Honey Bee

Pollinators are essential to our environment. Creatures such as bees, bats, butterflies and hummingbirds move pollen from plant to plant, thus enabling flowers, fruits and vegetables to produce seeds. In fact, this ecological service is necessary for the reproduction of 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world’s food crop species. According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, pollinators contributed to the production of nearly $30 billion of crops in 2010. Pollinators are also a keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. The foods produced as a result of pollination are major elements of the diets of a variety of birds and mammals.

However, the natural act of pollination has become severely threatened. Populations of pollinators are on the decline due to habitat loss, pesticide use and introduced diseases. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly 25 percent of the national honeybee population perished last winter. The United States Geological Survey has found that the bat population has decreased by as much as 90 percent since the occurrence of a devastating illness called White Nose Syndrome. And, butterfly populations have dropped sharply over the past 20 years as well. As the numbers of pollinators decrease, our viable and
affordable food supplies will decrease, too.

How can you assist valuable pollinators? Build a pollinator garden! With a few simple considerations, you can turn your landscape into a Mecca for bees, butterflies, bats and hummingbirds.

Native plants in shades of blue, violet, white, yellow and scarlet are attractive to pollinators. Choose plants with a wide range of bloom times so that pollinators will find a continuous source of food throughout the year. Also, use a range of floral shapes to accommodate the pollinators who visit your garden. Try bell-shaped (campanulate) or trumpet-shaped varieties such as foxglove, honeysuckle and petunia. Flowers with flat faces and narrow tubes, or salverform flowers, include phlox and primrose. Ligulates are flowers with long, thin petals that are typically arranged in rays and include daisy, cosmos and aster. Common plants for a pollinator garden include aster, bee balm, rudbeckia, liatris, butterfly weed, coneflower, Joe-Pye weed, phlox, coreopsis, gaura, veronica, penstemon and goldenrod. Herbs – especially thyme, oregano, sage, basil, peppermint, lavender, catnip and rosemary – will draw pollinators, and you can reap their culinary benefits as well.

Plant flowers in drifts, or groups according to species. Masses of three to five flowers will attract pollinators more effectively than individual flowers scattered throughout the garden.

Encourage nesting and roosting by incorporating canopy layers such as trees and shrubs in the garden. Patches of fallen branches and leaves create suitable nesting and roosting habitats, too. Build nests for solitary bees and boxes for bats.

Provide accessible water sources, and supplement the food sources in your garden with feeders. Butterflies will appreciate a puddle because the water contains the dissolved minerals that they need to supplement their diets. You can easily create a butterfly puddle by lining a small dish with sand, filling it with water and placing it in your garden. Hummingbirds will enjoy a feeder filled with simple sugar water. Dissolve one cup of white, granulated sugar in four cups of boiling water. When the sugar water is cool, add it to your feeder and place the feeder near your garden. Avoid red dyes. Artificial dyes can be harmful to hummingbirds.

Also, reduce the use of pesticides in your lawn and garden. While pesticides are effective at ridding your garden of crop destroying pests, they can also decimate the populations of pollinators and other beneficial creatures such as ladybugs, lacewings, frogs and lizards. Use sustainable, integrated pest management techniques instead of pesticides.


Pollinator Garden

Hummingbird Nectar

Bee House


Xerces Society for Insect Conservation

Pollinator Partnership

US Fish and Wildlife Service

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

USDA Forest Service Gardening for Pollinators

Building Nests for Native Bees

National Wildlife Federation : Build a Bat House

Criteria for a Successful Bat House


Cypress Mulch

Mulch provides many benefits for a garden. First, mulch retains moisture in the soil and reduces the need for irrigation. In fact, mulch can decrease water use by an average of 25 percent. Mulch also inhibits the growth of weeds, prevents soil erosion, regulates soil temperature and enhances the natural aesthetics of a garden.

While mulch is necessary for most landscapes, there are many varieties of mulch from which to choose, and the choice can be daunting – especially for the novice gardener. Consider certain aspects of mulch to choose the right addition for your lawn and garden.


There are two basic types of mulch: inorganic and organic. Inorganic mulch such as stone and brick will conserve water and shade the soil. Inorganic mulch is resilient in diverse climates, and it does not disintegrate. However, inorganic mulch will not improve the condition of the soil. Organic mulch such as bark, wood and pine straw will also conserve water and shade the soil. In addition, it will improve the condition of the soil by increasing the fertility of sandy soils, improving the drainage of clay soils and adding valuable nutrients. But, organic mulch will eventually disintegrate and must be replaced.


The ability of the pH of mulch to alter the pH of soil is a subject of debate. Clay soils are generally resistant to change, so the pH level of the mulch may have minimal or no impact on the pH level of the soil. However, the sandy, acidic soils that are prevalent in the Fort Bragg region are more vulnerable to the pH levels of mulch. Pine straw and pine bark are solid choices for gardens with plants that prefer acidic environments such as azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias and gardenias.


Mulch is available in a variety of colors. For instance, pine bark is naturally dark while cypress mulch is naturally pale. The color of mulch is not only an aesthetic consideration, though. The hue can also have an impact on the ambient temperature of a garden bed. On a summer day, dark mulch can reach a temperature of 140 to 150 degrees, so dark mulch should be used in beds only where plants are heat-tolerant. For plants that are sensitive to heat, pale mulch is preferable.


Aesthetically, the size of the particles of the mulch should be proportionate to the size of the plants in the garden bed. Dense mulches are best for garden beds that are located on slopes, in wet climates or in windy climates. Light mulches can wash away on slopes and tend to float during rain or wind events. Particle size and weight will affect the spread density, too. Shredded hardwood mulch with fine, compactable particles should be applied two to three inches deep. Coarse bark nuggets can be applied three to five inches deep, and loose straw can be applied up to six inches deep.


Fresh, viable mulch should have a clean aroma that is similar to the fragrance of cut wood or soil. Avoid any mulch that carries an odor of vinegar, ammonia or sulfur, which indicates that the mulch is sour. Sour mulch can damage or destroy plants.


Research the origins of mulch. Avoid mulch that contains treated, preserved, painted or stained wood – especially if you are mulching around edible plants. Such wood can contain harmful chemicals that could leach into the soil and into plants.


  • Research the mulching needs of your plants and mulch them according to their specific preferences.
  • Choose mulch that has been certified by The Mulch and Soil Council. The certification program provides retailers and consumers with information about quality standards and truth-in-labeling practices for commercially-produced soils and mulches.
  • Grass clippings and shredded leaves are common mulches but should be used with care due to the probable presence of weeds in the mulch. Grass clippings and shredded leaves also decay rapidly.
  • Excessive mulching can suffocate plants. The less porous and more compactable the mulch is, the thinner it should be spread. Apply mulch eight inches from the bases of plants.
  • Avoid the use of plastics in garden beds. While plastics can retain moisture and inhibit weeds, some plastics can contain harmful chemicals. Furthermore, plastics can cause excessive heating of the soil, which can be detrimental to plants.
  • Mulch only when seedlings and perennials are up and green. Hasty mulching can stall the growth of plants.
  • Do not work bark or wood mulch into the soil at the end of the growing season. Bark or wood mulch can compete for nutrients and cause a nitrogen deficiency in the soil.
  • Generally, one cubic yard of mulch will cover a 100 square foot area to a depth of up to three inches.


Mulch and Soil Council

Better Homes and Gardens Mulch Guide

How to Choose Mulch for Your Landscape from DIY Network

The Right Tree at the Right Place

Early spring is considered to be the ideal time to plant trees in the Sandhills of North Carolina. If you’ll be welcoming the new season by planting a tree, there are several factors to consider.

Arbor Day 2012-87
An Eastern redbud

A native tree is adapted to the climate in which it traditionally grows, so it requires less maintenance, and it is more resistant to disease and drought. In addition, a native tree prevents pollution and erosion, improves air quality and supports natural habitat. Species that are native to the Sandhills of North Carolina include American holly, Southern live oak, Southern magnolia, longleaf pine, Eastern redbud and dogwood.

Consider your planting space and the height of your tree when it reaches full maturity. Taller trees will require more planting space than shorter trees.

The canopy spread is the width of your tree when it reaches full maturity. Wide trees will require more planting space than narrow trees.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, a tree is generally classified into one of five distinct shapes, based on the height and width of its canopy: v-shaped, round, oval, columnar or pyramidal. A dogwood, for instance, is considered to be a round tree. A longleaf pine is considered to be an oval tree, and an American holly is considered to be a pyramidal tree. Consider your desired aesthetic and planting space when selecting a tree based on its shape.

The growth rate indicates the amount of time required for your tree to reach its full, mature height. Some species can reach their full heights in only a few years while other species reach their full heights in many decades.
Slow-growing trees tend to live longer than fast-growing trees and are less susceptible to disease.

Deciduous trees usually provide stunning seasonal arrays, but they lose their leaves in autumn and are bare in winter. Many species of elm, aspen, maple, birch and oak (with the exception of live oaks) are deciduous. Evergreens bear needles or leaves in all four seasons. Many evergreens are also coniferous and will produce cones that fall throughout the year. Southern live oak, American holly and many species of pine, cypress and fir are evergreen. When selecting a tree, consider its fruit-bearing or flower-bearing capabilities as well.

Some trees prefer sandy soil, while others prefer loamy soil. Some trees need shade, while others need full sun. Some trees grow best in acidic soil, while others grow best in alkaline soil. Some trees thrive in moist conditions, while other trees thrive in arid conditions. Choose a tree that is suited to the environmental conditions around your home for a successful planting experience.

The United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones are the standards by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a specific location. The Hardiness Zone Map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperatures throughout the States. The Zones are divided into
ten-degree temperature ranges and are indicated by letters and numbers. A higher number indicates a warmer climate. Some plants can thrive in a wide range of Hardiness Zones whereas other plants can be intolerant of extreme cold or extreme heat. In North Carolina, Hardiness Zones range from 5b (-15 to
-10 degrees Fahrenheit) in the western mountains to 8b (15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit) on the coast. Select a tree that is suited to your area’s Hardiness Zone range for optimal results. See the Hardiness Zone Map here.

Do you want to improve the natural aesthetics of your home? Then, you may consider a flowering tree, such as a dogwood or a redbud. Do you want to add a tree to your edible garden? Try a fruit-bearing tree, such as an apple or a fig. Do you want to use the trees to conserve energy? Deciduous trees planted on the east and west sides of your home can provide shade, while evergreens planted on the north and south sides of your home can provide wind breaks. Consider how your trees will enhance your property and fit into the existing landscape.

In addition, consider factors such as atmospheric conditions, community covenants and the locations of structures, utility lines, sidewalks and foundations when you choose and plant your tree.

A well-chosen, well-placed tree can provide years of enjoyment, support the environment and promote the
well-being of this and future generations.


Arbor Day Foundation Tree Guide
Arbor Day Foundation Tree Planting and Care
Tree Care Tips and Techniques
North Carolina Native Plant Society

Pollinators are the Bees’ Knees

Have you enjoyed a fresh cup of coffee today? Have you indulged in a bar of chocolate? Have you relished a crisp apple or a juicy blueberry? Thank a pollinator!


Pollinators such as bees, bats, birds and butterflies are vital to the natural reproduction processes of plants. They carry pollen from plant to plant, ensuring the development of full bodied fruits and full sets of viable seeds. Pollinators are known as a keystone species, or a species that performs a unique and crucial role in an ecosystem. Without its keystone species, an ecosystem would suffer significant adverse impacts or even cease to function.

Pollinators are, in part, responsible for the production of as many as 80 percent of our flowering plants and food crops. Worldwide, thousands of plants cultivated for food, fibers and medicines must be pollinated by animals to produce the goods on which we depend. Some of these products include apples, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds and even tequila. In the United States, pollination by honey bees and other insects produces $40 billion worth of products annually.

Unfortunately, a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences found that the populations of pollinators are rapidly declining due to a variety of factors: habitat loss, chemical use, invasive plants and animals, diseases, parasites and malnutrition. For example, a disease known as White Nose Syndrome is responsible for the deaths of almost six million bats in North America. A phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder – in which honey bees abruptly and inexplicably disappear from their colonies – has created considerable environmental and economic repercussions throughout the world, and it has led to the loss of 50 percent of all honey bee hives in the US in the last two years.

Without pollinators, our food supply would be seriously and perhaps irreparably threatened. However, individuals can engage in simple steps that will help to bolster the populations of pollinators.


– Plant a garden to attract pollinators. Provide a range of native flowering plants in a variety of colors and shapes. Pollinator attractors include aster, azalea, bee balm, goldenrod, milkweed, redbud, sunflower, basil, blazing star, cosmos, gaura, lavender, rudbeckia, purple coneflower, rosemary, Russian sage and veronica.

– Avoid the use of pesticides and other chemicals in your home and garden.

– Build houses for native solitary bees and bats.

– Lessen your environmental impacts by conserving energy and water, reducing emissions, reducing waste, recycling and improving air quality.

If pollinators thrive, then our crops will thrive. In turn, we will thrive.



The Xerces Society

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Pollinator Partnership

The Great Pollinator Project

Building a Bat House from the National Wildlife Federation

Building a Bee House from the National Wildlife Federation

The Butterfly Site

The Hummingbird Society

Bat Conservation International

North Carolina State Beekeepers Association

Container Gardening 101

Gardening can be simple and fun, but sometimes, certain circumstances can prevent us from tilling the land and planting the back forty – small spaces … land use restrictions … black thumbs.

Container gardening can help you cultivate success! The possibilities are limitless.

Container Garden



Almost any container can be a garden as long as it has two characteristics.
1. The container can hold soil.
2. Water can drain from the container.

Adequate drains are vital. Excess water should flow from the bottom of the container, so several drain holes are ideal. If you want to use a container with no holes (a wooden box, a tin can, a glass jar) then you can simply drill holes. Or, if you cannot drill holes, line the bottom of the container with small stones to encourage draining but prevent flooding of the plant’s roots. If you want to use a porous container such as a basket as a container garden, line the container with nursery cloth or loosely woven burlap to trap soil but maintain drain capability.

Avoid containers with attached saucers that can trap water and drown roots.

Containers should provide adequate space for your plant’s root growth. Generally, vegetables prefer more spacious containers.

Avoid dark metal containers, dark plastic containers or dark ceramic containers – especially for plants that require full sun. These containers can retain heat and damage plant roots.



Always use container soil – not garden soil – in container gardens . Since you will be growing your plants in a confined space, you will need flocculent soil to encourage air circulation, root growth and water flow. Garden soil is often too dense for containers, and garden soil may contain pests, weeds and contaminants.

You can create your own container soil by combining 1) one part of rich compost, 2) one part of either vermiculite, Perlite or builder’s sand and 3) one part of container soil. You can also customize this soil to meet the specific needs of your environment or plants. To stabilize containers in windy environments, you can use sand instead of Perlite for added weight. To increase the moisture retention of water intensive crops such as tomatoes, you can use vermiculite instead of sand.



Almost any plant can be cultivated in a container.

Purchase healthy plants to ensure success. When selecting plants, examine their leaves and their root structures. Leaves should be green and moist – not yellow, wilted or dry. Roots should be white and translucent. Be wary of any indications of diseases or pests.

Consider the placement of your containers and your environment when selecting plants. If you plan to place your containers in full sun, choose plants that prefer full sun (6 to 8 hours of direct sun each day). If you plan to place your containers in shade, choose plants that prefer shade. 

Plants that are placed in the same container should have similar requirements for sun exposure, irrigation and fertilization. For example, do not plant impatiens with petunias. Impatiens prefer shade while petunias prefer heat.

Plant a variety of plants with similar care requirements in the same container garden for visual interest. Choose a thriller, a filler and a spiller – one spire plant that will be the focal point of the arrangement, one mounding plant that will fill the container and one vining plant that will fall over the edges of the container. You can also group plants according to color or texture. Or, create a themed garden such as a Spaghetti Sauce Garden with tomatoes, onions, peppers and herbs.



When transferring a plant from its original container to its permanent container, remove the plant from its original container carefully to prevent root shock. Massage the soil ball to loosen the roots so they can expand into their new environment.



In the height of summer, you may have to water your container garden at least once each day. Generally, if the soil is dry within one inch of the surface of the container, irrigate your plants. Wilted or desiccated leaves indicate a need for water as well.

Irrigate thoroughly. Plants retain a soaking more efficiently than a misting. Apply water directly to the soil, not to the leaves of the plants.

Irrigate your plants according to their water requirements, but do not overwater. If a plant’s roots are flooded, they can rot. Rotted roots can eventually lead to plant death.



Plants thrive with six key nutrients: oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Perform a soil test to determine if your soil is deficient in certain nutrients. If so, add those nutrients by applying a fertilizer.

Fertilize according to your plant’s individual needs. Fertilize plants that require minimal nutrients (potato, radish, spinach) once, early in the growing season. Fertilize plants that require normal fertilization (green bean, lettuce, pepper, apple, strawberry, tomato) monthly. Fertilize plants that require intensive fertilization (cucumber, eggplant, squash, blueberry, citrus) semi-monthly.



Use stakes, cages or trellises to control vining plants such as sweet pea, clematis, honeysuckle or tomato.

Prune your plants when they appear ragged, when blossoms fade and when areas indicate the presence of diseases or pests. Pruning prevents disease and encourages regeneration. A tidy container is a healthy container.

At the end of the growing season, compost your container soil and clean the containers thoroughly. Always store containers when they are dry.



Successful Container Gardens

Container Gardening Ideas

Container Gardening 101

Life on the Balcony: Container Garden Ideas and Inspiration

Growing Vegetables in Containers

Growing Fruit Trees in Containers

66 Things You Can Grow At Home In a Container, Without a Garden

Top Ten Container Gardening Mistakes

Creative Container Gardens

Upcycled Container Gardens

Unusual Container Gardens

Raised Bed Pallet Gardens

Vertical Pallet Gardens

Building a Terrarium

Concrete Block Gardens

Tire Gardens

Self-Watering Planters: DIY EarthBox

Build Your Own Hypertufa Pots