Question: We have just discovered that our creek is lined with blackberry trees. Where did they come from and can we eat the fruit?

Answer: You have discovered red mulberry trees and not blackberry trees. However, your skills of observation are very good because the fruit of the red mulberry does resemble blackberries. This is our only native mulberry that produces fruit from late April through June in our area. The fruit is a favorite for many wildlife species, especially songbirds. The fruits are also edible by humans if you can get them before the birds do. They have been used for jams, jellies, and even wine. Red mulberry is considered to be a small to medium sized deciduous tree that can grow to 70 feet in height and live up to 125 years. Its flowers are red in color thus its name. These trees flower and produce fruit somewhere between 4 and 8 years of age. Fruit production is somewhat sporadic. The leaves on mulberry trees can confuse the novice botanist. I have seen 3 different leaf shapes on one tree. Enjoy your find.


Question: My Knockout roses stopped blooming several weeks ago and are covered in dead flowers. What happened?

Answer: This is typical Knockout behavior. The first blossoms of spring have run their course, but new flower buds will soon reappear. You can hasten this process by removing the spent flowers if you have the time. Remove the faded flower stems by clipping them off with hand clippers or a pair of headshears just above a 5 leaf petiole. It is easy to do. This will stimulate new growth. In addition, put a handful of 10-10-10 scattered evenly around the base of each rose plant to hasten new growth.


Question: I have been told that Permatill can be used to discourage voles from eating my hostas. Does it work and where can I purchase it?

Answer: Permatill is a slate product that is mined in North Carolina. It is crushed rock about the size of pea gravel. Permatill is advertised as a soil conditioner to aid in water drainage. Many gardeners also use it to discourage voles from digging into the roots of their favorite perennials. A small shovel full mixed into each planting hole and mixed with our native soil may frustrate them and force them to look elsewhere for edible roots. I have never run across any scientific studies that validate this, but digging through rock discourages me too. I use Permatill occasionally especially for hydrangeas. The only source of Permatill I have found is Mebane Shrubbery Market on Highway 49 North. If anyone knows of another local source, please let me know.


Question: How often should I fertilize my summer annual flowers?

Answer: Annual bedding plants need supplemental fertilization all summer long for them to continuously flower and reach their potential before frost. You must be the judge, depending on how they are performing. If they appear to be vigorous and flowering profusely then no additional fertilizer is needed. This indicates you have a very rich soil that can supply all the necessary nutrients. However, most flower beds need supplemental nitrogen found in fertilizer to give you their best. Therefore, if you prefer to use the soluble fertilizers, then apply it every 2 weeks during the growing season. Larger beds can be top dressed with 10-10-10 at the rate of 2 cups per 100 square feet of garden every 4-6 weeks. I prefer the fast acting nitrogen fertilizers due the short growing season for these plants.



This is a good time to visit the flower gardens at the Agricultural Building, 209 N. Graham Hopedale Road, in Burlington. It is full of perennial flowers in bloom and many other plants suited for growing in your own landscape. Plants are identified and you can arrange for a Master Gardener guide by calling the Cooperative Extension Service at 336-570-6740.


Rett Davis is a retired Almanace County Extension Director and certified arborist. You can email your questions to him at