© 2023 254 North Front Street, Suite 300, Wilmington, NC 28401 | 910.343.1640
News Classical 91.3 Wilmington 92.7 Wilmington 96.7 Southport
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

CoastLine: Fall Planting in the Cape Fear

Kljania / Wikimedia Commons
Redbud trees in Bentley Historical Library Courtyard

Spring planting is embedded in our DNA – when the days get longer, the weather warmer, and we know it’s time to take stock of the greening of our piece of the garden.  When it comes to fall, some people are vaguely aware of pumpkins and gourds and, perhaps, cabbage, but there's a great deal more to take advantage of with the cooler, rainier weather.


Barbara Sullivan, Author, Garden Perennials for the Coastal South

Tom Ericson, co-owner, The Transplanted Garden, 502 S. 16th Street, Wilmington



Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Let’s begin with why the fall season is such a good time for planting.

Tom Ericson: What really makes it great is that the weather is cooler, it’s easier to get outside, and it has started to cool down slightly. We’re hoping for more, but at least we’re on the right track now. We get more regular rains. The weather is cooler. The ground is still plenty warm. You get lots of good root growth. It’s generally not the cold that’s going to be a problem for the plants. I mean, they’re used to the cold that we get here, if you’re buying plants that are workable for this area. If you buy plants that want to be in a colder climate, no, they won’t. But it’s getting them established before the heat of next spring and summer kicks in and then having to water them so relentlessly to try to keep them alive. Fall is a much better time to get your larger trees and shrubs established in the garden before the heat comes along.

RLH: Barbara Sullivan, what are some of the opportunities that people don’t seem to know about for fall planting, in addition to bushes and trees?

Barbara Sullivan: Pretty much any of the perennials you want to plant will do beautifully if they’re planted in the fall. I agree with everything that Tom said. It’s my favorite time of year to plant. Sometimes I think it’s my favorite time of year in the garden, I can never decide. I think, in a way, if you think of it, it’s sort of reversed. People who have possibly gardened in the north or other colder places, there you’re worried about the cold and making it through the winter, and here, we’re worried more about making it through the summer. If you plant in the fall, you give them a head start and a better chance to make it. There’s all sorts of beautiful perennials and shrubs that bloom in the fall. I would say among some of the standouts are the the sasanquas, which are a kind of camellia. They’re related to the camellias that bloom later in the winter and in the spring. You have beauty berry, which is a beautiful native shrub with gorgeous sort of psychedelic purple berries. You have swamp sunflower, that’s tall with yellow daisy flowers, and quite a few tall native plants that bloom only in the fall: Joe-Pye weed, hardy ageratum, which is a celestial blue, goldenrod, asters, and there’s a wonderful vine called climbing aster that’s a native that has tiny little blue, daisy-like flowers with yellow centers.

Carolyn (email): What is the best way to eradicate squash bugs? My beautiful buttercup squash was slowly killed by these pests. My cantaloupe is still alive but hasn't bloomed.

Tom Ericson: Those are tough. A lot of times they’ll recommend Sevin for those, which is very effective, but it’s also very bad for the bees. And if your plants are in flower and you spray the Sevin on there, you’re going to have problems killing the bees and then you’re not going to get your fruit. You may be able to go out there and hand pick. I mean, that’s one way to do it. Using a permethrin, that sometimes will work. Just a spray can where you can shoot at the individual plants and aim away from the flower buds because that does have some residual effect. But they are a tough one. Maybe doing some fine mesh netting when they’re most prevalent, but that is really a tough one. Safer soap if you can catch them with that, you know, and hit them with that to try to get them to suffocate that way or hort oil.

Julia (email): Every year in the late summer my rosemary is infested with small insects along the stems, which can defoliate parts of the plant. I spray with Safer’s Insecticidal Soap, but that doesn’t kill them. I don’t overwater or use any fertilizer on this plant. What can I do?

Tom Ericson: It’s a small moth that flies around at night. What they do is they lay their eggs and then caterpillars hatch out, and they make little cocoons, which is what you’re seeing. It’s like a web worn. It becomes a big problem, especially once they get established. They become very numerous, and they can kill the plant. What I started doing this season, in addition to cutting out the worst affected areas, is using bacillus thuringiensis, BT. It also goes by Thrucide. That’s working quite well. I did it in early June when it started. It seems to be effective for about a month as long as there is not a lot of rain. If we start to get a lot of rain, you may want to do it every two or three weeks. But that has worked quite well. I just did it again recently. It attacks not only the rosemary, but it goes after safe, thyme, lavender, any of those woody kinds of herbs.

Shannon (email): What’s the best time to plant hydrangeas?

Barbara Sullivan: This would be a great time to plant hydrangeas. To forestall a question that we think is going to come in, we get asked a lot about the best time to prune hydrangeas. I would say, in general, there’s an urge in the fall to clean things up and to maybe go a little crazy with the pruning shears. In general, that’s something that people should take it easy with this time of year. Basically, there’s two types of hydrangeas: those that bloom on new wood and those that bloom on old wood. So you need to know what kind of hydrangea you have before you prune them. But this would not be a good time to prune either type. That’s one easy way to answer it. Those that bloom on new wood, like Endless Summer and Annabelle, can be pruned in the spring, but the rest of them, you have to wait until they finish blooming, which is in the summer.

Tom Ericson: The paniculata types, the big cone-shaped ones like the Limelights and there’s some other Vanilla Strawberry and some other types like that—they can be pruned in the spring. They will set flower buds on the new growth. They can also, as the first set of flowers are fading, can be pruned fairly hard again to get a second set of blooms in September and October. Your mophead types, you’re going to want to wait and just do whatever pruning you want to do on those after they’re finished flowering. Once the plants are well established—say, in four, five, or six years—you can go in in the winter and take a third of the oldest, fattest stems to get some more air circulation into the plant. But basically, if you start cutting back your mophead hydrangeas in half or take them down by a third or take them to the ground, you’re taking away all the blooms. You’ll start to see, in the late fall and mid-winter, big fat buds at the tips of the plants, and those are the flower buds for next May. So if you cut your plants back because they look twiggy in the winter, you’re also going to see less blooms in the spring.

Carolyn (email): What can I plant or encourage for my yard that is native and does not require daily watering? I live in a neighborhood that was sand dunes fifty years ago.

Barbara Sullivan: Whatever you’re going to plant, whether it’s native or not, you really need to amend the soil. The soil here generally tends to be sandy. There are pockets where there’s clay soil like in Castle Hayne, but that also needs to be amended. By amending, I mean adding a combination of compost, manure, any kind of enriching material that will change the structure of the soil and help it to retain water and get the nutrients to flow.

As far as what natives you can plant, you might go online and look for a list of natives. I’ve got dozens here, which you probably don’t want me to sit and read. But let me just say that there are a number of reasons to go ahead with native plants, but basically, they are climatized to our conditions. So they are able to withstand longer periods of drought. They have less need to be fertilized and pampered. So you have a much better chance of having them be trouble free. That said, they are eaten by insects, which is actually one of the reasons that we do want to plant natives: So that insects have food.

George (caller): I have a question about lantana. I’d like to move a rather mature lantana from one area of the garden to another. Normally, I cut them back severely in the winter time when they’ve lost all their leaves and turn brown. Should I do that at that time to move them, or can I move them earlier, when they’re still green?

Tom Ericson: You could probably go ahead and do some moving of it right now, but most likely the best time to move it would be early in the spring when the plants are just starting to emerge. If you do it too late in the season, what will happen is the root system is completely inactive. It’s not going to send out new roots at that point. They go dormant pretty hard, so I would say the best time to do that is early spring, just as some of your new shoots are starting to come up.

George (caller): It would seem that if I cut them back and moved them while they’re still green, wouldn’t the root system have a chance to start growing in the fall?

Tom Ericson: To some degree, if you’re going to do it right now, but I wouldn’t wait until later in the season. Those and crepe myrtles are two plants that don’t like to be dug and moved when they’re dormant. The roots are just not active enough to reestablish the plant, and what’s most likely going to happen is you’ll lose it.

George (caller): So move them in early spring?

Tom Ericson: Early spring, as the new leaves are starting to pop up and you’ve got two or three inches of growth, that would be a perfect time.

George (caller): And that first season, they probably won’t do very well until they get established, I’d imagine.

Tom Ericson: No, I think they’d do just fine. Just give them a good dose of fertilizer throughout the season on a regular basis. Water them. Like Barbara was saying, amend the soil when you move it to your new location.

Barbara Sullivan: I’m a big believer in something called root stimulator. I buy it by the gallon. You dilute it in water. I use that with anything that I’m trying to get started. It just encourages the roots, which is really what you want, rather than—I mean, you want to encourage everything, but if a plant gets a strong root system, they’re off to a great start and after that, they can go on with the leaves and the flower and the fruiting.

George (caller): Would you say it’s better off just not moving it at all and go buy new lantana?

Tom Ericson: That’s going to be the easier thing because a large, established lantana is going to have a big root system, but if you move it in the spring, you won’t have to get quite as much of that root system at that point.

RLH: That root stimulator, is there any reason you wouldn’t use it on all of your plants?

Barbara Sullivan: Once it’s established, you really don’t need to use it. But I love to use it for transplants of shrubs and perennials and even annuals, especially if you know there’s going to be a stress on them from heat and they’re going to be struggling. You have to be very careful: I’ve also killed things with root stimulator. You have to be careful with any fertilizer you use not to overdo it.

George (caller): I have a small townhome with an enclosed patio garden. I put in this summer, going for a tropical feel, so bananas and elephant ears and things with that theme. It occurs to me that I will probably have a tremendous amount of dieback in the winter since very few of those things are going to last. I was wondering, what evergreen plants could I intersperse that would still maintain that tropical feel but give me some continuity during the winter?

Tom Ericson: So you’re dealing with a full-sun situation?

George (caller): For the most part, yes.

Tom Ericson: Gardenias will give you a nice lush look if you can give them an afternoon break of sun. Some of the fall blooming camellias that Barbara mentioned earlier, the sasanqua. They’re nice, good lush evergreen, and then they’re going to bloom from October into early January, depending on the variety. They can tolerate the full sun. Like Barbara said, I love the fall season because it’s nice and long; you get to enjoy that. If you want something just green, ligustrum is a good plant. Fatsia, again, for shade. That’s going to give you that tropical look if you’ve got some shaded walls, especially in the winter time. You can use fatshedera, which is a cross between ivy and fatsia, so it’s a sprawling vine with a larger leaf than ivy but not as big as fatsia. It’s a very nice plant, and it comes in green and variegated forms. Again, that will want some shade during the winter. It will probably do well between the shade of the bananas for the summer.

George (email): Can you make a suggestion of a shrub to replace a dying gardenia?

Tom Ericson: Again, sasanqua would be a great one. The gardenias, a lot of time, have issues with pH and drainage. If the pH gets too high, too limey, they get chlorotic or turn bright yellow. They’ll start dropping leaves if they get too wet, turn yellow and black. Sasanqua, as long as you’ve got good drainage, you can get some nice shorter, horizontal varieties that would be a good substitute. It would be a totally different blooming season, but there’s a number of things that can be worked in; that’s just a perfect one because we’re about to come into that season right now.

RLH: We promised earlier that we would unpack this discussion around native and nonnative plants. There is a rather well-known author who is coming to town to talk about this. Barbara Sullivan, you read his book. Can you tell us about the author? What are some of the things you learned from his book about the importance of native plants?

Barbara Sullivan: Right, his name is Dr. Doug Tallamy. He is coming September 24th to the area to speak. I found his book very interesting. The basic premise is that we’re now at a point where there’s wide-scale threat of species extinction in our country, on our continent, having to do with loss of habitat. What he’s urging people to do is to use our suburban gardens and our individual gardens—like the one I have, like the one Tom has, like what I’m sure our listeners have—and within that limited space, plant as many natives as you can. You don’t have to rip out everything that you’ve already put in, but maybe when something dies, choose a native to replace it with. Maybe put in 10% of your garden with natives because basically, on an evolutionary scale, it takes hundreds of thousands of years for insects to co-evolve with the plants that are located in any particular area. Even things that came over in the 1600s with the first Europeans that came to this country, that has not been enough time for the insects to evolve to understand that these plants are food for them. In fact, sometimes they don’t have the digestive ability to use the plants that are non-native as food. They may starve to death on a non-native plant. The reason we need to keep the insects going is for the animals that feed on the insects—as we all know, the food chain. I found it interesting. I just want to say one thing quickly, which is that I always felt that in order to be a good gardener, whether you use natives or not, you just need to be a little generous with your insect friends. I visited a garden that was almost plastic looking because it had absolutely no damage. That’s really not the sign of a healthy garden, in my opinion. We don’t want to be bombing them with pesticides, getting the result of absolute perfection.

RLH: Because once again, if we lose a particular strain of insect, it impacts species up the food chain.

Barbara Sullivan: Yes, it does.

RLH: So this is an entire ecosystem that we’re talking about, and we need to look at our yards and gardens that way.

Barbara Sullivan: I think what he’s saying is that up until now, of course, it’s hit home for those who have studied this and who are very aware of it, but for the large majority of gardeners in America, the shoe hasn’t dropped. It is now becoming much more apparent that we’re going to have to do something about it.

RLH: Doug Tallamy is coming to St. James, which is in Brunswick County on Saturday, September 24th.

Catherine (caller): I would like to know about a native groundcover that likes the sun. I can find lots of native groundcovers that like the shade, but not the sun.

Tom Ericson: Groundcovers around here are really tough because of the weed situation we have, tree seedlings coming into groundcovers and turning them into a disaster, things like the squirrel briars that come up everywhere from seed. Most people will use something like juniper, which are not necessarily native. There are some more compact varieties of those. Asiatic jasmine, which is not native, but it does work in sun or part shade. That does well.

Barbara Sullivan: There are quite a few native ferns, but I think I heard you say that you want it for a sunny spot?

RLH: That’s a head scratcher, obviously.

Don (caller): What do we do about fire ants? They are pervasive.

Tom Ericson: There are a number of insecticides that are geared just for fire ants, and they have more or less effectiveness, they work better. It’s something you just have to be persistent on, that you’re going to have to treat on a regular basis.

RLH: Now, if you use poison in your yard to treat piles of fire ants, is that potentially harming the birds in your yard that root around on the ground or do they know better?

Tom Ericson: They don’t know that it’s there. I mean, they’re not going to smell it. A lot of times granules are going to be attractive to birds because they think that they’re weed seeds or something along those lines. The problem with fire ants is that what you see on the surface is a mere fraction of what’s down below in the ground. If you have a severe fire ant problem and you’re highly allergic, I would call in a specialist who is geared towards that. They are absolutely awful when you get bit by a number of them. Just one or two bites is bad, but if you’re allergic and need to carry around one of those horrendously expensive EpiPens that have been all over the news, you really need to get someone in there who knows what they’re doing to get rid of that situation.

RLH: Are fire ants a native insect?

Tom Ericson: There may be some, but there are also other imported fire ants. I had a few fire ants at my last house. Thankfully, it’s not something I have at this house and it’s not something I really concentrate on.

Ken (caller): Unfortunately, in the spring, I bought some apple trees, but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t planted them yet. I keep them watered, but I haven’t planted them. I wanted to make sure it’s okay to go ahead and plant them or do I need to keep watering them and babying them through the winter until spring?

Barbara Sullivan: You should definitely go ahead and plant them. Also, when you get them out of the pot, see if they’re root-bound, meaning that the roots are wrapping all around and strangling one another. If so, then you need to free those roots and possibly make a few vertical slits because you do not want to plant a pot-bound plant into the ground because the roots will not be able to spread out. It will just sit, as though it were still in a pot, and it will not thrive.

Tom Ericson: Apples are really not one of our better fruit trees for around here. They’re sold, but they really shouldn’t be. They want a lot more cold hours than we typically get here, so they may survive for a while. There are a few people around town who do have a few, but they’ve got just the perfect spot. So if you’re looking for some fruit trees for this area, I would go with persimmons, pomegranates, figs. Blueberries are very good, though they aren’t a tree. A number of fruiting pear trees do well around here. I would shy away from apples.

Ken (caller): I do have another question about the figs. I have about nine fig trees. One is really grown and hasn’t put any figs, and one hasn’t really grown and it had a couple figs, but what can I do to stimulate the growth and get figs?

Tom Ericson: Figs like well-drained soil. A lot of people in Brunswick County have heavy clay, and they don’t play well with clay. They need well-drained soil. I would check drainage. Check the pH of your soil. If you haven’t been fertilizing, I would go ahead and do that come next spring and then again early to mid-summer.

Ken (caller): What pH do they like?

Tom Ericson: I’m guessing somewhere closer to neutral. That one, I’d have to look up.

Conrad (caller): I have herds of deer. I can go out in my yard and have ten, fifteen deer out there. What plants are deer resistant to help keep those guys away?

Barbara Sullivan: The arboretum has a list of deer-resistant plants, so you could go online and get that, but I also know that deer will eat pretty much anything if they’re hungry. Planting deer-resistant plants is not going to be your solution, especially if you have a lot of deer. There are all sorts of deer-repellents on the market that apparently don’t work. The reason I say that is because I don’t have deer, but I’ve been asked the question a lot and been told that it doesn’t work.

RLH: You basically need to build structures to protect your plants.

Barbara Sullivan: Yes, you do. You need to have multi-level structures so that you fool the deer. Just because it’s tall doesn’t mean the deer can’t jump over it.

Tom Ericson: We sell Liquid Fence, and that seems to be the one that works best for virtually all of our customers. It’s a repellant that you spray on. I think you do it twice in the first month and then once a month for maintenance afterwards. But if you’re in an area where you’re got fifteen to twenty dear, you may need to do it on a more frequent basis, but that does seem to be the one that does work around here.

RLH: Tom Ericson, in your newsletter recently, you advocated for watering plants even during this rainier season after summer has faded. Is that really necessary? How do we guard against over-watering?

Tom Ericson: Well, you need to make sure that your drainage is good before you start watering. A lot of times plants will wilt in the heat, and it’s just because in the heat of the day that they’re wilting. When we are extremely humid in July and August and early September, when the sun is beating on the plant, they try to cool themselves by releasing water, just like we do. Basically, they’re sweating. You don’t see it, but it’s happening. When the humidity is at 80-90%, they can’t release any more water or at least not effectively enough to cool the plant, so they will wilt in the heat of the sun. If they start to recover when the sun gets off of them, then they’re probably going to be fine, but if overnight they don’t recover and they’re still wilted the next morning, then you’re going to want to go out and give them a good drink of water. Lay the hose down on them, let it run for twenty minutes to half an hour, depending on the size of the tree or shrub, and really give them a good soaking. I had a customer the other day who was saying she had trouble with a tree. If you’re watering for five or ten, fifteen minutes every other day, you’re getting the mulch wet or the top quarter of an inch of soil moist, but you’re not penetrating to the bottom of that root ball. You need to really soak the plants well. Less frequent waterings that are longer and deeper are much better than five or ten minutes every day.  

RLH: Can you explain why that is?

Tom Ericson: It doesn’t penetrate all the way to the root ball. It keeps the roots very shallow, and then if they get a drought-stress or something happens with your irrigation, then your root layers are all on the surface and not further down, where they need to be.

Judith (caller): I planted a fig tree about two years ago and after six or seven months or so, it just died. It never really blossomed or did anything wonderful. It’s been a while, and I was out looking at the spot where I planted it, and it’s come back. I have a little green shoot with a bunch of leaves on it that’s about four to six inches tall. I want to protect it. I really want this tree to grow. I don’t know if I should be fertilizing it now or watering it or what. I don’t know how to take care of it.

Tom Ericson: Well, what kind of soil do you have? Is it heavy clay or sandy?  

Judith (caller): It’s sandy.

Tom Ericson: Any tree or shrub, be it native or non-native, is going to need attention to water for at least the first year. It may have died from lack of water. There may have been just enough oomph left there where it’s persisting but obviously not thriving. What I would probably do is maybe give it a little bit of fertilizer right now, with a low nitrogen—that’s the first number of the fertilizer, so instead of a 10-10-10, maybe a 5-10-10 or a bedding plant food that’s got a low first number or a higher middle number. That will help the root system get a little better established. I would get some watering on it and see what you can push as far as growth, but you’re not going to want to get too heavy with the fertilizer or a lot of extra watering this time of year because things are trying to slow down for the season. I would probably also get some compost and work that in and around the plant. If you’ve got very sandy soil and didn’t compost, figs want a fertile soil in order to produce and to thrive.

Robert (email): How do you ensure a cherry tree will have full blooms in the spring? When is the best time to prune it?

Barbara Sullivan: First of all, let me just say this about pruning: I think sometimes people have the idea that you have to prune trees and you have to prune shrubs, which isn’t true. At any time of the year, you can prune dead, diseased, or dying limbs of trees and shrubs. If the tree or shrub is in a strange shape that you don’t like and that’s why you want to prune it, I would say you could prune the cherry tree after it blooms. In order to encourage bloom, you could use a super-phosphate in the spring, I would think maybe early spring.

Tom Ericson: Yes, probably early spring, but I would probably go light on that. They’re not as heavy of a feeder as, say, crepe myrtles are. As far as pruning goes, unless you’ve got lower limbs you need to walk under, I would just leave the flowering cherry alone.

Barbara Sullivan: For any shrub in the spring—I probably wouldn’t do it now, I would probably do it in the spring—but if you have a shrub that is overgrown with multiple stems coming from it—think forsythia or something like that—and it’s overgrown and sort of needs rejuvenation, a great way to do it is to take a third each year, so that by the end of three years, you’ll have a brand new, beautiful shrub. You don’t want to just cut the whole thing down to the nibs and take out the biggest, thickest stems. Of course, that doesn’t pertain to a cherry tree, but I’m just throwing that in there.

Robert (email): When is the best time to divide cast-iron plants?

Tom Ericson: Generally on that, you can probably do it any time mid-summer, but if you want to get the maximum growth out of it, I would do it in late spring, just before they start to grow again. The roots will be more active. You’ll have a lot better recovery than if you were to do it in the dead of the winter or late summer.

Melanie (email): The annual Native Plant Festival will be held at the New Hanover County Arboretum on September 10th.

RLH: Barbara Sullivan, is there any information you want to add about that event?

Barbara Sullivan: They’re going to have a lot of information about the plants that do well here. I think they’re going to be selling some of them, but it’s a good way to see these plants up close and personal and see what kinds of plants you might be able to incorporate into your garden.

R’Lou (email): My young red maple is infested with mites. I’ve sprayed with an organic 3-in-1 pesticide. I’m wondering if I should cut off the infested leaves, or should I just collect them as they turn brown and fall off?

Tom Ericson: I don’t know if it’s a Japanese red maple or a red swamp maple, but spider mites build up when we have excessive heat and dry weather. Certain places around town have had a lot of rain lately. We had an inch and an eighth of rain at the store on Monday, but I had nothing at home. So, we get rain like that around town, where certain areas get nothing. Rain water will generally wash mites off because they’re so small and keep the population under control. You could take the garden hose and spray it well to try and wash the worst of them off or set up an oscillating sprinkler on it to try to do some of that. Make sure you do that early in the day or late in the day so you don’t sunburn the leaves with the water. You could also use a horticultural oil. That would work. Watch the temperature on that. Some have different temperature rating maximums. You could also do something like release lady bugs. I’m not sure where, if anywhere now, is selling lady bugs. Progressive Gardens was, they closed down a month and a half or so ago. I have a source where, if you’d like to do that, I can get them. I can check into various sizes. You release those in the evening, just before dark, spray the plant with water, and then they’ll be thirsty and they’ll go after the water, settle down with the darkness and then start feeding the next morning. Those are a couple of ways that would work well to try to reduce the spider mite population.

Jeff (caller): I have some small live oaks. When is the best time to prune them? Similarly, when should I prune palms?

Tom Ericson: Oak trees, I mean, I would do that in the dead of winter. Again, like Barbara was saying earlier, unless there is an odd, misshapen branch, oak trees are very slow growing, so I’m not sure what the need would be to do a lot of pruning on an oak tree unless, like I said earlier, up-limbing so you can walk underneath it.

Jeff (caller): I have multiple stems.

Tom Ericson: So if you want to reduce to a single leader, the dead of winter would be the best time for that. As for pruning palms, you basically just want to take the leaves off of the palms as they start to yellow and brown. Basically, the general rule of thumb is to do that once they get past a 45-degree angle, which would mean the leaf would be getting close to coming toward the trunk. You don’t want to hurricane cut, which is what they do when they transplant big palms that are bare root. You don’t ever want to do that because that’s going to take away from not just the looks of the palm but the health of the palm.

RLH: We had someone call in earlier to say, “There was a lady looking for groundcover. Let her know that Venus flytraps are good groundcover, and they don't mind the sun. And they eat flies!” And Barbara Sullivan, you’re shaking your head.

Barbara Sullivan: Well, they need to have a very, very moist, very specific kind of environment. I don’t think of them as being a groundcover.

Tom Ericson: No, I mean, you can have small masses of them, but as a large groundcover area, they don’t grow quite that way. You would want to see flytraps in a native habitat. Go over to Alderman Elementary, they’ve got the flytrap and the bog plants back there. See what that’s going to look like. It’s not a manicured look.

Barbara Sullivan: You’d have to set up a swamp environment, which is maybe what you might want to do, but it’s not your standard sunny backyard environment.

Tom Ericson: It’s a very niche environment.

Art (email): I have St. Augustine grass turning a funky shade of yellow. What’s the problem?

Barbara Sullivan: This is terrible: I’m a non-lawn person. In fact, speaking of Mr. Tallamy—

RLH: This is Doug Tallamy, native plant guy who is coming to speak September 24th.

Barbara Sullivan: Yes, he says the more you can reduce the extent of your lawn, the better for all of us.

RLH: There’s an argument that lawns are a waste of resources and take up unproductive space. Tom Ericson, what’s the biggest mistake people make in fall planting?

Tom Ericson: Not doing enough of it. I mean, it’s really the best time to get your trees—especially if you’re planting anything on a larger scale—so that they really have a long time to root in while they’re dormant, while they don’t need as much water as they would be if you planted in March or April. It gives them a long time to settle in and settle down before that heat comes blasting at them. 


Upcoming Events:

Native Plant Festival at the New Hanover County Arboretum, September 10th: http://arboretum.nhcgov.com/events/native-plant-festival/

An Afternoon with Dr. Doug Tallamy, September 24th: https://brunswick.ces.ncsu.edu/2016/07/an-afternoon-with-dr-doug-tallamy-native-plants-and-wildlife/

At 1pm at the St. James Community Center in Brunswick County, NC, author and entomologist Dr. Doug Tallamy will be talking about native plants and ways in which you can attract and conserve wildlife in your yard.


Additional guidelines from Tom Ericson

Choosing Trees and Shrubs

  • With the hottest summer ever (again!), it is more important than ever to pay attention to the American Horticulture Society’s Plant Heat-Zone Map.  This map does not indicate how cold a plant can withstand, but how much heat the plant tolerates.  While we are in Zone 8 (USDA  Cold Tolerance) +10-20 F, we are in Zone 7 for Heat Tolerance, with 60-90 days of temperatures above 86. 
  • Just inland from here, it bumps up to Heat Zone 8, 90-120 days above 86. 
  • Plants that can grow in Cold Tolerance Zones 6, 7 & 8 are capable of growing in a range of winter temperatures from as low as -10 F to as warm as +20 F.  While USDA Zones 8 & 9 run up the Pacific Coast into Washington State and into Vancouver, B.C., they see only 1-14 days over 86 a year, so overall they are a very mild climate, never too cold, never too hot. 
  • It is more often than not the heat that kills plants in our area, not winter cold. If the plant is rated to tolerate Zones 2, 3 & 4, forget it for our area.  They just won’t take the heat and will also need a certain number of dormant hours of cold, before they will pop bud in the Spring.  If they don’t get it, they may survive a season or two, but will soon fade away.  Permanently.

Natives: Some of our most popular...

  • Virginia Sweetspire
  • Clethera or Sweet Pepperbush
  • Cephalanthus or Buttonbush
  • Fringetree
  • Redbud
  • Carolina Allspice
  • Red Buckeye
  • Sweetbay Magnolia
  • Blueberry (Hybrids)
  • Deciduous Azalea (Hybrids)
  • Bald Cypress
  • Waxmyrtle (yes, they get huge, but there are smaller hybrids)


Below is a comprehensive list of good plants for fall -- courtesy of Barbara Sullivan:

Fall is the best time to plant most shrubs and trees regardless of when they bloom. Plants with * are natives.  

Fall Blooming Shrub


*Beautyberry (purple berries in fall)

Confederate rose Repeat-blooming azalea (also blooms in spring)

Butterfly bush (there is a native variety) (also blooms in summer)

Cape plumbago (also blooms in summer) 

Two spring-blooming  native shrubs among many: oak leaf hydrangea, Virginia sweetspire

Fall blooming Perennials




*Perennial ageratum

*Joe Pye Weed

*Swamp sunflower Angel's trumpet (Brugmansia)

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha)

Obedient plant Lantana (also blooms in summer)

*Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) (also blooms in summer)

Gaura (also blooms in summer)

Cuphea (also blooms in summer)

Other salvias (also bloom in summer)

Mexican petunia (Ruellia) (also blooms in summer)

*Turks cap (also blooms in summer)

*Bee balm (also blooms in summer)

* Milkweed (Asclepias) (also blooms in summer)


Ginger lilies

Spider lilies (Lycoris)

Rain lilies (also bloom in summmer)

Cannas (also bloom in summmer)


Most grasses will have beautiful seed heads in fall, a few examples:

Muhly grass Fountain grass (Pennisetum)



*Climbing aster Hyacinth bean vine (easy annual from seed, beautiful purple beans)

*Trumpet creeper (also blooms in summer)

*Crossvine (Bignonia) (also blooms in summer)

Note: autumn clematis is considered invasive

Other native vines include coral honeysuckle, passionflower and Carolina jessamine

Vegetables and Herbs to Plant in Fall (visit NH County Arboretum site for exact dates)


















Brussel Sprouts


Cool Weather Annuals/ Biennials (can be started from seed or purchased as small plants)



Sweet William



Sweet Peas



English daisies



Larkspur Love-in-a-mist

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.