Last Days of Summer

Sumer will soon draw to a close and now is a good time to begin planting your fall garden.  Learn how to add wildflowers and figs to your landscape.  We’ll also take you on a tour of a couple of places to visit as the weather cools down —the Japanese Tea House at Duke Gardens and the Mason Farm Biological Reserve.  And finally, find out what to do with all those leaves that will soon be falling.




  • 2015 North Carolina Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Association conference - September 21-22, Cary, NC
  • Welcome WPVM 103.7 FM listeners in Asheville, NC on Saturday mornings at 10:00 AM
  •  Duke Gardens - Japanese Tea House
  • Wildflowers to Feed a Bee
  • NC Botanical Garden - Mason Farm Biological Reserve
  • What to do with all those figs?
  • Gardening Chores for September

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JOHNSON:  You’re listening to Getting Dirty with Master Gardeners.  This program is created by NC State Extension Master Gardeners Volunteers.  I’m your host, Harold Johnson, and I’m a Master Gardener in Durham County.

I’d like to welcome the listeners of WPVM 103.7 FM in Asheville.  You can now hear our show on Saturdays at 10:00 AM.  You can check out their other programs from their website

Watch out Cary!   This year’s Master Gardener conference will be held on September 21 and 22 at the Embassy Suites in Cary.  In addition to experts from around our region speaking, there will be a vendor hall, used garden book sale, and post conference tours.   I, and other members of the Getting Dirty team, will be there too.  You don’t have to be a Master Gardener to attend,  the conference is opened to everyone.  To find out more information visit our website,

Charles Murphy concludes his tour of Duke Garden’s Asiatic Arboretum by visiting the Japanese Tea House with its curator Paul Jones.  Duke Gardens offers programs at the Tea House throughout the year and Charles tells us what it has in common with the tobacco barn at the Brody Discovery Garden.


JOHNSON: You might want to consider adding wildflowers to your garden this year.  Lise Jenkins learns how to create a wildflower bed and meets some people who are using wildflowers to help garden VIPs —that’s Very Important Pollinators.

JENKINS: It’s about time to start fall planting and you might want to consider adding wildflowers to your landscape.  We have a lot of native wildflowers in our region.  They tend to be tough plants that can succeed in all sorts of different conditions.  They’re beautiful and can add year-round interest in your garden.  But they also provide food and shelter to some your garden’s VIPs.

LANGER: Forage and habitat is one of the top challenges that bees are facing in the US.  We’re losing that habitat whether it be through urbanization — a lot of introduction of concrete, be it new subdivisions or coffee shops or hotels.  Or whether it is implementation of more row crops in the Midwest to feed the growing population.  This is not to say that shelter and food are not important for us, but the bees also need food to survive and thrive.

JENKINS: That’s Becky Langer.  She works for the Bayer Corporation and heads a project that’s trying to help honey bees. Becky’s on a mission to feed bees by encouraging people to plant wildflowers.  Bayer’s giving away packets of wildflower seeds as part of their Feed a Bee campaign.   In Durham, our Master Gardeners are helping Bayer get wildflower seed packets out in our community. I asked Michelle Wallace, our Cooperative Extension Horticultural Agent in Durham county to explain.

WALLACE:  Well the Bayer corporation has provided us with these seed packets to distribute to the community at our events.  The Extension Master Gardeners Volunteers in Durham county have received about 7,500 packets of seeds to distribute to individuals in the community.  We can also give the seed packets to HOAs that want to give them out to their neighbors.  The idea is these individual homeowners will plant the seeds from these packets in sunny areas, as most of these seeds are for sun-loving plants.  And they’ll grow and provide lots of beautiful flowers for the homeowners and a nutritious source of nectar and pollen for the bees.

JENKINS: Fall is a good time to plant in our area so I asked Michelle the best way to establish a wildflower bed.

WALLACE: To be successful it’s a really, really good idea to make sure that spot you are choosing is going to get full sun.  You also want to make sure you don’t have weeds.  Because one the problems people run into when they just broadcast seed, is when things start to come up they don’t know if it’s what they planted or what nature planted.  So I recommend people start with what’s called a stale seed bed.  Where they go and incorporate some compost and amend the soil the way they want.  But when you do that you want to make sure any weed plants, weed seeds that are existing in the soil, are killed off or removed.  You would do that by encouraging the weeds to grow first and then using a chemical spray to kill the weeds first before you spread your wildflower seeds.  That way when you broadcast the seeds you know that those are the flowers that you planted and not something that is distributed by the wind.  

You’ll also want to make sure that you plant them on top of the soil.  These are wildflower seeds and if you cover them with mulch there’s a good chance they won’t come up.  These seeds are bred over time to be really right on top of the soil surface.  You can roll over them or pat them down when you plant them so they have good contact with the soil surface, but a lot of the seeds won’t come up if they’re under too much soil.  So you can literally plant them right on top of the soil surface.

JENKINS:  Last year our Master Gardener group toured the Bayer Bee Care Center.  They’ve got a wildflower garden and it’s right by my house, so I went back to take another look.  I talked with one of their scientists who was also a Master Gardener.  She explained some of the decisions they made about their two-acre garden.

DARNELL:  I’m Stephanie Darnell, and I’m a scientist here at Bayer Crop Science within the Pollinator Safety group.   So what we were looking for was definitely what would provide beneficial value to pollinators.  And we want to make sure we are providing seasonality for our flowers, too.  So we want something that’s going to bloom maybe consistently through the season, or at different times during the season.  So you have a bloom that’s in the spring, summer, and fall.  And the summer time is really crucial because that is probably the most important time of the year to have a food source for honeybees.  Because often you’ll see the numbers drop in the summer based on starvation.  They can’t find enough diverse food to forage on.

JENKINS: While I know about the importance of bees in pollinating plants, I didn’t realize that bees are responsible for pollinating about one of every three bites of food I eat.  Their presence also helps increase crop yield.  Stephanie told me about another project Bayer is involved in that brings together bees, agriculture, and overlooked land. So I hit the highway to find out more.

LEE: I’m Don Lee, State Roadside Environmental Engineer with the NC Department of Transportation.

JENKINS: I’d never really thought about the land along the roadside.  It just blurs by.  Don’s group manages that land and they’ve started something that benefits all of us. 

LEE: We do have a lot of land.  We are the second largest state-maintained highway system in the nation.  We mow and manage the turf grass close to the pavement close to about 300,000 acres a year.  But that’s just the area we routinely mow and look after.  As you know there’s a lot more land there and available for wildflowers and other plants that could be used for pollinator initiatives in the future.  

JENKINS:  North Carolina’s DOT is working to expand its popular roadside wildflower program to include plants that provide forage for pollinators.  They are doing research with the Dept of Agriculture to identify plants which support bees and can survive in the harsh roadside conditions.

LEE: I guess in a way the wildflower program has been a pollinator program for 25-30 years here in NC.  But in partnering and discussing this with the Dept of Agriculture we think its time to expand the program into offering a pollinator program to run in tandem with the NC wildflower program to support our #1 industry in NC which is agriculture.  

JENKINS:  The state’s roadside wildflower program is funded by personalized license plates.  The additional cost of researching, designing, and introducing pollinator forage will be borne by private funding.  The Bayer Corporation is the first sponsor of this program and Don wants to expand this initiative statewide as more sponsors come on board.  As I drove home I passed a patch of sunflowers and smiled.  They brighten my drive, help feed a bee who in turn help farmers feed me.  Seems like a great use for a patch of land that would otherwise just be grass. We’ve put links on our website so you can learn more about Bayer’s Feed a Bee project, the DOT’s wildflower program, and where you can get wildflower seed packets.  Bees are happy to find food in roadside strips and backyard gardens.  Together we can all help feed a bee. I’m Lise Jenkins and I’m an NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer and I’m in Durham county.

JOHNSON: Introduce Mason Biological Reserve piece. Not included in transcript.

JOHNSON: Our Timely Gardener, Amy Hill, is thinking about figs.  Listen in as she shares some figgy ideas for your future.

HILL: You may not know it yet, but figs are the fruit you’ve been waiting to grow. Figs, or Ficus carica, make a great choice for home gardeners eager grow their own fruit sustainably. They require neither meticulous pruning nor regular spraying, and they perform well in our hot and humid summers. In short, if you’ve never grown fruit, figs are the ideal training plant.

Figs are native to the lean soils of the Mediterranean. They need abundant sunshine and good drainage to perform at their best. In the clay soils of the Triangle area, figs can generally obtain the nutrients they need without additional fertilizers; that’s another trait in their favor if you aspire to garden sustainably. Feeding them yearly with compost will support good drainage and improve the plant’s ability to extract nutrition from the soil. And that’s enough. In fact, growing figs in highly fertile soil may result in lots of leafy vegetative growth but little fruit.

As with all fruits and vegetables, figs need regular water as they set fruit. Long periods of hot, dry weather, like we had this past June, can stunt the fruits’ growth or produce smaller yields. But don’t get heavy-handed: Excessive moisture may cause fruit to drop prematurely.

Unlike many fruits, figs aren’t bothered by pests or diseases except root-knot nematode. Root-knot nematodes are microscopic roundworms that cause progressive damage to the roots of plants. If you’ve had problems with these pests before, on plants such as boxwoods or some hollies, avoid planting figs in that location, or grow them in large containers, where they’ll perform very well.

Figs can produce two crops of fruit per year: a small one in early- to mid-summer on the previous year’s wood, and a larger crop in autumn on the current year’s growth. You’ll know the fruit is ready to harvest when the fruit changes color (typically, from green to brown or violet) and hangs down instead of points up. You may see a small bead of nectar on the fruit when it ripens.

Figs can grow to be quite large—up to 15 feet or more—but are easily controlled by pruning. If you don’t care how large they grow, you need only prune to remove dead, injured, or diseased wood or to improve air circulation.

Fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs in our area. Purchase 3-year-old plants, because very young plants tend not to fruit well, and make sure the selection is one recommended for the Southeast.

Some fig varieties, particularly those grown in the West, require wasp pollination. Varieties that perform well in the Southeast don’t require cross-pollination, so if you purchase your plants from a reputable local nursery or grow them from cuttings from a neighbor’s plant, you can be assured you’ll find suitable varieties. ‘Celeste’ and ‘Brown Turkey,’ are two widely available varieties that grow well in central North Carolina and their fruits are good eaten fresh or made into preserves. ‘Alma’ may be slightly harder to find, but it produces small, greenish-yellow fruits prized for both fresh eating and preserves. ‘Magnolia’ produces medium-sized fruits highly recommended for preserves. If you find a variety in catalogues called ‘California Brown Turkey,’ skip it: It’s not the same as the ‘Brown Turkey’ that grows well in the Southeast.

Once you’ve brought your plants home, dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and to the same depth, or up to 2 inches deeper, as the container in which the plant is grown. Remove as much of the potting mixture as you can, and trim away any dead roots. Place the plant in the hole and spread the roots out carefully. Mix the excavated soil with compost and backfill around the plant, then top-dress with additional compost for good measure. Water well. A 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch, such as compost, shredded bark, or chopped leaves, will keep figs’ shallow root systems cool and moist and cut down on weed competition. Don’t pile on the mulch any deeper, as it can smother the plant, but you’ll need to top off the mulch throughout the year because organic matter breaks down quickly in our climate.

Figs will not store fresh for more than a few days, so unless you plan to can them (they make excellent jams and preserves), enjoy them promptly. We’ll link to some recipes on our website,, so you can discover ways to enjoy your new favorite fruit.

This is Amy Hill, Durham County Master Gardener Extension Volunteer, helping you with your sustainable garden.

JOHNSON: Here’s out Enthusiastic Gardener, Charles Murphy, with a timely tip.










JOHNSON:  You’ve been listing to Getting Dirty with NC State Extension Master Gardeners. You may find this and past episodes on our website:    Do you need more friends? Our show is now on Facebook.   You can find us on Facebook by searching for Getting Dirty with Master Gardeners Radio Show  You can also find regular updates from us on our Twitter feed.  Find us on Twitter at @MGVRadioShow Until next time, why not go out and get dirty in your garden?