The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

May 10, 2013

Ask A Master Gardener


TARBORO — Judi L. (Tarboro) Asks: My azaleas are just about finished blooming and some of the blooms are turning brown.  Am I supposed to cut them back now?

Answer: Yes.  You can prune your azaleas now through early July, and also your forsythia and other flowering shrubs, as long as the blooms are spent and faded. It’s also a good idea to cut back the leggy branches, but please don’t overdo it!   Allow the plants to take on their own natural form.  Don’t destroy this natural look by shaping your shrub into round balls or square boxes.  And, remember: you should never prune away more than one-third of the overall plant.  Be sure you are finished pruning by the end of July and you will have avoided the summer heat. Remove all the spent blooms on the ground to prevent any chance of disease and give the shrub a layer of fresh mulch.

Note: Pruning after July may destroy next year’s flower buds.

Laura L. (Tarboro) Asks – What would cause stems with 1-inch-diameter peonies buds to suddenly curve downward? The foliage is still upright and strong.

Answer - Most peony varieties have heavy buds and heads, and they will droop from the weight of the bloom, due to weak stems. That particular variety of peony may have stems that are weaker. When there is heavy rain, the buds and blooms become heavier and need to be staked and supported. Because no one can predict the weather, it is a good practice to put braces around all peony clumps. Most garden centers will carry peony supports or you can fashion one out of a tomato cage.

Laura L. (Tarboro) Asks – Please tell me more about growing peonies.  I am new at this.

Answer: Peonies are a lovely, old-fashioned perennial that will add beauty and heavenly scent to your garden for many years. If you're looking for a flowering plant that deer won't eat, peonies are an excellent choice. Peonies will grow in much of the US but they do require a period of dormancy, and most varieties won't survive in growing zones of 9-10 and higher.

Tips: Plant peonies in the late summer to early fall, at least six weeks before the ground typically freezes in your area.  Choose the location for your peonies carefully as once established, peony plants do not like to be disturbed.  Plant them in a location where they will receive at least 6-8 hours of full sunlight daily during the growing season. Peonies won’t grow well in wet soil or clay, but a raised bed will help avoid these problems.

James L. (Tarboro) Asks - Planting instructions call for liberal quantities of organic matter. What is organic matter?

Answer: One definition of organic matter would be material that is derived from living or once-living plants or animals. In gardening, it usually means plant or animal material that has decomposed to the point of being mixed in various types of soil to amend it to make nutrients more available to the plants. It includes mostly decomposed manure, compost, or peat moss. Soil testing will let you know how much to add to soil along with any nutrients that are lacking, so you will know how much fertilizer to add. Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for more information on soil testing options.

Bob F. (Tarboro) Asks - What is meant by "resistant" varieties of plants?

Answer: Many plants have a natural resistance to various insects and/or diseases. Check seed catalogs for the latest varieties; they sometimes tell you which ones have resistance to a pest. Or check with your local county Extension office--they may be able to provide recommendations of particular varieties that are both naturally resistant to pests and adapted to your local growing conditions.

Buddy H. (Tarboro) Asks - I have lawn weeds even though I have a lawn care service. Should I find another service?

Answer: Even if the lawn care professional applies all of your fertilizers and pesticides properly, you may still have the occasional weed, pest, or bare spot. Herbicides and pesticides are not 100 percent effective at controlling every weed or grub that may be present in your lawn. If you are not pleased with the appearance of your lawn after the lawn service has had sufficient time to correct some of the problems, you should contact them directly. Most lawn care professionals will be happy to explain exactly what is going on in your lawn and what you should expect.


“Ask A Master Gardener” is a weekly column providing our readers solutions to common problems concerning horticulture, gardening, and pest management.  Trained Extension Master Gardener Volunteers have access to the research that provides answers.  

Submit your questions by email to  Or call the local Extension Center at 252-641-7815 and tell them you have a question for a master gardener; a volunteer will return your call with a solution to your problem, or write to “Ask A Master Gardener”, c/o The Daily Southerner, P.O. Box 1199, Tarboro, NC 27886.