The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

August 24, 2012

Ask A Master Gardener

For The Daily Southerner

TARBORO — “Ask A Master Gardener,” published weekly, helps our readers to solve common problems concerning horticulture, gardening, and pest management through a trained and supervised staff of Extension Master Gardener volunteers.  The Extension Master Gardener program is an educational program designed to enhance public education in consumer horticulture.

Submit your questions by email to  Or, you can call the local Extension Center at 252-641-7815 and tell them you have a question for a master gardener. You ask the questions and a local Master Gardener will return your call with a solution to your problem and share it with our readers.

Answers reflect research collected from land grant universities (NCSU or NCA&T) and through a national extension website,  

Q. Buddy H. (Tarboro) Asks – What’s being planted in the roundabout traffic circle on the south end of Main Street, downtown Tarboro?  (The roundabout project was adopted by Edgecombe’s Extension Master Gardeners in partnership with the Town of Tarboro, NC Dept. of Transportation and Edgecombe County’s Cooperative Extension Service.)

A. If you haven’t driven around the traffic circle lately, you should take a look.  The traffic circle is designed to look like a compass rose with eight points, eight wedges, and a center circle.  All the plants selected for the traffic circle were the result of weeks of research and advice from botanists at the J.C. Raulston Arboritum adjacent to the campus of NC State University.  The traffic circle offers a challenge for drought tolerance and long periods of sun exposure.  

Just this week, the Edgecombe Master Gardener Volunteers have planted the points of the design of the traffic circle with a very hardy, slow-growing shrub called Serissa (Serissa foetida).  There is a mix of variegated as well as the solid deep green leaf variety of this plant. Of the several choices, serissa was advised as the best choice for the high traffic, full sun exposure.  The shrub will have tiny white blooms early spring and in the summer.

The center circle of the roundabout has an eleven foot Chinese Fringe Tree (Chionanthus retusus), an evergreen that has a wispy white bloom in late spring and bears a small fruit in fall.  Around the base of the tree are twelve spring-to-fall-blooming white Shrub Roses, ‘Rosa White Out’ variety, planted with twelve decorative Muhly Grasses (Muhlenbergia capillaris) that will take on a pinkish tint as the fall season approaches.

The circumference of the traffic circle is outlined with a popular perennial called Dianthus, ‘Bath’s pink’ variety, a very drought tolerant perennial that thrives in full sun and will bring color to the roundabout next spring and summer.  The blue-green foliage will remain through the fall and winter.

The eight wedge shapes between the points will remain mulched over and unplanted until spring annuals and perennials are installed for color.

Q. Jeni F. (Tarboro) Asks - Is there a ground cover that will grow in a shaded, damp area? All we have now is moss.

A. As you have discovered, it is very difficult to have a healthy lawn in a shady, poorly drained area, and a suitable ground cover is a good idea. The presence of moss indicates that the soil in this part of your yard may also be compacted or is of low fertility. Moss does not necessarily mean that you have acid soil. Have you ever had your soil tested? You might want to do this so that you can correct any pH or fertility problems. A soil test is quite simple and inexpensive and will provide information that can save you time and money in the future. Few of the plants I can recommend will grow well if the soil is infertile. Contact your local Extension office about how to perform a soil test and where to submit your sample.

There are some shade-tolerant plants that will grow in moist conditions, and I would suggest trying out several types to see which do best for you before investing in a large number of one kind of plant.

Part shade: If you have clay soil, Ajuga reptans makes a very good ground cover. Ferns of many types but especially the Cinnamon, Interrupted, and Ostrich fern will also fill in shady, moist areas. Gout weed, or Aegopodium, is a fast-growing ground cover for shade and competes well with tree roots. Some hostas will also work; Thomas Hogg and Fortunei are recommended for damp locations.

Full shade: Pulmonaria and Tiarella would work. Pulmonaria seeds freely, and if you plant a few, you may soon have many. I put in two plants about eight years ago and I now have a large area of pulmonaria in my shady yard. They have lovely pink flowers that turn blue in the spring and large attractive leaves in the summer. (I cut mine back after blooming to prevent more seeding and to keep the foliage looking its best.)

Q. Joan H. (county) asks- what are these big carpenter-like ants that are black and red

A.  They’re called Formica Ants.  These ants are very good insect predators and

control is not always the best answer from an environmental standpoint.

Q.  How can I keep the bees away from my hummingbird feeders (probably

the more realistic question is - how can I keep from getting stung

when trying to re-fill my hummingbird feeders?)

A. There’s no good solution to this problem; one option is to re-fill the feeder about

dark when the bees and wasps are not foraging for food.

“Ask A Master Gardener” also wants to include your “tried and true” gardening tips and techniques and snapshots from your garden; please share in an email to or by writing to “Ask A Master Gardener”, c/o The Daily Southerner, P.O. Box 1199, Tarboro, NC 27886.