Downeast Gardener - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Downeast Gardener

Attention! Bruce is out on volunteer assignment until July 15. Feel free to submit your questions and comments, but keep in mind he will not be responding to them until his return, and it may take him a bit as there will be plenty for him to catch up on!

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The Downeast Gardener, Saturday mornings at 7:30am, on WECT or every Wednesday on Carolina in the Morning.

Bugs, Shade, and Water


Dear DownEast Gardener;

1.  How should one prune back grasses?  I have observed that most are not burned back, but some are.  I have Schizachyrium scoparium, Miscanthus gracillimus, Elymus magellanicus, Pennisetum alopecuroides, Miscanthus inensis, Muhlenbergia capillaris and M. lindheimeri, Stipa tenuissima, and Panicum virgatum Shenandoah.  In addition to the pruning back question, what type of soil do these like?

2.  I have had an aphid problem on my crape myrtles.  I have used horticultural oil in the winter, but the aphids still return during the summer and the trunk and branches of the tree take on a black color.  Should I spray with an insecticide (killing everything, including aphid predators), or just let them go with the hope that the predators will do the job?

3.  I want to encourage my wax myrtles to grow.  They receive water on alternating days and I fertilize with a slow release fertilizer plus Ironite twice a year.  What else is suggested?

Finally, I am attaching a photo of a caterpillar-like creature that has appeared on my front drive twice during the recent warm weather.  Can you tell me what it is and if it is a problem. L.M.



1. Prune ornamental grasses back in February or early March. Leave 3-4 inches of stem above mulch. Most ornamental grasses will tolerate a wide variety of soil types but prefer well-drained, soils containing organic matter.


2. Spray crepe myrtles with dormant oil in the next several weeks while plants are dormant. If plants are budding out, consider application of a liquid insecticide labeled for ornamental insect control. Aphids are easily killed. However, when you apply insecticides you also kill predator insects that fed on aphids. Insecticide application will work for several weeks when aphids will outbreak again. Re-application of insecticides will be required; this reapplication of pesticides is often referred to as the pesticide treadmill. You may also consider using insecticidal soaps during the growing season; many of these products are not as lethal to beneficial predator insects.


3. Sounds like you are doing everything to encourage growth.


4. The insect larva you sent me a picture of is a grub--either a chafer or June beetle grub.


Dear DownEast Gardener;

HELP! I cannot keep the squirrels from eating the young vegetation in my vegetable garden. I have tried blood meal, whirligigs, and a number of other ideas recommended to me. We do have a cat and a dog and don't want to put anything dangerous in the yard. I would really appreciate any help you can offer. J.H.


Answer: Leave the cat and dog in the yard and stop feeding them. Just kidding! Squirrels are a severe problem. First, find out if you have any local ordinances concerning animal control. If so, call animal control and request their input and assistance. In many locales, animal control will provide traps and assistance. From personal experience, trapping is not very effective unless you are willing to trap for the long haul. I just talked to a gardener that has trapped over 20 squirrels out of his garden this season and they keep coming. If you live in a rural area, check with the local game warden and request a depredation permit. If granted such a permit, then you can shoot the critters. I have a family member that purchased a 22 caliber rifle with a smooth bore designed for “rat” shot cartridges. The little gun is ideal for garden pests since the shot does not carry very far and the report is relatively quiet. Squirrel meat is a great compliment alongside most garden vegetables.


Dear DownEast Gardener;

I am wondering about my confederate jasmine.  It is totally dead from the cold, maybe.  But, it wasn't that cold.  The last time this happened it was less than 10 degrees for several nights straight.  Could there be some other reason?  Should we cut it down or just see what happens?  V.S.


Answer: It is likely your Confederate Jasmine is just a little winter damaged. Prune back dead vines until you see green stem. Fertilize with a slow release fertilizer...It may take all summer to return to its former glory but it eventually will...I know areas aroundWilmington with 75 year old vines of Confederate Jasmine.


Dear DownEast Gardener;

Our emerald zoysia lawn is about 10 years old and is showing signs of wear and, perhaps, disease.  For example, we have whole patches of eroded lawn under a live oak that is located in the center of our back yard.  The eroded spots form a circular pattern under the canopy of the branches. I've heard that this type of grass dies "naturally" at this approximate age.  What do you think is going on with the lawn and what can we do about it? A.T.


Answer: Under good conditions, Emerald zoysia can grow forever. I know areas near railroad right-of-ways that have beautiful stands of Emerald zoysiagrass. However, residential home landscapes are dynamic. Trees grow. Shrubs grow. Life expands to fill all spaces. Your live oak has grown and provides much shade. No lawn grass is resistant to heavy shade although zoysiagrass can tolerant partial shade. Consider one of the following options: 1. Prune trees to allow more light. 2. Use mulch under the tree to replace the zoysiagrass. 3. Renovate your landscape to accommodate the shade by using shade loving plants (e.g. Aucuba, Mahonia, hostas, cast iron plant, etc…). Good luck.


Dear DownEast Gardener;

I want to move a dogwood tree in my yard to another spot.  What is the appropriate time of year to do this? T.W.


Answer: October through December is the best time of the year to move plants. Wild dogwoods are difficult but not impossible to move.


Dear DownEast Gardener;

When should I turn on the sprinklers? I live in Southport and have Bermuda grass and a variety of plantings. When is the best time to prune camellia and gardenia bushes?  And can the cuttings be rooted easily? 


Answer: I recommend you get your sprinkler ready after March 15. Use sprinkler when soil at 2 inches is dry to the touch or your turfgrass or ornamental plantings show signs of wilt. Most folks irrigate too often in the spring and induce an array of diseases related to excessive irrigation. Prune camellias now (March to May). Prune gardenias immediately following bloom (June and July). Cutting of gardenia and camellia can be easily rooted in June or July.

For the curriculum program and or gardening questions, write Dr. Bruce Williams, Brunswick Community College , PO Box 30 , Supply , NC 29462 or email  

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