead regularly for continuous blooms. I also leave some seed heads for the finches to enjoy.

Deadhead flowers. Keep your flowers blooming longer by removing faded blossoms from your cannas, roses, daisies, and more. As for the seed plants, such as black-eyed Susans, phlox, and coneflower, leave the flower heads for the birds. Once the birds have picked them through, it’s time to deadhead.

Not so much grooming, but I’m clearly cutting back several plants to making stouter (less leggy) and delaying bloom times so they don’t all bloom at once. Bee balm is a good on to do this delay tactic with. Up to before the flower heads begin to form, cut back about half the plants (I do cut back the ones in the front of the group) to about half. As the back half finish their bloom, the front half will almost be ready.

Other plants we cutback up to the Fourth of July include, salvias, chrysanthemums, sunchokes, and others in the sunflower family. They tend to get too big, and a haircut in June helps the fall flowers look for stately and upright.


 Herbs. As an edible, don’t let your basil (Ocimum basilicum) go to seed or even flower. The stems become woody, and the leaves lose their flavor. Prune basil regularly. However, having said that, as a wildlife plant, let them go to flower! The bees love this!

Harvest lavender blooms before it gets too hot. The lavender flowers are at their peak when the bottom of the bloom is just opening; cut the stem down to the foliage. Gather the stems and tie them together. Suspend upside down in a hot, dry, dark location, such as an attic or a closet. Within 10 to 14 days, the lavender will be ready to use.

Select and pre-order your spring-blooming bulbs now while supplies are plentiful. Don’t put off today what will be gone tomorrow. The most unusual bulbs sell out fast. I can say this now because I’ve already put my in order. Try something fun such as the species tulip, Tulipa clusiana.

Harvest vegetables as needed. Most of what’s growing in your vegetable garden are annuals–tomatoes, beens, peppers, etc.  Soon, they’ll soon be looking a little wrung out. As plants end their production cycle, remove them from the garden; otherwise, they may attract insects and disease to the plants that are still productive.

I only every want to speak from experience; these are the fruits I grow in the Bee Better Teaching Garden.

The blueberries are in fruit, getting bigger each day. I’ll be lucky to get them before the birds do.

The raspberries are harvestable! I never have to compete with the birds for these, for some reason.

The blackberries are almost past! Figs are flushing out, and there are crabapples on the tree, as well as my first ‘Santa Rosa’ plum!


Mosquitoes are out, these are buggers one never gets use to.

Echinacea purpurea is a pretty pollinator in Southeast gardens. After it’s finished flowering, keep the seed heads for the birds to feed on.

Prune now, benefit later. Do you find it frustrating when all your Monarda didyma ‘Jacob Cline’ bloom at once? By pruning some of your Monarda now, you will delay the bloom time of those plants. Deadhead regularly for continuous blooms. I also leave some seed heads for the finches to enjoy.

Waterwise:  With a waterwise design, watering in the absence of rain is a breeze.  My garden at home, the Bee Better Teaching Garden was designed with waterwise principles. I have very little watering to do, and what I do have is a choice. My boxwood collection is contained. But the watering is smart. These containers are near a watering source, so moving around a hose isn’t a big deal.

On the wild side. Milkweed is the only host plant for the Monarch butterfly. Asclepias tuberosa is one species of milkweed that is also a pretty addition to the garden; expect (and hope) it to be eaten to a nub. The female Monarch will lay her eggs here. Soon you will see tiny caterpillars that will slowly mature as they feed on the milkweed plant. The adults also enjoy the nectar.

As the foliage fills in, the mulch you laid in late winter should be barely visible. Be thankful, we have our summer heat-protecting mulch down, even if we can’t see it.

Pest Control
Good bug or bad bug? 


This is a black widow spider. Be careful when pulling out stored pots to make your season’s container gardens — there may be more lurking there than fond summer memories.

Click here to learn more about safely controlling mosquitoes.

Summer rose care. 

Japanese beetles will be here before you know it. One approach to keeping them off your roses is a technique referred to as “keeping them in the green.” This means cut your roses and bring them inside, because Japanese beetles are attracted to bright and happy colors

Roses can be propagated by layering as late as mid-August. Long, flexible canes are the easiest to propagate because they bend freely into place. Use a clean knife to remove two thorns near the top of the stem and bend it toward the ground. Make a couple of small cuts into the bark between where the thorns were. This is called wounding the cane. Hold the wounded area in good contact with the soil with landscape pins and cover with soil, leaving the growing tip of the stem uncovered. It’s also a good idea to put a brick or stone over the covered and wounded cane to give it extra hold.

Next spring, you should see new growth emerge. Once you see new leaves on the rooted stem, carefully remove the entire stem from the parent plant, and recut the stem just beneath the new root mass. Now you are ready to plant your new rose bush.


Cut flowers. Remember those zinnias you seeded in May? Seed more in June, July, and August. The will last through first frost. Be sure to cut some to enjoy inside.

Remember, if you are trying to figure out a horticulture word, you can reference the Bee Better Teaching Glossary. We have been adding to this for a decade now, and have quite the list. Bookmark it for easy reference!




May Garden Sustainable Maintenance Practices for the Southeast

January February March

January February March April May June

July August September Welcome to May, friends!

As promised, Bee Better Naturally launched our first online course. We started with the Monarch butterfly entitled, How YOU can Help the Monarch Butterfly. Check us out! Our course is hosted on Thinkific, but you can access the link through our site under EDUCATION. Look for future sustainable courses.

May brings the end of pine pollen (typically) and the unofficial start of summer with the long Memorial Day weekend. Let the prime gardening season begin!

I’ve heard many mention the pine pollen was particularly bad this year. Even though we had cleansing rains, the pollen persisted. For me, it was so bad, this is the first year of my life that I was affected by the pollen. I hope it was a fluke this year, and that I’ll not suffer next year.

Here’s what you can do in the Southeast garden this month.

 My May seems to be a month of greens—emerging greens, glad greens, gorgeous greens, gold greens. Green becomes the background for summer sizzle. Oh there is some color with the iris, wall flowers, Spanish bluebells, and of course Calycanthus floridus, or more commonly known as the Carolina-allspice. I’m not sure why this large shrub isn’t used more. The flowers in late April last through all of May!

Before the greens arrived, spring was a burst of color with intrepid yellows, stunning fuchsias, plucky purples.

If spring is the place from which all her emotions poured (The Fountainhead by Ann Rand), then she poured her glass with green to ready the Earth for summer.

That’s not to say May is without its merits, but there is a pause in the drama during these likened teenage years.

Green is the perfect experience for peony, phlox, and pink and purple verbena.

Green makes the burgundy foliage pop.

Green refreshes the senses.

Green gladdens the heart.

Summer will soon shock us with reds, yellows, purples, pinks, whites, and, to my good fortune, orange. Orange is my color and it goes very well with green, but then green goes with every color in nature, right? I shall focus on the glory of the blooms against my greens and rest before the summer color turns my glazed eyes into nature’s kaleidoscope.


Admire blooming trees and shrubs. May is bloom time for southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora.) These flowers give so much, and we need to do so little for them in return. I like to pluck a magnolia bloom and float it in a bowl of water near where I read or enjoy the garden at the end of the day. It lasts but a day, but what a day it is.

The Endless Summer hydrangea is the first hydrangea to bloom on old and new growth, with the ability to rebloom all summer long. I planted my Endless Summer in 2005. To encourage reblooming, cut the blooms for drying or to put in vases for a fresh arrangement. This will also encourage the plant to set new buds. Prune rhododendrons and azaleas right after flowering.

Enjoy abundant rose blooms. Roses are in full swing right now. Let your roses flush out; prune hybrid beans less in May so they grow taller. This is usually good advice for the first couple of cuttings. Then you can prune at will, remembering to cut the next five leaflets at an angle. Roses are heavy feeders — in terms of both food and water. Fertilize once a month and give each rose about five gallons of water each week (or about one inch per week). Water in the morning, at the base of the plant to help discourage black spot.

Cherish blooming iris. Oh, the iris are blooming beautifully! After they bloom, cut the flower stalks to tidy up the plant. Recently, I cut some for a friend. She took a whiff and realized, for the first time, bearded irises have a lovely scent — making them enjoyable indoors too. We are having  a good iris year!

Cut the daffodil flower stalks after the blooms is finished. Try to ignore the leaves as the plants naturally dies back.

The herbaceous peonies, Paeonia, are in full bloom! Peonies like moist, well-drained soil and need a cold chilling period in winter to flower reliable. The two most common problems with growing peonies in the south is lack of adequate chilling period in winter and short flowering period when temperatures are high in the spring. Plants should always be planted very shallow with the top of the crown no more than one inch below the surface of the soil and without too much mulch.


Deadhead hellebores, rhododendrons, Spanish bluebells, and iris as needed. May is a good time to pinch back sedums, such as ‘Autumn Joy’. Did  you know you can propagate these pinch backs? Just stick them the soil, if you can keep up with their care, or pot up to be able to watch within a close range.

There are several plants in my garden that are too big for their site, but with spring cutbacks and cutting back up the the fourth of July, you can manage the size, resulting in a stalker plant, but with the same flower power! In May I’ll cutback blue Salvia, Salvia gargantua I find


Plant annuals. With frosts behind us, you can plant annuals with abandonment. Visit public gardens to see the variety available for planting in our area. The JC Raulston Arboretum is an All-American Selection (AAS) display garden, exhibiting the most recent selection winners.

Direct sow zinnia seed at intervals to have cut flowers through fall frost. In the Bee Better Teaching Garden we sow every couple of weeks throughout the summer. We do this right before a rain to make it easier, letting nature watering them in.

Discover a different wisteria. Seeing Chinese wisteria in the wild brings a feeling of wonder. Yes, the color and flowers cascading down from the trees are beautiful, but they aren’t supposed to be there. Think twice about planting one. Instead, consider the rich purple flowers of American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ ); it blooms a little later the Chinese species, and this native is not invasive!

May is not the ideal time for planting perennials, but they are widely available. If you plan to plant, be prepared to pamper them and water well. Perennials require extra watering to help them get established. Water regularly for the first two to three weeks.


Plant tender summer bulbs. It’s now safe to transplant the amaryllis you grew during the winter. It will not likely bloom again this year but should do so next year.

Now that the soil has warmed (make sure it’s at least 60ºF), plant caladium bulbs or caladiums potted and already in leaf. They like it warm and can be damaged by cool weather, not just a frost. Caladiums are also big feeders, so you’ll need to water and fertilize them consistently during the growing season. Actually, any tender summer bulb, such as cannas, dahlias, ginger lilies, and tuberoses, can be planted now.

Harvest vegetables as needed.

Red Russian kale
Tuscan kale
Baby spinach
Purple frilly mustard
Pea tips
Adelaide carrot
Atlas carrot
Baby radish
Snap peas
English peas
Red pea flowers
Black radish flower
Red, white, yellow bbq onion

Grow edibles. With the last frost of the season behind us, it’s now time to plant tomatoes, basil, peppers, cucumbers, and other tender annuals.

Plant an herb garden. If not for you, then for your gardening friends. The Eastern black Tiger Swallowtail larvae love parsley, fennel, and rue. Let those green worms eat it all. Plant extra if you want some for yourself!

May in my garden is peak lavender bloom time. Each May I’m reminded why I grow lavender; it can look ratty many months of the year. After it flowers, cut back and shape it.


I only every want to speak from experience; these are the fruits I grow in the Bee Ber Teaching Garden. It looks like my fruit trees had good flower production, so I’m excited to see this year’s harvest!

For the longest time, I didn’t know the raspberry variety we grow; I only knew it was prolific. I’m not even sure how I got it; whether it was a sprig shared or something I bought. There are several varieties that might do well in this area, but the Piedmont region of North Carolina isn’t known for growing raspberries. Yet, we do so in abundance. Here are a few listed with Extension:

  • Southland—Fruit in spring and summer, with a small crop again in the fall

  • Dormanred—Highly productive, doesn’t have a true red raspberry flavor and aroma, with an unpleasant aftertaste. Good for cooking and processing. Holds up well frozen. trellis support system required

  • Mandarin—Average fruits with good quality. Nursery stock of Mandarin is limited at the time

  • Heritage—Northern red performs well in the climate of the piedmont region. Fruits in late July and August

    Based on this search, I must have ‘Southland’. It best fits the description of the varieties above. In any case, I plan to pot some up and offer for a donation to those interested. I can guarantee, at least the way I’ve grown them, they are a great producer, good size, tasty, and pest and fungal-free. Good air circulation is key. I also don’t trellis them; rather, instead i let the canes arch. Mind you, I have plenty of room to let this happen.

    All but one of my feeders have been put away until late fall, early winter. I like having feeders where I can see them from the inside, making a cold winter day more enjoyable. During the spring, summer, and fall, I’m outside and don’t necessarily need to see them at a feeder. I can hear them all around, and that brings me great joy! But for those days when I’m cooling off indoors, I like to see them from my Family Room seat.

Waterwise:  With a waterwise design, watering in the absence of rain is a breeze.  My garden at home, the Bee Better Teaching Garden was designed with waterwise principles. I have very little watering to do, and what I do have, is a choice. The Oasis zone is mostly made up of the boxwood collection, all in containers. But the watering is smart. These containers are near a watering source, so moving around a hose isn’t a big deal. Container plantings are the only plants that receive supplemental water in the absence of rain weekly.


Top-dress your garden beds with mulch. Keep your gardens cool, less thirsty, and reduce the amount of weeds. I can write volumes on the benefits of mulch. For my roses, I use mini nuggets, but for my perennial gardens, I used composted leaf mulch. Picking up a load of mulch reminds me how important it is to make sure yard waste is separated from trash. Yard waste not only is good stuff once it is composted,  but the conservation practice is in everyone’s best interest.

Pest control: The Pine Sawfly larvae shows up in May. Pick them off and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. I feed them to my chickens. Sawflies will take down a conifer!

Click here to learn more about safely controlling mosquitoes.

Organic: Right now, I don’t have to add much to the plants. In general, I don’t add fertilizers. I’m not really into having the first or the biggest. I just want healthy plants, and believe the breakdown of the compost leaf mulch is enough. Or at least it has for the last 30 years since I’ve been in Raleigh. If you want to fertilizer, follow these guidelines:

Fertilize sustainably. To encourage flowering, use a fertilizer low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus. Fertilizer’s three main ingredients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, or NPK.

  • 10-10-10 means there is an equal proportion N, P, and K.

  • Hydrangeas like a low N and a high P; thus a combination of 10-40-10 would be ideal, as it would be for any flower-focused plant.

My general rule is to remember what the numbers means. The first number, nitrogen helps from the top of the plant to the bottom. As such, N is for the green, P is for the bloom, and K is for the root or up and down and all around.

To refresh your understanding of pH, it refers to the acidity of the soil and is measured by the number of hydrogen ions present in the soil. It’s a logarithmic scale based on the power of 10. As such, a pH of 6 is 10 times more acidic than pH of 7. Thus, even a little change in pH can make a big difference.

  • A pH of 7 is neutral.

  • A pH lower than than 7 is acidic.

  • A ph higher than 7 is alkaline.

Most plants like a pH between 6.5 and 7. Hydrangeas like it more acidic than most plants, particularly if you want blue blooms on your mopheads. Blueberries too want acidic soil. Asparagus prefer an alkaline soil, but we can still grow these in the Raleigh area with the addition of lime.

Cut flowers and bring indoors. Soon the beebalm, Monarda spp. will be in bloom. Bring some inside to enjoy. And those peonies that are so big they flop? Cut and bring inside. Believe this: peony bloom last longer inside than outside. Get the best ban for your buck!

Add a container garden. Every home-area has room for container gardens. Find some fabulous pots and fill them with whatever you fancy. Know the amount of sun you get and when. It matters when you select your plants. Containers tend to dry out faster, so container gardens need to be watered more often. This water tends to cause nutrients to leach out, so contained plants will benefit from an application of a quick-release fertilizer.

Bring peony blooms indoors; in the south, they will last much longer inside than out!

ASK HELEN: Are coffee. grounds good to enrich the soil?

Coffee grounds are rich in Nitrogen. Testing done at NC State University in Raleigh found a NPK analysis of: 2.1:0.3:0.3. They are best used as a nitrogen source in your compost pile.

Since coffee grounds are nitrogen specific, if you want to use these as a fertilizer, you need to balance this out with phosphorus (blood and bone, poultry based manure), and potassium (animal manure). Throw in some liquid seaweed concentrate, lawn clippings, other organic materials as you find them, including worm castings and the leaves, stalks, and roots of current and past crops.

Did you know many coffee houses bag their coffee grounds for gardeners. Check out those local to you!

Until soon,

Helen Yoest

April Garden Sustainable Maintenance Practices for the Southeast

January February March

January February March April May June

July August September

October November DecemberBee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest will be launching our first on-line mini course Earth Day, April 22nd. We are very excited about our new offerings. Our first course is entitled, How You Can Help The Monarch Butterfly. Specifically, the course will teach and encourage you to grow more milkweed and how to raise eggs to adult Monarchs!

APRIL After a winter with multiple personalities, the birds are scratching, singing, and suggesting I pay attention. I am. There’s a feeling of joy. The birds feel spring; as do I. The temperatures may not say spring, but their songs do.

The entire month of April is wrapped in spring. With March madness behind us and the merriment of May ahead, many feel the need to stop and appreciate our gardens in April (or at least I do). The month of April is full of tulips, daffodils, bluebells, Yoshino cherry and crabapple blossoms, flowering dogwood, candy tuff, azaleas, creeping phlox, and more.

To paraphrase Elizabeth Lawerence, Everyone is a gardener in springtime.

The chickens in  Tiny Tara are believing it’s spring, as well. Each day there are gifts left to me in the form of white eggs from our four leghorns and a baby blue egg from our one and only Easter-egger. I don’t take this for granted, nor do I ignore spring and all the ways she sings to me each day. Seeing April for another year brings me joy, and I hope by my sharing this joy, I bring a little to you, too.

In The BEE BETTER NATURALLY Teaching Garden, along the path in the Red Bed, the daffs are fading,  Veronica peduncularis ‘Georgia Blue’ is still bright blue, typically both will welcome me on my birthday in early March. The creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) are now coloring up the path in the Red Bed. This year, I’ve added a lavender blue colored creeping phlox as well, ‘Sherwood Purple’.

The peonies have cleared the ground. Each year, I’m amazed how quickly peonies go from breaking ground to blooming. It’s a feat that often seems impossible, but the pattern has taken place for so long now, I’m beginning to believe it.

The Ipheion uniflorum ‘Wisley-Blue’ are still looking fresh, as are the Japanese anemones.

Deadhead We still have another month of the pansies looking good. Although it seems tiresome, deadheading the pansies do tidy up the plant nicely, and allows the plant to continue putting out new blooms before the heat gets them.

Enjoy southern magnolias. It is normal to see a large amount of southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) leaves shedding beginning this month. Some find this messy, but if you leave the magnolia to grow naturally, and not cut the limbs, the leaves will fall within the drip line and hide under the tree’s skirt. In the old days, encouraging southern magnolias to have a ground-touching skirt was helped along by weighing the lower branches down with rope and bricks. A skirt on the tree hides the leaves and makes the tree very stately from the ground up. Once the limbs are cut, there is no going back and you will forever be cursed with these leaves that stick around longer than an orange peel! This is not to say you won’t have many escapees but they will be minimal compared to the mother lode.

Now and into May is the best time to divide daffodils. While the foliage is “in the green” dig up a clump and spread to other areas of the garden. Say yes to free plants!

Prune azaleas. The time to prune your azaleas is just after they bloom. If you wait too long, you’ll cut off next year’s bloom. Same with your forsythia. Prune soon after flowering to shape or manage the size.

Roses can be propagated by layering as late as mid-August. Long, flexible canes are the easiest to propagate because they bend freely into place. Use a clean knife to remove two thorns near the top of the stem and bend it toward the ground. Make a couple of small cuts into the bark between where the thorns were. This is called wounding the cane. Hold the wounded area in good contact with the soil with landscape pins and cover with soil, leaving the growing tip of the stem uncovered. It’s also a good idea to put a brick or stone over the covered and wounded cane to give it extra hold.

Next spring, you should see new growth emerge. Once you see new leaves on the rooted stem, carefully remove the entire stem from the parent plant, and recut the stem just beneath the new root mass. Now you are ready to plant your new rose bush.

Plant annual herbs such as basil after the season’s final frost, but it’s really best to wait until May unless the April soil is at least 60 ºF. Biennials such as parsley and perennial herbs, including rosemary, chives, thyme and mint can all be planted now.

Plant tomatoes. If you are planning to preserve tomatoes, plant determinate bush types. Determinate tomatoes will fruit and ripen all at once (within a week or so.) If you want to enjoy vine-ripened tomatoes all summer through frost, plant indeterminate tomatoes.

Plant annuals after the frost. Wait until after the last frost before planting tender annuals such as impatiens and petunias. The National Climatic Data Center can help you determine your region’s last frost date.Don’t be in a rush to plant; garden centers often stock summer annuals and tender perennials well before planting time. Know when it’s safe to plant tender annuals.

 It’s still a great time to plant perennials!!!  Just remember, if you only shop for plants in spring, you will forever have a spring garden. Plan to shop ever other month or so. If it gets too hot to plant, nurse them until the fall.

Select and pre-order your spring-blooming bulbs now while supplies are plentiful. Don’t put off today what will be gone tomorrow. The most unusual bulbs sell out fast. I can say this now because I’ve already put my in order. ;) Try something fun such as the species tulip, Tulipa clusiana.

Transplant bulbs. If you forced paper white narcissus indoors over the holidays using a soil-based medium, you can plant it outdoors now for years of enjoyment. If you forced it in the absence of soil, it’s spent — compost it.

I know fading daffodil foliage can drive you crazy. Instead, take a deep breath and put those clippers away. Yes, it really is necessary to keep the yellowing foliage as long as possible; the leaves are needed to collect food for next year’s nourishment.

VEGETABLES Harvest vegetables as needed. Most of what’s growing in your vegetable garden are annuals–tomatoes, beens, peppers, etc.  By August, they are looking a little wrung out. As plants end their production cycle, remove them from the garden; otherwise, they may attract insects and disease to the plants that are still productive.

I only every want to speak from experience; these are the fruits I grow in the Bee Better Teaching Garden. The blueberries are in bloom, the ‘Bonfire’ peach blooms are fading, still waiting for the ‘Stella’ cherry and ‘Autumn Brilliance’ serviceberry to bud up.

By April, I take down the supplemental feeders. The BEE BETTER NATURALLY Teaching Garden has enough for the birds to eat naturally. However, I like putting them out so I can see the birds from the inside my warm comfy sofa during inclement weather.

Waterwise:  With a waterwise design, watering in the absence of rain is a breeze.  My garden at home, the BEE BETTER NATURALLY Teaching Garden was designed with waterwise principles. I have very little watering to do, and what I do have, is a choice. My boxwood collection is contained. But the watering is smart. These containers are near a watering source, so moving around a hose isn’t a big deal.

Even after all these years of gardening with waterwise principles, there are always room for improvements. I moved a few pots and plants around to be better suited for their zones.

Mulch. Do you have your mulch down for protection of the summer ahead? Remember, an annual application of mulch helps retain moisture, moderate soil temperature, retard weeks, and makes the garden look tidy and healthy!

Pests. See these on your pines? They’re the Pine Sawfly larvae. Pick them off and drop them in a bucket of soapy water, or do as I do, I feed them to my chickens.

Walk around your garden in preparation for mosquito season. Be diligent about this.

Water wisely. Being water-wise doesn’t mean never watering. It means watering wisely. Plants need water on a regular basis the first weeks after planting or transplanting, and during development — even those that are drought tolerant. I have my garden beds divided into watering zones: oasis, transitional and xeric.

  • The oasis zone is for thirstier plants; it’s located near a water source.

  • The transitional zone is for plants that need occasional watering, particularly during times of drought, and is located a hose-draggable distance from the water source.

  • The xeric zone is for plants that need no supplemental water. These plants are never watered once they are established.

Watch for mildew. Problems with your impatiens last year? Impatiens downy mildew (Plasmopara abducens) has become a problem for East Coast gardeners. There have been reports of entire beds dying in weeks. Here’s what to look for:

  • The foliage turns pale green or yellow, and a whitish growth appears on the underside of the leaves.

  • The edges of the leaves will also curl downward.

Sadly, there isn’t much that can be done. The best defense is to stay aware; if you suspect your impatiens are infected, remove them along with all debris in the area. Don’t plant impatiens in that bed again for several years.


Cut flowers. Remember those zinnias you seeded in July? Seed more in August, and be sure to cut some to enjoy inside!



  1. Karen Carpenter says

    April 8, 2018 at 10:43 pm

    Tell us about the advantages of growing Dutch White Clover. Our city (Durham, NC) recommends clover or a ground cover but the general population think like their Dads did and think clover is a weed.. How do we change proples views?

    • Helen Yoest says

      April 9, 2018 at 7:05 pm

      Great question!!! Besides clover being a GREAT pollinator for the honey bee and other pollinators, it looks great. However, as you mention, our Dads think clover is a weed. What we have to remember is our granddads had clover added to their grass seed! I wonder if it is a more of a sign of prosperity that grass seed is without clover? In any event, these things take a generation. I remember when we started recycling in Raleigh. There was so much hemming and hawling (not by me); now my kids wouldn’t think of not recycling an aluminum can!


Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest 10 MAR 2016

Bee Better Naturally has a lot of exciting changes to come. While I’m still learning how to use Squarespace, my now website hosting site, I’m also learning how to create online courses. I thought the first mini-course would be ready by now, but I realized I was rushing things and have pulled back. Instead of an April 1st launch, I’m now looking to lunch on Earth Day, April 22nd. Stay tuned. The course is called the Monarch 95% Club.

Did you know in nature, only 5% of monarch butterflies reach adulthood? Our mini-course includes a members site and a download of ten of the most common milkweeds across the US with graphics.

The Monarch 95% Club is a membership site; and as a member commits to growing not only more milkweed but also raising monarch egg and caterpillars to adulthood, vastly increasing the survival rate up from just 5%.

Stay tuned!!!

As we grow our courses, we hope to expand our mailing list. If you haven’t already subscribed to our newsletter, where we off a free monthly maintenance gardening guide, please do so. For more than ten years I have been adding and tweaking these 12 posts to be more wildlife friendly including food and decorating. I hope those of you who have subscribed, find it helpful. If so, I’d love for you to leave a comment!

You may have heard I’m leaving Ferrington Village as one of their gardeners. I loved the work, but it was time to move on. It was the fastest two years and three months I can remember. Why? Well, there were several reasons, but I wanted to do more challenging and rewarding work, so I’m back writing and focusing on technical writing. I’ll be a technical editor and writer for Merck Pharm. I’m super excited. And knowing I’m back at a desk all day, I can save my physical strength to work in the Bee Better Naturally Teaching Garden!

Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest is alive and well. You’ll see even more from me. As mentioned above, I will be writing and producing online courses. These online courses will be challenging and rewarding.

So lots of exciting happenings with Bee Better Naturally. If you are on Facebook, click here to like our page at Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest.

Also if you subscribe to this site (see above yellow bar) you will also get a free download of Getting Ready for Bluebirds!

Until soon, Helen

March Garden Sustainable Maintenance Practices for the Southeast

January February March

January February March April May June

July August September

MARCH Surprise awaits within the month of March. As the Earth transitions from winter into spring, March can be unstable. Like an adolescent, March has mood swings—wild winds followed by steely calm; widely fluctuating day and evening air temperatures, and flowers blooming in barren soil. March also brings birthday wishes for me. <3

My mind welcomes the arrival of spring, always anxious for her appearance, I was waiting, and I watched as she slowly approached with a lessening of rain. Now I wait for the sun to pass over the equator when spring will be upon us. Many of us, however, don’t wait for the vernal equinox to inspire our spring. There is something in the air that speeds up spring’s arrival.

March: March is a good time to drum to a different beat. As you plan your garden this year, think about doing something different. Flex your horticultural muscle and mix veggies with ornamentals, add a wildlife pond, grow herbs in containers, or add a vine to serve as a host plant for butterflies. Beauty can be had in the most unusual ways.

With the arrival of spring, we want to see beautiful gardens. Look for garden tours, events, and symposia. A tour is a great way to explore inspiring gardens, to learn about plants that do well in your region and to walk away with a thousand ideas while having an enjoyable time. Even if you take away only one idea, it will be worth it. My gauge for a successful tour of multiple gardens is when every garden was somebody in the group's favorite.

BLOOM. Camellia, daffs, forsythia, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, pansy, snapdragon, daphne,  witchhazel, edgeworthia, and I'm sure I've forgotten something! Oh yes, the Corinthian Plum, Quince, our native Common Violets, Mahonia, Creeping Phlox, Buttercups, and Hellebores!

GROOM. Late winter is the ideal time to prune trees and shrubs. Timing is always tricky. You don't want to do so too early, b/c the new flush of growth that will come, will not be hardy enough to last through the winer. If too late, you can't see where you want to make your cuts as well. We are likely out of the woods, as they say, when it comes to running back woodies...I hope!

I took a little bit of flack on Facebook for recommending this organic spray to kill weeds between bricks, stone, or pavers. At work, I have what seems like miles of brick paths. In addition, the paths are along side well-kept fescue which is fertilized and watered regularly. The weeds come up all spring!

To tackle these weeds by mixing in a spray bottle,  1 Gallon of Vinegar (5%), 1 Cup Citric Acid, and 1 oz dish soap or non-ionic surfactant to help it stick to the weeds. Check out this before and after...after 2 hours. I find that it isn't as effective in mulched areas. What do you use?

What was the concern? There is life within. At home, this doesn't bother me. I don't water or fertilizer, and don't even reseed grass, so I only have regular weeds which I can easily scrape out. What do you use?

Prune fig trees. Damaged wood needs to be removed, even if it means severely cutting the plant. For the best fruit production, figs need to be limbed and fertilized.  (See fertilizer needs below.)

Deadhead Camelias. Tidy camellia blooms. Spent camellia blooms, particularly with C. japonicas, are susceptible to petal blight. Remove fallen blooms — and those ready to fall — to prevent the spread of disease and insect problems. If you suspect your faded flowers have blight, don’t put them in the compost pile. Instead, place them in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash.

Most of our other grooming has been complete. March is a good time to be in the moment and note the quiet before the flower-wildlife-food-production storm. March is always a new beginning for me; it's also my birthday month.

PLANT. Cozy up to clematis. If you have always wanted to plant a clematis at your mailbox, now is a good time to plant one, but only if you have a sunny location that does not receive the hot afternoon sun. Clematis needs good soil and good drainage. Mulch around the plant to keeps the roots cool.

Snip some cuttings. If you are overwintering geraniums, begonias, coleus, or impatiens, now is a good time to take cuttings. March cuttings will be ready to put in the ground by May.

BULBS. March is the time to see our spring flowers reminding us we are alive! Put a note in your calendar to order spring-blooming bulbs this summer. Order early to get the best choices. Make notes of what you see now to add to your garden this fall. You'll not regret it!

VEGETABLES. My asparagus is up, carrots are thriving, kale is looking grand, as is the lettuce! My girls thank me for the good eats!

Red and white spring onions

Red and bulls eye beets

Baby Red kale

Baby spinach

Tuscan kale

Bok choy flowers

Thumbalina carrots

Adelaide carrots

Cherry bomb radish

Leaf cabbage


I only every want to speak from experience; these are the fruits I grow in the Bee Better Teaching Garden. We currently don't have any fruit, but we can see the future with the flowers of the 'Santa Rosa' plum.

In the Bee Better Teaching Garden the varieties we grow do not require spraying. As such, March is a time to focus on other projects.

WILDLIFE March is a great time to sit back and watch the birds. It's like a late winter wonderland in the Bee Better Teaching Garden. Cardinals, Chickadees, Brown Thrashers, Easter Bluebirds, Bluejays, and so many  more!  For feed and feeder info for our area birds chick here. Check out this post on wildlife cover!

I fill wire suet cages with native grasses. These grasses are putting out their new summer shoots, so to tidy up the plant, I cut and keep for nesting material.


Waterwise:  With a waterwise design, watering in the absence of rain is a breeze.  My garden at home, the Bee Better Teaching Garden was designed with waterwise principles. I have very little watering to do, and what I do have, is a choice. My boxwood collection is contained. But the watering is smart...wise. These containers are near a watering source, so moving around a hose isn’t a big deal. Mulch: Most of the mulching in the Bee Better Teaching Garden is done. We do keep a few large containers full to tidy up spring annual and perennial plantings. It comes in handy to have extra on hand.

Fertilizer: It takes 1/2 pound of 15-5-5 fertilizer (the numbers stand for the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) for every 3 feet of tree height. For example, a 6-foot-tall fig tree would need about a pound of fertilizer. Spread the fertilizer around the drip line of the plant and just beyond. After you water in the fertilizer, mulch the area around the tree.

Many I know, add an organic fertilizer to their pansies and snapdragons. I don't do this in the Bee Better Teaching Garden, but I do at my place of work at Fearrington Village.

Pest control: Roses: When you're finished cutting plants back and replacing the mulch, it's recommended to treat rosebushes with a lime-sulfur spray to combat overwintering insects and disease problems.

Treat for pests. Leaf miners will make their appearance this month. They appear as a swarms of small flying insects hovering around hollies and other evergreen shrubs and trees, then they lay eggs on the leaves. When the larvae hatch, they bore or “mine” into the leaf to form tunnels. To lessen the problem, spray infested plants with a dormant oil to smother eggs.

My absolute nemesis is the vole; it drives me (and others) mad. Voles become active again in March. To help lessen their destruction, keep mulch away from the trunks of shrubs and trees. If you see in what looks like a mouse hole in your flower bed, especially where you grow lilies and other bulbs, it’s likely a vole hole. Stop the madness. Try this: Bait a mousetrap with apple and peanut butter, and set it next to the hole.

Blueberries. Blueberries can be fertilized lightly, but too much fertilizer may reduce the fruit crop. The same fertilizer for azaleas can be used on blueberries. Be sure there is clean, fresh mulch around fruit trees and bushes. Keep the mulch away from the trunks to prevent insect, vole, and mouse damage. Mulch keep weeds under control, conserves moisture, moderates soil temperature, and may protect ripe fruit that falls to the ground.

Invasives: I continue keep an eye out for invasives. The Bee Better Teaching Garden inherited the porcelain vine, Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, It's worse than the bradford pear

DECORATE. Cut large branches of quince or forsythia and place in a large vase. You don't even need to force them; they are already in bloom!!!