Flowers

NC gardening: bad flowers, insect repellents, April planting

If you’ve been keeping up with our NC Garden Guide so far, you may have already gotten your soil tested, started your seeds indoors and began your compost pile — or at least dreamed up the veggies you’ll be harvesting in the next few months.

You might also have some questions about getting your garden going. And you may have sent those questions to The News & Observer!

We spoke with experts to answer some reader questions we’ve gotten over the last few weeks: Jeana Myers (NC State Extension’s Wake County Horticulture Agent, who holds a PhD in soil science), Lucy Bradley (director of the NC State Extension’s Master Gardener program, who holds a PhD in plant biology), Danesha Seth Carley (director of NC State Extension’s NSF Center for Integrated Pest Management, who holds a PhD in crop science and plant pathology) and Lourdes Vinueza (community and demonstration garden coordinator at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina).

Here’s what you asked, and here’s how they answered:

What’s ready for planting?

What are some plants that are perfect to put in your garden in April?

Vinueza answered:

“In spring, we can plant all plants of the Brassica family. Such as cabbage, kale, collard, mustard, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turnips and more.”

For more information on plants in the Brassica family, visit the “Vegetable Gardening” option of the NC State Extension Gardener Handbook: content.ces.ncsu.edu.

Here’s what NC State Extension’s Central NC Planting Calendar says can be planted in April.

(Note: Pay attention to planting instructions, which includes transplanting, starting from seeds indoors, growing in a pot and more. Additionally, some of these vegetables’ seasons are ending, and the last plant date is recommended for April 1.)

  • Artichokes (globe and Jerusalem)
  • Beans (lima/bush, lima/pole, snap/bush and snap/pole)
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Swiss chard
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Sweet corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Florence fennel
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi

  • Leek
  • Lettuce (head and leaf)
  • Melons (cantaloupe and watermelon)
  • Mustard
  • Parsley
  • Parsnip
  • Peas (bush, vining and field/southern)
  • Peppers
  • Pumpkin
  • Radishes
  • Rutabega
  • Spinach
  • Squash (summer and winter)
  • Sunflower
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips

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Swiss chard can be planted in your garden in April, according to NC State Extension’s Central NC Planting Calendar. Dr. Gary R. Bachman MSU Extension Service

How do you know you need a soil test?

Is annual soil testing recommended, or do plants indicate when pH levels are “just right”? If they do, how do you know that they’re OK and you don’t need a soil test that year?

Myers answered:

“We say that it is good to soil test, and then if the results say you need lime and fertilizer, apply the recommendations and then test again next year. If the results look good, then you only need to test every three years or so.”

For the full scoop on soil testing, why it’s important and how to do it best, read our article on soil testing at newsobserver.com/living.

Can I make a natural insect repellent for plants?

What’s an at-home recipe to ensure bugs and critters don’t want to eat your plants when they’re in the ground?

Seth Carley answered:

“There is no perfect ‘bug deterrent.’ It’s also possible that by using essential oils (citronella, eucalyptus, neem, etc) and other home-made sprays that you will also deter beneficial insects, but the same is true for chemicals that manage pests.

One ecologically friendly way to support wildlife and also reduce the insect (or bug) pests in your yard/garden is to put up bird boxes and add a birdbath with fresh water to your landscape. These will draw insect-eating birds that will consume lots of unwanted insects. Bluebirds, for example, eat grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, spiders (not an insect), and mosquitoes. About 68% of a bluebirds’ diet is made up of insects, so they are a welcome addition to any landscape.

An all-purpose leaf spray is easy to make at home. Just add 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap to a spray bottle of warm water. Add the soap after the bottle is filled to prevent bubbling over. Some people like to add an additional 3 teaspoons of cayenne pepper to this water, which helps to deter a broader spectrum of pests.”

Vinueza answered:

“Right now, I am using 10 garlic cloves with one tablespoon of red pepper and two tablespoons of soap. I add these ingredients to a gallon of boiled water and leave it overnight. The next day, I sift and use the mixture over the plants in the early morning or late afternoon.”

The “Vegetable Gardening” chapter of the NC State Extension Gardener Handbook also has information on battling unwanted garden insects and pests. Check out the “Organic Gardening” chapter too: content.ces.ncsu.edu.

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Melons, like watermelon and cantaloupe, can be planted in your garden in April, according to NC State Extension’s Central NC Planting Calendar. Travis Lon tlong@newsobserver.com

Are there bad pollinator plants?

Are there pollinator flowers you should avoid planting in your garden?

Myers answered:

Yes. In terms of pollinator-attracting plants that you may not want, it would include:

  • those that are too aggressive in their growth and spreading and so you have to manage them more than you want.
  • those that are invasive and actually dominate and overrun native plants.
  • those that are poisonous to pets or children.

She referred gardeners to Bee Health, an online extension resource with abundant information from bee experts. There is a detailed list of plants that have been reported to be poisonous to either bees or humans: bee-health.extension.org

“Yellow Jessamine is the one most likely to be in our gardens and potentially toxic,” Myers said.

And check out the Carolina Poison Center’s list of poisonous outdoor plants: ncchildcare.ncdhhs.gov

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Wisteria, though beautiful, are invasive to our area. Wisteria plants are some of many invasive pollinators to avoid planting to pollinate your garden, said NC State Extension’s Danesha Seth Carley. NANCY THOMASON

Bradley answered:

“Any invasive plant should not be included, no matter how attractive to pollinators. For example, purple loosestrife has a pretty purple blossom and may be attractive to pollinators, but there are many less problematic options.”

Seth Carley answered:

“Invasives, or exotic invasives, are plants (although they can be animals, insects, or microbes too) that are introduced to an area outside of its original range and cause harm to the environment, the economy or even human health (think, tiger mosquito and emerald ash borer).”

Here are common invasive pollinators she’s seen people plant in our region:

  • Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria)

  • Wisteria sinensis (Chinese Wisteria)

  • Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo)

  • Pyrus calleryana (Bradford Pear)

  • Periwinkle (Vinca spp.)

When searching for the native plants you do want to use, consult the list of top 25 native pollinator plants for North Carolina, written by NC State Extension’s Debbie Roos: growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu

Questions about backyard gardening?

Do you have questions about your backyard garden? Any stories you’d like to see about gardening topics? Tell us here! Or email kcataudella@newsobserver.com.

If you need help with anything related to your garden, you can use NC State Extension’s Garden Help Directory to help you contact the best person for your needs. For more information, visit emgv.ces.ncsu.edu/need-gardening-help. To find your local programvisit emgv.ces.ncsu.edu/find-your-local-program.

Kimberly Cataudella (she/her) is a service journalism reporter for The News & Observer.

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