Fruits Grown in the Bee Better Teaching Garden

The Bee Better Teaching Garden experiments with several types of fruit trees and shrubs. Our criteria first and foremost are the fruits performance without spraying. We also consider plants for an average residential property, so we look for varieties that are self-pollinating and also dwarf varieties.. Below is a list of the fruits we have in the teaching garden.

Honey Crisp appleMalus domestica ‘Honey Crisp’

North Sentinel appleMalus pumila ‘North Sentinel’

Transcendent crabappleMalus domestica ‘Transcendent’

Banana—Musa basjoo

Banana—Musa basjoo

BananaMusa basjoo

BlueberriesVaccinium ashei ‘Premier’, ‘Climax’, & ‘Powder Blue’

CherryPrunus avium ‘Stella’

ChokeberryAronia melanocarpa

ChokecherryPrunus virginiana

Cornelian cherryCornus Mas

DogwoodCornus kousa

ElderberrySambucus cerulea

Fig Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’, Ficus carica ‘LSU Purple’

Goji BerryLyceum barbarum

Goumi BerryElaeagnus multiflora

Kiwi, HardyActinidia arguta

KumquatFortunella japonica

MayapplePodophyllum peltatum

MuscadinesVitis rotundifolia

Passion VinePassiflora incarnata 

Paw-pawAsimina triloba

Pear, KiefferPyrus communis x P. pyrifolia

Persimmon, Japanese —Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’

Persimmon, Japanese —Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’

Persimmon, Japanese Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’

Persimmon, American—Diospyros virginiana

PlumPrunus salicina 'Santa Rosa'

QuinceCydonia oblonga

Raspberries—Ever-bearing, Rubus idaeus

ServiceberryAmelanchier × grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’

StrawberriesFragaria × ananassa

Feed the Birds

When that winter chill hits you such that all you want to do is sit at the kitchen table with a cup of hot cocoa and watch the birds, it’s time to put out the feeders. Bee Better readers typically plant for the birds, but when you want to attract the birds to a nice location to see from inside the home, fill your feeders and feed the birds!

Here are some common types of bird feeders and their use:


Platform models can be as fancy as a covered feeder with a gravity feed tube, or as simple as a dish laid out for the birds to dine. Typical feed for this type of feeder is black-oiled sunflower seeds. Think of the platform feeder as a place where birds can arrive at an open feed station, sometimes protected, other times not.

Platform feeder.jpg

Favored by black-capped chickadees, cardinals, mourning doves, finches, juncos, jays, woodpeckers, and sparrows.


Tube feeders have multiple small purchases for little birds. Most often used for black nyjer seed. Think of these tubes as a community buffet for small birds.

Tube Feeder  House, purple finches, American goldfinches, sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches, and juncos all favor Nyger seed.

Tube Feeder

House, purple finches, American goldfinches, sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches, and juncos all favor Nyger seed.


A hinged roof shields seeds from moisture. Hang from a branch or mount on a post with a squirrel baffle. Typically filled with safflower or a safflower seed mixed with nuts. Thinker of hopper feeders as protected gravity feed platform feeders.

Hopper Feeder.jpg

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!!!


Factors in the Milkweed, Asclepias spp., Decline



Our director, Helen Yoest, has grown a lot of different milkweeds in her home garden she calls, The Bee Better Teaching Garden. Some milkweeds are more successful in attracting adult monarch butterflies to lay her eggs than others types. And the very best and most widely available, is the non-native tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. This non-native has brought with it controversy as to its use. Keep reading. You can help!


The monarch butterfly population in North America is down by 90% in just the last 20 years. One of the biggest factors in monarch decline is the increasing scarcity of the monarch’s host plant, milkweed, Asclepias spp.

We humans have a tendency to want to point to an accuser, even though there are often many factors to any problem. In this case the accuser is Big AG. Their crime? Using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or in other words, seeds or crops.

How GMO Seed Works. GMO seeds are seeds that have been modified for specific traits. In the case of corn grown throughout the midwest, GMO corn seed is resistant to Roundup and can be used on corn crops to control weeds, and not affect the corn plants.

These weeds, in a large part, are milkweed. Without milkweed, monarchs can’t successfully reproduce and the species declines. By planting milkweed in your own garden, landscape, and throughout your community, you can help reverse this decline of monarchs, at least in a small way, and by doing so, you become a part of a bigger group helping!

There is no doubt GMO seed use contributed to the decline in milkweed populations, but there is scientific evidence to show monarch butterfly and milkweed declines significantly predate the use of genetically modified crops.


We believe there are many factors attributed to this decline including sprawling urbanization, loss of native grasslands, as well as droughts and deluges. . Our focus should not be on the past, but rather to the future and what WE can do now.

February Garden Sustainable Maintenance Practices for the Southeast

January February March

January February March April May June

July August September

FEBRUARY Lengthened daylight hours and shortened shadows are noticeable as February approaches. A winter-weary mood is elevated as light lifts the spirit. Holding onto winter can bring great joy when we’re reminded, every season has its reason.

February, cold and cruel to some, is hope to others. After all, February touches March, the month of spring. February is a bridge month, crossing over from winter into spring. Instead of rushing forth into a new season, take one more look around at the joy and the life only February can bring.

Before the gardening season kicks into full gear, evaluate your landscape with regard to sustainability Are you doing all that you can to reduce water, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer use? Are you composting? Are you harvesting rainwater? Are you planting the right plant in the right place? Do you mulch? Let this be the year you consider a more eco-friendly approach.

BLOOM Pansies, early daffs, edgeworthia, galanthus, camellias, ranunculus, and flowering apricot; and we can't discount the color change if the 'Hillside Winter Gold' pine.

GROOM. Pinch spent blooms off pansies to maintain their peak flowering performance through spring. I didn't do this until recently. I learned from workmate the importance of this, and I can see the results. In addition, she also taught me to add an organic fertilizer, I used Espoma products when I use fertilizers; and frankly, I don't typically fertilize.

Fertilizers in my mind make a plant more needy and artificial. But when growing for purely ornamental, such as pansies, it makes a difference.

February is a good time to cut back liriope. The key is not to trim liriope too late, or you’ll risk cutting new growth. The plant will not recover from the damage, and it can look tattered. The solid green liriope or lilyturfs will  spread. It is not uncommon for designers to site liriope as an edge. If your original design had a pattern, and if you want to keep that pattern (usually an alternating X pattern), dig out the liriope that has spread, after the cutback, bringing back your original design.

Cut back the rain lily foliage, (Zephyranthesspp.) You don't have to, but I do.  It just makes the garden look fresher.

Tame vines. If your vines have gotten out of hand, late winter is a good time to tame them. Cut back our native Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefoliaand non-native plants such asEnglish ivy, Hedera helix; Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica,and Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinencsis. Better yet, remove the non-natives. They have escaped cultivation and are taking over where our native plants once ruled. 

Prepare new gardening beds. A warm winter day is perfect for preparing a new or extending an existing garden bed. For a new site, mark the area of the new bed and dress it with several layers of newspaper and/or recycled cardboard. Wet it down. Add organic matter, such as composted leaf mulch, as the final top dressing.

For existing beds, work the ground with a garden fork to loosen the soil and mix in the organic matter. In doing so, you will improve soil fertility and drainage.

PLANT. You can still plant peonies. Fall would have been ideal, but they can be planted now, as well. Make sure the top of the crown is just above the soil line. Peonies need cold weather to set the buds. If you are going to fertilize, do so  now before the spring growth, so that nutrients will be readily available when the plant needs it.

As long as the ground isn’t frozen, it's still a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Prepare the planting hole with ample mulch mixed with the native soil. Dig a hole twice a wide as the root ball.

BULBS. February bulbs begin to bloom in earnest. In the Bee Better Teaching Garden, we will begin to see the early bloomers showing their color, likeNarcissus'February Gold'.

VEGETABLES. To get a head start on the growing season, start seeds indoors.

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

WILDLIFE. February is a great time to sit back and watch the birds. It's like a winter wonderland in the Bee Better Teaching Garden. Cardinals, Chickadees, Brown Thrashers, Bluebirds, Bluejays, and so many  more!   Just this year, I have a pair of Red-bellied woodpeckers making their home in the Bee Better Teaching Garden.

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 collections is contained. But the watering is wise. These containers are near a watering source, so moving around a hose isn’t a big deal.

Mulch: As time permits, the winter is the best time to mulch. The leaves are down, herbaceous perennials are dormant, deciduous shrubs are leaf-free. Mulch is much easier to spread during this time of openness. In the Bee Better Teaching Garden we used composted leaf mulch from the City of Raleigh. This year, we used collected oak leaves. Yes, they tend to blow around, but with so much rain we have had lately, it hasn't been a problem.

I'll admit, it was a lot of work collecting around 80 bags of mulch. I'm not sure I'll do it again. Next year I may go back to having composted leaf from the City of Raleigh delivered by Jack.

We also use sustainably harvested pine needles from the streets of Raleigh where they have naturally fallen. This mulch is used around the perimeter of the property where we also compost in place. The pine straw is used to cover the biomass in the back 40 (ft.)

Fertilize: February is the time to fertilize your flowering ornamentals. My beds get most of their nutrients from decaying composted leaf mulch, but oftentimes after a soil test, I will use an organic fertilize if recommended. Fertilize tulips and daffodils as the foliage begins to break ground; again, fertilizer those prized for ornamental value.  A general 10-10-10 fertilizer works fine but there are also products made especially for flowering bulbs, such as organic Espoma brand products.

Pest control: Fallen camellia blooms should be picked up from under the bush to help prevent the spread of disease.

DECORATE. Paperwhite, narcissus, and hyacinths are easy to force, and can be enjoyed indoors while waiting for spring.

Also, walk your garden for anything evergreen. You'll be surprised just how easy it is to pull together conifer foliage for an arrangement.

January Garden Sustainable Maintenance Practices for the Southeast

January February March

January February March April May June

July August September

Happy New Year! Welcome to January, Friends!

JANUARY.  The sun is low on most January days, but my hopes are high. When I walk the garden during the winter, I hope to find solace in nature. As I look around, the trees, void of leaves, show me structure and strength. They make me feel stronger with every step I take. ~Helen Yoest, Click to Tweet!

January is also an excellent time to look back on your gardening year and to plan for the year ahead. Walk around your garden and take photos. Seeing your garden through the lens is telling, and looking at these pictures can help you see where you may want to make changes. You mind can block out clutter to give a more settled view. Take a picture of your garden areas as they are now, and notice what clutter can be changed and accept or hide what can’t. Even better, photograph your garden each month as a photo journal of what is blooming and when.

BLOOM & BERRY. Later in January in the Bee Better Teaching Garden, we’ll have blooming the flowering apricot, Prunus mume ‘Bridal Veil’, early blooming daffodils, such as Narcissus ‘February Gold’, pansies, snowdrops, Galanthus spp., camellias, and mahonias.

The berries remain, ripening for the birds, on holly trees and mahonias. To supplement feed for the birds, try making this!

GROOM. Wildlife welcomes cover, particularly in the winter. Leaving woody perennials, such as Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii), asters and black-eyed Susans, (Rudbeckia spp.)  to name a few, up throughout the winter is very helpful for our outdoor friends. Lots of life gathers under the spent foliage. I cut back soft-stemmed perennials, like Crinums, Elephant Ears (Colocasia spp.) and cannas, as soon as they’ve been melted by the frost. Remember too a winter garden can be cut back to look tidy and benefit the wildlife as well. For example, any hollow-stemmed perennial, such as Amsonia hubrichtii and, also known as Bluestar and Eupatorium fistulosum (Joe Pye weed or hollow-stemmed Joe Pye weed.) These stems are the ideal size for our native mason bees to nest. Nature knows. It’s fun to build beneficial bungalows for our native bees, and it’s even better when we can let nature do the designs for us!

PLANT. As long as the ground isn’t frozen, you can still plant trees, shrubs, and bulbs. With regards to trees and shrubs, we believe you’re better off planting now instead of waiting until spring. Give new plants weekly water in the absence of an inch or less of rain for a year for shrubs and two years for trees.

BULBS.  If the ground isn’t frozen, bulbs can still be planted. Also look for bulbs on sale in January too. You can get good deals at your local garden center, and there’s still time to plant!. We like adding bulbs to containers; that way we can easily situate a splash of color where we need it most.

VEGETABLES. A warm January day is a good excuse to get outside and work your garden soil. If you have not had the soil tested in a couple of years, now is a good time to do so. A soil test will give you an assessment of pH and if you need to know other nutrients, such as lime. Soil recommendations are based on what you’re growing or planning to grow. For example, blueberries need a pH of around 4.8, whereas strawberries prefer 5.8 to nearly neutral. The analysts will then recommend what you need to add and how much to meet your agriculture goal.

EDIBLE FRUITS. We only every want to speak from experience; these are the fruits we grow in theBee Better Teaching Garden.

No fruit this month. Here is the list of fruit trees we grow.

WILDLIFE. The Bee Better Teaching Garden is full of food for the wintering birds, but we want to see my feathered friends from the inside of the home, too. So during the cold season, we place feeders where they can be viewed best from the office desk

One of the best all-around seed for birds is the black-oil sunflower. This seed has a high meat-to-shell ratio, it is high in fat, and it is sized perfectly for many seed eaters, including, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, mourning doves, finches, juncos, jays, woodpeckers, and sparrows. Check out this post on wildlife cover!

Click here to see types of feeders and feed. Click here to make your own wreaths. Treat your feathered friends with suet too. The fat will be well appreciated!

Waterwise:  With a waterwise design, watering in the absence of rain is a breeze. Helen Yoest designed the Bee Better Teaching Garden with waterwise principles. We have very little watering to do, and what watering we do have, is contained.  For example, in one of the Oasis Zones, we have a collection of boxwoods in containers. But the watering is smart. These containers are near a watering source, so moving around a hose isn’t a big deal.

MULCH.  Incorporating or top-dressing with a thick blanket of an organic matter — such as compost, composted leaf mold or manure — is most helpful in the vegetable garden and garden beds.

PESTS. Check trees and shrubs for tent caterpillar egg masses and bagworms. Remove any that you find. Tent caterpillar egg masses are gray and varnished looking, and form a collar around twigs. Bagworms look somewhat like a tiny pinecone and hang at the end of branches. Euthanize or feed to your chickens.

If you haven’t already cleaned your hosta beds, now is a good time to remove the dead foliage. Don’t give slugs any advantage. Even if the look of the previous season’s cannas doesn’t bother you, take them down. Leaf rollers like to over winter.

DECORATE. Cut some branches for indoor enjoyment. With the holiday festivities behind us and winter wearing on, why not cheer up the inside of your home with blooming branches. Forsythia, pussy willow, quince, winter honeysuckle and redbud are all good branches to force to bloom early. Collect long branches, cut a slant with a sharp knife or clippers, and place the stems in a vase of water. Change the water every four days. Within about four weeks, your branches will bloom.