By Debbie Clark

Growing a successful landscape does have its challenges but you can have a great landscape by following a few simple tips:

  1. A good landscape begins with the soil. Consider visiting your County Extension Office and pick up a soil test kit. It is easy to do a soil test. The ideal time for soil testing is early spring and late summer. There may or may not be a small fee for testing depending on the time of year.

    If you have caterpillars on your plants, always identify them before you spray. This caterpillar is feeding on a passion fruit and it will develop into a Gulf fritillary butterfly. This is a good bug and not to be sprayed. These caterpillars will destroy your purple passion flower vines, blooms and fruit but this is the only food they feed on as caterpillars and your plant will be back the following year. This photo was taken at the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge.

  2. If you use chemicals in your landscape like fertilizers, insect control or weed control, always read the label Follow the directions and remember more is not better. Take precautions from exposing your body to chemicals. Cover up your body with long sleeves, gloves, long pants, shoes and socks. Laundry your clothes after using chemicals and take a shower. Consider becoming an organic gardener and giving up the chemicals or limit their usage. Make sure pets and children stay out of the area where chemicals were used for an appropriate time.
  3. If you have pest problems like animal or insect, learn about what you need to do to control them. With insects, identify the insect before spraying. Insects are good or bad and you need to know which one you are dealing with and its life cycle. That caterpillar on your herb plant could be a butterfly still in a larva stage or that black and orange nymph could be a lady bug that would feed on aphids in your garden. If you need to control animals like deer, there are many products available from repellents to alarms. You may need to change repellents over the years or move alarm systems around. Animals are smart and they will learn how to get the food they want. Grow plants that deer do not like to feed on.
  4. When you plant your landscape, consider natives and diversity. Diversity in the landscape means a healthier environment for nature and you.
  5. Here in the mountains, we can have lots of rain or very dry periods. Adding drip irrigation or rain barrels can save on municipal water usage. Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil.
  6. Mulching is very important. Mulch improves soil, helps control weeds, maintains moisture in the soil, and makes your landscape more attractive. Do not pile mulch up tree trunks which is referred to as volcano You can damage your trees by following this practice. Mulch should be pulled back slightly from the bases of trees, perennial crowns and shrubs.

    Soil testing information and boxes are available at your local County Extension Office. When you receive your results, amend your soil as suggested if needed.

  7. Learn how to prune correctly and when to prune. There are many good books on the subject or you can research on the internet. If you grow crepe myrtles do not have them topped. In the industry that is referred to as Crepe Murder. Try to keep your shrubs and trees in their natural shape.

Growing a successful landscape can be easy when you work with nature and not against it.

Debbie Clark is a North Carolina Master Gardener. Visit her blog at:

These insects are nymphs and adult Milkweed bugs. They feed only on Milkweed plants and the adult has a life span of one month. Learn to identify insects in different stages of growth and learn which are the good bugs and bad bugs.