What to Do in October


Fall is for planting! Autumn is an ideal time to plant or transplant trees, shrubs, and perennials. Fall is also a great time to till the soil and add organic material and nutrients; the bed will have plenty of time to “mellow” before next spring. Turning over the soil also exposes harmful insects and grubs to predators.

Get your soil tested. Submit soil samples in fall; soil tests are free from April through November. The lab gets really busy after the first of the year. A nematode assay may be useful to vegetable gardeners.

References: Agronomic Services – Soil Testing North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/sthome.htm

Submitting samples for soil testing prepared by the Durham County Master Gardener Volunteer Program durham.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/32/UNH%205.PDF

Understanding the soil test report prepared by the Durham County Master Gardener Volunteer Program durham.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/32/UNH%206.PDF

Lawn Care

Pamper newly-seeded fescue lawns. Your little grass plants have very small, shallow roots. Keep them watered and don’t let falling leaves smother them. Use a leaf blower on low power or rake very gently, lest you uproot the tender young plants.

References: Carolina lawns: a guide to maintaining quality turf in the landscape published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/PDFFiles/004175/Carolina_Lawns.pdf

Lawn maintenance calendar: tall fescue published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service  www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/PDFFiles/000017/Tall_Fescue_Lawn_Maintenance_Calendar.pdf

Trees & shrubs

Improve your clay soil with organic soil amendments. Shrubs and perennials drown and suffocate in our sticky clay soils; loosening the soil and adding organic material allows plants to grow much better. The best materials to add are well-rotted compost and fine-ground pine bark, in a ratio of one part organic amendments to two parts soil. Mix it well with soil, making a bed 8-12” deep.

Use what your trees give back. Fallen leaves contain lots of nutrients, but they decompose slowly. Help the process along by grinding up those leaves rather than sending them to the dump. You don’t need a shredder; simply rake the leaves into rows and run over them with a mower. Use the shredded leaves as mulch.

Plan for planting. Buying on impulse can be costly and labor-intensive in the future. What does your particular site need: a tall plant that likes sun and dry soil? Or a short, spreading plant that likes rather wet soil? Select plants that will do well in the conditions you can provide, and that will not grow larger than the space you can allow for them.

References:Durham’s soil prepared by the Durham County Master Gardener Volunteer Program durham.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/32/UNH%202.PDF

Amending clay soils prepared by the Durham County Master Gardener Volunteer Program www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/agecon/WECO/documents/NCSU.amending.clay.soils.pdf

Successful planting of trees and shrubs prepared by the Durham County Master Gardener Volunteer Program durham.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/32/UNH%207.PDF

Planting techniques for trees and shrubs by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/pdf/hil-601.pdf

Residential landscaping published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service ipm.ncsu.edu/urban/horticulture/res_landscaping.html


Purchase spring-flowering bulbs and store them in a cool place until chilly weather sets in. Daffodils, Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), and snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) do very well in Durham County. By contrast, tulips and Dutch hyacinths decline after their first season here, and are best treated as annuals.

Compost your yard waste! As you cut back your perennials in preparation for winter, think about returning that bounty to your garden in the form of compost. Compost is nature’s favorite fertilizer and soil conditioner. Recycle grass clippings, leaves, and non-diseased garden refuse. Composting bins in a variety of sizes are available at garden centers; many are well-suited for small yards.


Hints for fall-planted spring and early summer flowering bulbs published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/pdf/hil-611.pdf

Composting for home gardens published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/pdf/hil-8100.pdf

Composting: a guide to managing organic yard wastes by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/pdf/ag-467.pdf

Vegetables & fruits

Plant a cover crop in your vegetable garden. Legumes, such as clover and alfalfa, will enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen. Cover crops prevent erosion, and can be turned over to decompose in the soil and provide needed organic matter.


Cover crops for sustainable production Growing Small Farms growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu/growingsmallfarms-covcropindex/

Weed control in vegetable gardens published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/hil-8101.html

Landscape idea

Think ahead to spring and consider planting a spring-flowering fruit tree – for example, peach, apple, crabapple or cherry.

Houseplants and tender tubers

Store tender tubers – such as dahlia, caladium, gladiolus, geranium, and tuberous begonia – which may not overwinter in the garden. Lift roots, tubers, or corms about the time of our first killing frost, just after their foliage dries. Dig deep enough so that the roots will not be snapped apart when lifted out of the soil. Leave soil around dahlia tubers, canna, and caladium roots. Geraniums can be overwintered in pots, or bare root in paper bags.

Store in a garage or other building until soil dries and falls away from plant parts. Shake soil off roots and tubers, and cut away the dried stem. Discard any plant parts that show soft spots or disease. Place tubers and roots in old sawdust or peatmoss, in a flat box or plastic bag with holes for ventilation.

Store in a dry, cool, frost-free place such as a basement. Do not store on back porch or in a garage; these plants cannot withstand freezing. Also, store them where they will not be eaten by rodents.


Dahlias for the home landscape published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/pdf/hil-8500.pdf

Geranium culture for home gardeners published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/pdf/hil-8504.pdf

Caladiums for the home landscape published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/pdf/hil-8517.pdf

Retyped with slight modifications and URL’s checked

September 2014 ~ N. Len