August Sustainable Garden Management Practices for the Southeast

Bee Better Naturally is proud to offer local workshops as well as our first online course, How-To Raise Monarch Butterflies and to Grow Milkweed.

Leaf & Limb Tree Service and Care during a Bee Better Naturally education program.  Why trees? Here is just one example:

Leaf & Limb Tree Service and Care during a Bee Better Naturally education program.

Why trees? Here is just one example:

Why trees!

Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest will be partnering with Leaf & Limb Tree Service & Tree Care. We will be sharing more soon.

Johnston County NC Extension Master Gardener Volunteers are hosting a Bird, Bee, and Butterfly pollinator symposium. Several of the folks from he Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest have already signed up to exhibit, and I personally will be attending the programs. Sever members of the Bee Better Naturally Forum had signed up as well. The speakers are all so knowledgeable in their field. And you can't beat the price and lunch is included!!! Hope to see you there.

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Bee Better Naturally will be attending the Raleigh City Farm Harvest Dinner in October. We hope to see some friends there.

2019 Raleigh City Farm Harvest Dinner

AUGUST The best thing I can say about August in the south, is that July is behind us and September is right around the corner! I also find it interesting in August to feel when the metrological fall arrives. It typically does so in August. The air is dryer. You can just tell!!!

Do you hide in August? I garden in August, as I do every month of the year, but I plan carefully when I go outside. August heat can be brutal! I’m not likely to go out into the garden after ten in the morning during August or before 10 AM in January. My internal clock wants to be in the garden by 7:00 AM every day of the year, but winter morning temperatures keep me inside writing. If it’s in the 90s, and I start in the garden earlier in the morning, I can stay until about 2:00. You can forget it between 2 – 5. Nope, no way. I can tour gardens during that time, although my pictures bite when the sun is at those angles.


Hollow Joe-Pye Weed,  Eupatorium fistulosum

Hollow Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium fistulosum

Lantana (Lantana camera), black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) , coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.), cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), salvias (Salvia officinalis), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum,) phlox (Phlox paniculata), phlox, phlox, and more phlox (I love phlox.) We also have Mexican petunia (Ruella spp.), coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), , milkweeds (Asclelpsia) spp., , as well as cannas (Canna spp.), red spider lily (Lycoris radiate), and so many others.  Plus the annuals are blooming and benefiting from a July haircut.



The cleome start to get to big for my liking. I love them, but….During the later part of July and all of August, they start to look alien and unattractive. It’s right about the time they go to seed. So I try to wait long enough to get seed, of which I collect all I can, and sort by color.

What becomes unattractive to me are the long arms. Their pettiness seems to fade when putting its energy to seed. To try to extend the life of a single plant, I start by cutting off the arms at the bottom. After I’ve collected seed, I cut it at the base. The reason I cut it is twofold: The first is the root needs a good solid tug and the second is the stems are prickly. Not so bad as a rose, but bad enough when you’re trying the grip the base to pull from the ground. Even in gloves, it can be unpleasant.

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 OK to deadhead.

Deadleaf: I have a love/hate relationship with daylilies (Hemerocallis.) I love the flowers, both for beauty and edibility, but I don’t like the look of untidy foliage.

Some of my taller Rudbeckia spp. need the bottom leaves removed too.

Lawns: I’ve stopped carrying long ago about how my lawn looks. After I switched from fescue to emerald zoysia, I’ve not have as many problems. While I still get some weeds, I no longer have to worry about it struggling in the heat, getting a circle fungus, or watching it go dormant during the peak of summer. It’s not so much I don’t like the look of a grey lawn of drought-induced fescue , it’s watching the Bermuda wire grass thriving! Ugh!

If you are pledged with Poa annua, the annual blue grass, August is the time to put down an organic pre-emergence, like corn gluten, to keep these seeds from germinating next spring. If you have fescue and reseeding in the fall, there is a careful dance you need to perform. You must wait six weeks after putting down the pre-emergnece, or your fescue seeds won’t germinate! But if you put it down too early in August, you will miss the window of stopping the annual bluegrass spring germination.

Pruning: You can prune to shape plants if need be, but anytime past August or September is getting too late. New growth will emerge, and the new growth will be affected by the frost and cold weather.

Divide: August is a good time to divide iris. Don’t be afraid of this task; it’s super easy. When iris get crowded, they don’t bloom as well. Below is a good example of a crowded iris patch.


Using a garden fork or shovel, loosen the soil around the outside of the patch. Once loosened, take a hand fork or trowel to lightly left from the edge. They should release from soil with no struggle.

Gently pull clumps apart.

Discard rhizomes with no foliage, damaged, or soft.

Cut back the foliage into a fan shape to keep the iris from having to care for more growth than it needs to.

Replant at the surface of the ground. Lightly cover with soil, keeping the rhizome showing, and water in well.

I can’t think of a worse time to plant in the south than August; well, maybe July!!!

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 new. Are you familiar with the species tulip, Tulipa clusiana?

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

Believe it or not, August is time to think about your fall crops such as broccoli, radish,  spinach, kale, and others.

I only every want to speak from experience; these are the fruits I grow in the Bee Better Teaching Garden. I simply won’t grow them,;and if I did, I still wouldn’t spray. Joni Mitchell comes to mind.

The ‘Brown Turkey’ figs are in abundance

The birds got all the blueberries

The ‘Transcendent’ crabapples are progressing nicely

A few raspberries are still arriving

The muscadines are ripening up! Yum!

The Paw Paw are ready to harvest

In the absence of rain, fill bird baths. The monarchs are arriving and looking for your milkweed. I hope you have plenty! 

Butterflies would also like a mudding station.

And a shallow water station for both birds and bees to alight.

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 grouped together. But 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 you should  water new plantings until they are established. At the BBTG, we recommend:

Annuals: Best planted after the last frost. (For my area of Raleigh, it is April 15th.)  Most annuals will last through last frost.

Perennials: Best planted in the fall or spring. When first plant, water every other day after the first week, every third day the next, and weekly after that in the absence of rain. Give them an inch. If you must plant in August, double this!

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. If you must plant in August, double this!

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! If you must plant in August, double this!

Mulch: This time of the year, your mulch is working double duty! Mulch moderates soil temperature, which is helpful particularly in the summer or winter. Plus organic mulches retain moisture & slowly add nutrients as it breaks down in the soil.

Pine sawfly larvae

Pine sawfly larvae

Pest control:  Pests. See these on your pines? They’re the pine sawfly larvae. Pick them off and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. I feed them to my chickens.

 Organic: In my gardens at home and at the Bee Better Teaching Garden, we don’t use fertilizers.  We won’t win the largest pumpkin at the fair, but we will have plenty of pumpkin for pies. But I’ve been building my soil for the last 20 years. She can take care of herself.

Before you fertilize, have your soil tested. Adding to much fertilizer can be harmful to many plants.

Fertilizer dos and don’ts. As August arrives, some plants will benefit from an application of fertilizer. For other plants, it could do more harm than good.

Do fertilize, Summer veggies such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant continue to produce when fertilized regularly. Use a product that contains 5 percent nitrogen.
Fall vegetable crops
Fall-blooming perennial and annual flowers
Chrysanthemums and dahlias
Re-blooming iris would benefit from a light application
Warm season lawns (Bermuda and Zoysia) can be fertilized
Remember to water any application of fertilizer well into the soil to provide nutrients to the roots of the plants.

Don’t fertilize: 
Azaleas and camellias, because the fertilizer will disturb bud formation.
Summer-flowering shrubs shouldn’t need fertilizing for the same reason.

Weeds: Try to keep up; I know it’s hard.

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


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February Garden Sustainable Maintenance Practices for the Southeast

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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

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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.