Pa gardener moving to Raleigh area: Advice?

lois(PA Zone 6)February 8, 2013

Hi there,

I will be moving to the Raleigh area and I would love any advice you can provide on some areas in which to house hunt. I am feeling a little overwhelmed right now. :-) I've lived in a small town in a rural area for the last 20 years and I don't think I could go back to suburban life. I am a little surprised as how build-up the Raleigh area seems to be. My place of employment will be in north Raleigh, just inside the outer traffic belt.

Can you offer any advice on rural rose/tomato-friendly areas to target?


PS: I was very excited to see there is a Raleigh plant swap.

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Since I assume you are on the rose forum, you may be expecting rapid responses. Fortunately, trianglejohn, who will know everything you need, keeps an eye on this forum but until he sees this, I can get you started. I am not that close to Raleigh and can't help with the specifics, but I believe that you would be able to maintain that rural feeling almost anywhere outside the outer beltline on the north side anyway. North Carolina is still mostly rural.

However, speaking of roses; I believe you will find the high humidity in NC to be problematic. Fortunately, lot or property sizes are usually large so that rose spacing can be larger than often used, and may be needed to provide sufficient air circulation.

I don't know if tomato growing is different than in PA, but I came from CA where tomatoes will ripen completely on the vine (waiting politely to be picked as desired), but at least in my hands, I find that they should be picked a day or three early because they begin to rot in the heat as they mature.

If you haven't already been reading about red clay, you will need to be prepared to do dramatic soil amendment. We are talking about at least pick up truck volumes. If you want to maintain that rural vibe, you will be pleased to find farmers (and others) who will be willing to load up your pick up or whatever with manure (or mulch needed for weed control and soil temperature moderation) at minimal cost.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 3:01PM
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Hello and welcome to NC. I was hoping someone from the north side would speak up since I live on the south side and there's a lot of differences.

There are small and medium sized towns within an hour of downtown Raleigh, so if you still want that small town feel you can get it easily. Check out Creedmoor for small and if you want something medium sized I would look at Wake Forest (which has a great garden club by the way).

The biggest obstacle to me is the traffic on any of the major roads heading away from downtown or from RTP (west of Raleigh, between Raleigh and Durham). Particularly Capital Blvd, which is also Hwy 1. At first it looks like your basic multi-lane north/south city street. At certain points in the day you can move along at a decent clip but most of the time it is a nightmare to drive on. Many people do everything in their power to avoid it. Northside people seem to deal with it and know its rhythms. If you wanted to live closer to downtown, I have friends that live in North Hills, which is on the northwest side above downtown, above the 440 beltline. I like those neighborhoods and the shopping nearby. You may find all sorts of similar neighborhoods, its the only one I know about.

Raleigh sort of sits on a diagonal dividing line between the Piedmont (clay) and the Coastal Plain (sand). The north side is clay, the south side has more sand. I have been told that those with wells on the south side have better quality water - I have no idea if it is true.

The main problem I had when I moved here was ignoring the trees. If you want to grow tomatoes and roses you will need sun. A lot of the older neighborhoods are pretty shady - newer developments seem to be more open.

I know a good realtor if you need one.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 7:36PM
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Hi and welcome, I hail from Carroll Co. MD and now live in North Raleigh. Once here, I moved into a very large community with huge houses sitting on postage size lots and had plant/yard/sun envy (my yard was dwarfed by my house effectively blocking sun for most of the day. I would drive around looking for that feeling of home/familiar.
I would second the vote for Wake Forest/Youngsville area for that open rural feel. Progress is spreading out to this area and in no time at all you will find every store, restaurant and convenience within an easy commute.
I too joined the Wake Forest Garden Club upon arriving here. It is a great way to meet likeminded friends. I even found members who offered to let me use their land to start a garden, or the offer to come play in their gardens anytime.
I know to a true rose lover, this will sound crazy but knock out roses thrive here, no fuss, no muss and blooms from very early in the spring to very late in the fall/early winter.
Triangle John is the swap guru and go to man for questions regarding plants in the area. There are a lot of great nurseries in the area. You will find an extended gardening season here. Spring really springs into summer quickly! This winter has been so mild every other day has felt like spring. Daffodils are up and blooming. I had an iris blooming 2 weeks ago-January. And a lot of spring flowering trees were blooming on Christmas Day, that being said, the last frost is probably the same as for you in PA-so be forewarned but most people choose to ignore that. Spring annuals like pansies are set out in the fall here and winter over, a lot of plants that have to be lifted in the fall can stay put here.
I would guess that in just about any direction moving away from 540 for about 15-20 minutes you could find open rural land.
Again, welcome and hope your move is trouble free!

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 10:47AM
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lois(PA Zone 6)

Thank you so much for all your wonderful information!

I've always dealt with clay soil for my whole gardening career. Actually I hope it works out that my new garden will also be clay because that at least will be something I DON'T have to learn about, LOL. Not sure if its the same kind of clay, but my best bet in digging a hole is to wait until the fall rains soak the ground and then kind of carve a hole in the clay with my shovel.

You are so right about sunlight.... That's one of my main criteria. And yes, I know how blackspot defoliates the roses. For that reason, and because I mostly garden organically, I will discretely plant the high-fragrance-low-BS-tolerant roses in the back yard.

I have no problem with picking tomatoes a little early and letting them ripen on the counter. The birds here peck holes in any tomatoes that get too red on the vine.

I am thrilled to hear about the garden club. There are several horse owners in my current garden club, and we worked out a happy arrangement whereas I collect composted (not smelly) stable sweepings in the spring, and then distribute bags of tomatoes and other garden produce later in the summer. The composted product is fluffy and light, like forest floor soil.

Speaking of gardening and being outside all the time, I also like to walk. Are some areas safer than others if I want to walk, say, a 3 mile circuit around town?

Thanks again :o)

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 6:57PM
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One more thought since you will be able to choose your specific house; The clay area includes occasional areas of white (greyish) clay deposits. They are essentially finer deposits of clay that would be better for pottery (we have some of the best potters right here) but it is white because air can't get in to rust the iron in the soil. This fineness makes it even more difficult for gardening and I believe most people would avoid it if possible.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 10:23AM
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mad_about_mickey(**7* *N.C.)

Hi ! We moved here from PA/NJ area ...You should maybe check out the Johnston County area, it is what felt like "home" when we looked around. Archer Lodge is a small newly incorporated town that is tucked away and is rural. You are close enough to the major higways to get where you want to go , but far enough away to be 'country' if that makes sense..Good luck in your search .

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 10:39AM
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lois(PA Zone 6)

Trianglejohn, you were right, I did like the Creedmore area best out of all the areas we toured.

We also looked in the Clayton area which had some nice established neighborhoods but was more suburbanized. Except for Creedmore, the areas around Raleigh that we saw reminded me of South Jersey: lots of housing developments and no working farms. It was kind of sad to see so many ruined barns from farms that used to be.

I saw more sandy soil than clay.

We saw a lot of houses, but none to fall in love with which is just as well. We have a lot of work to do up here in PA before we can put this place on the market. If we had found the perfect house for us right away, it would have been very stressful to try to figure out how to lock it in when we know we are probably several months away from selling our current house.

We will come back to NC do some more serious house hunting in a few months.

In the meantime, what do I need to know about gardening in the Raleigh area? I heard it's too hot for lilacs, is that correct? What about other flowers like hydrangea, primroses, hellebores, tulips, daffodils, hollyhocks, foxglove, phlox, tree peony, and lavender?


    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 8:01PM
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I've lived here since 2000 and I have seen a big change in the weather in that short amount of time. I have no idea what a normal year is anymore. Lately our summers have had long stretches of hot and very dry. Winters are generally mild but cold enough to burn some evergreens or winter growers.

Lilacs like more alkaline soil so if you build a bed just for them and follow some basic feeding rules they will grow and bloom here - but they won't look like the bushes up north. They aren't easy but they are possible.

Lavender only works well for me if I plant it in a raised bed of mounded up soil that is half and half topsoil and gravel. They hate wet feet, mainly in the winter (damp winters are common).

Hollyhocks do fine but Rust is everywhere and tends to wipe them out. There are some pure species ones sold locally that tend to be immune but they only come in a pale yellow color.

Only some of the primrose (Primula) varieties do well. There are a couple of nurseries that offer them so some people do succeed with them, mostly as bog plants.

Everything else on your list does fine here. Most of the common tulips are one year only plants (winters too short and mild), Daffs are easy and do well.

I don't see a lot of tree peonies around but some people do grow them (I have a few). It may just be because they are soooo expensive that they are not common. I don't think the full spectrum of colors do well here.

You should check out: in south Raleigh, they offer some of the tree peony/garden peony hybrids that do really well in their show gardens. Some day I'll win the lottery and fill my yard with them.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 9:47AM
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lois(PA Zone 6)

I think I see what you mean by the clay. I got a closer look in some of the backyards where I was house hunting this week in the Raleigh area and the poor grass was struggling in solid clay with no top soil. I will set about making friends with amendment-providing farmers and horse owners for sure when I find a place.

The roses are blooming now and they sure are pretty! Seems every other house has a huge Knockout rose out front.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 6:40PM
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I hope your agent showed you a variety of locations and situations. Sometimes we don't actually know what we are after until we see it and Then can focus in. I gather that you generally stayed east of Raleigh. There are rural areas west of Raleigh as well. There are plenty of working (as well as non-working) farms.

Regarding plant swaps (from 'where are you'): the 'Raleigh' swap is relaxed, rule wise. You don't have to already have plants to share. They also appreciate food. They would probably like seeds too. Did I mention that they like food?!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 8:40AM
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lois(PA Zone 6)

Went down on a house hunting trip but unfortunately did not find what we needed in our price range. We stayed mostly east of Raleigh because the realtor told us property was cheaper there. Best part was when the GPS took us off-road in a lincoln town car, LOL.

I make a pretty good peanut butter chocolate pie. Hopefully that would be an acceptable down payment on future plant swappable items.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 8:33PM
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lois(PA Zone 6)

chas045, you were right about not knowing what you like until you see it. We finally found a place (new construction) in Wendell. It's an established and well-kept neighborhood, where a land owner who owned a few lots here and there finally decided to build a couple new houses.

We have .31 acre, with 2 trees, so there is plenty of sun for the roses.

The soil looks sandy and not particularly fertile. I have not had a chance to dig yet so I don't know what it's like under the top few inches.

The lawn is mostly weedy looking grass patches right now. What kind of grass seed would you recommend?

I guess I am a beginner gardener all over again in this new environment... How exciting!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 11:01PM
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Wendell is a fine area and there are some hard core gardeners in and around that town.

Most likely if the ground is sandy and depleted it's because it used to be tobacco land. Tobacco really sucks the life out of soil. The cure is to add tons and tons and tons of organic material and it will turn around. You can either pay to have it hauled in and mixed or just find one of the cheap (sometimes free) sources of wood chips or leaves and do it the slow way.

If you want to get your hands in the dirt before you solve all the soil problems in the yard, you can just create a flowerbed or two and plant whatever you want after improving that areas soil. It can take a while to improve the whole yard.

Welcome to NC!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 10:06AM
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Re lawn seed: This area is in the transition zone and almost every lawn is fescue based. This is the perfect (I really mean only) time to start a fescue lawn. I am only familiar with the clay soil and it is possible (or likely) that you could use something else in the sand. Every county has agricultural agents and give classes in lawn and garden care as well as more industrial info. You should be able to just call the office on the phone or just walk in and chat with someone about local lawn issues. The offices are associated with NC State. BTW; Southern Pines is also sandy and has many golf courses, and they play the US Open there on occasion. If you have a good source of water, perhaps you could go nuts. More rural folks like me end up with lush crabgrass expanses instead. ;-p

Here is a link that might be useful: Extension info

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 9:04AM
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dianne1957(NC 7b)

Hi Lois!
Welcome to North Carolina! We are from southwestern PA and have been here 10 plus years. We had to forget everything we be successful gardeners in North Carolina! This website taught me so much! Triangle John is the best source! In the beginning I asked questions and often! All are knowledgeable and ready to help! Myself our property has it's own ecosystem that is not always in-sinc with the neighborhood!! We live in the very shady North Hills. Around 5 years ago we had six very large trees cut
down in the backyard to get sun and air into our almost half acre lot. We have had many failures! Can't grow Hosta's in the ground (mole/vole), but will grow in pots! Crepe Myrtle is the most beautiful bloomer that in the best hot conditions blooms 120 days! Have had great luck with azaleas, hydrangea, gardenia , (shade) butterfly bushes, forsythia, lantana, knock out rose, (sun). For us the best annual with the longest life is begonia. Our location is favorable to slugs (put out many saucers of Old Milwaukee Beer to drown them). The giant slugs in our yard will defoliate most tender annuals!
We love it here and are up to every challenge to have a beautiful landscape! Best of luck....look to the spring for many changes! If you need PA support ....Contact me at love to help!.....Dianne

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 7:48PM
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lois(PA Zone 6)

Thank you so much Dianne! I must say people have been very welcoming down here. It sounds as if you live near my work location on 6 Forks Rd near the 540 intersection!

I am still trying to figure out the soil in my yard... When I finally got a chance to get out there last weekend and dig an exploratory 1 ft deep hole in the lawn, the soil looked like a mixture of humus and sand. But when the construction folks came in with their equipment and dug a deeper (4 ft) hole in another section of the yard, they brought up a big pile of familiar eastern US red clay. So my guess is either I have patches of clay and sand, or there is a layer of dirty sand on top with clay further down.

I think I have also encountered the hard-as-rock (clay?) that I've heard about. It's a different color, almost white. Even the crab grass won't grown there. Interestingly, both patches of hard clay(?) are located on approx the south side of each tree in our yard (1 in front and 1 in back).

I've been trying to research the local soil online but am not really finding any useful info. If anyone has any insight on the soil around here, I'd love to hear it. I know it will need a lot of amendment, which is why I am not really rushing to plant a lot of things yet.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 12:33PM
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