October: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, the calendar says it is October. The thermometer says it is August and the rain gauge left town due to sheer boredom. Me? I am just confused. Do I keep watering for the benefit of the plants and to the detriment of the checking account? Or, do I just let most of the plants go and start over in the Spring?  Most of the established landscape plants are okay; A little dry, but okay. So, maybe I’ll water the few potted plants that I really love and let the rest go (or maybe it’ll rain). Such a conundrum. So stressful.

The following are wonderful things to do in a statistically normal year and are more or less applicable even this year. Besides, it is October and not going outside is not an option.

Fertilizing

Not much to do here unless you are planting spring flowering bulbs. Should that be the case, incorporate a little balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 or equivalent) into the soil as you plant. Store any leftover fertilizer in a dry place for the winter.

Planting

  • The above-mentioned spring flowering bulbs (e.g. hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, crocuses, etc.).
  • Pansies! Those plucky members of the Viola genus who can brighten up a gray winter day should be on everyone’s list unless, of course, there are deer nearby. Apparently, the pansies make a great dessert after a meal of azalea branches. Plant them soon as the more established they are when it gets cold the better able they will be to withstand the cold.
  • “Fall is for planting.”  It’s not just a slogan from the nursery industry. It is gospel. The very best time to plant any new landscape plants you have been planning for is now.
  • Peonies can be planted or transplanted now.
  • In the vegetable garden consider a nitrogen fixing cover crop like red clover, hairy vetch or winter rye. This will help keep down the weeds and add nitrogen to the soil. In the spring, just till it into the soil to add nutrients and organic matter.
  • If you happen to be one of the foresighted people who have a cold frame, now is the appropriate time to plant a winter’s worth of salad. Lettuce, green onions, radishes, carrots, spinach and other leafy greens will grace your salad bowl all winter if planted now.

Pruning

Once frost (It’s October. It is going to frost!) has finished the decimation of the perennial garden cut off all the dead tops and throw them on the compost pile.

Root prune any trees or plants you plan on moving in the spring.

Spraying

Unless you have a lace bug problem it is time to clean up and winterize the sprayer and store the pesticides in a secured dry location that will not freeze. As to the lace bugs, they are active whenever the leaf surface temperature is warm enough (i.e. whenever the sun shines on the leaves). A horticultural oil spray can be helpful in controlling both feeding adults and egg stages.

Lawn Care

  • Maintain adequate moisture levels for any newly seeded or sodded lawns. 
  • Avoid leaf buildup on lawns.
  • Tall fescue and bluegrass (not the fiddlin’ kind) can still be planted in October.

Propagation

Keep an eye on any new cuttings in the cold frame (the one without the salad greens in it). They should be checked at least twice a month and watered as needed. If you are a gardener lucky enough to be able to grow rhubarb now is the time to dig and divide it.

Other stuff to do that will keep you outdoors while the leaves turn color

  • Take soil samples while they are still FREE. NC Department of Agriculture will charge for them from November 27 to April 1, AND you will have to get them to Raleigh yourself. (Durham County Master Gardeners will deliver soil samples to Raleigh for you between April 1 and Thanksgiving.)
  • Put those raked or blown leaves into the compost bin or till them into the veggie garden.
  • Clean, fill and put out the bird feeders.
  • Dig and store (cool, dark, dry) tender summer flowering bulbs (e.g. gladioli, dahlia, caladium) before frost.
  • Clean up lubricate and otherwise prepare lawn and garden equipment for its long winter’s rest.
  • A mea culpa. This writer neglected to inform you that it is time to band trees that are susceptible to canker worm invasions. This involves wrapping and securing the trunk with a coarse material like burlap or quilt batting about 4 or 5 feet above the ground. That in turn is wrapped with a corrugated paper wrap that is then covered with the stickiest gooeyest stuff you’ve ever played with. All these materials are available at some nursery/garden centers one of which is very proximal to the Durham Extension office.
  • For a fun activity now that will yield fresh living flowers in the bleak mid-winter, try your hand at forcing spring flowering bulbs. Plant bulbs in pots early in October and place them in the refrigerator. In 12 weeks bring them out into the house and watch them grow and bloom. Kids love it.

Happy Gardening!

September: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMG

Well, here it is … September! Some of y’all have been waiting for this since last October. For many, it is the beginning of your favorite time of the year—warm days, cool nights, lower humidity, winding down the summer garden … hurricanes. Enough contemplation! There is still much gardening to do this month. Let’s get to it.

Fertilizing
With the exceptions noted under “Lawn Care,” you can take your fertilizer and stick it in an air tight container and put it away until Spring.

Pruning
NOPE!  Fuggeddaboutit. If you must exercise your pruning tools go remove underbrush or unwanted saplings or something. Stay away from your landscape plants.

Spraying
Stuff to look for and where to look for it:  Wooly adelgid on Hemlock, spider mites on other coniferous evergreens, lace bugs on Azalea and Pyracantha and tea scale on Euonymus and Camellia.

A note about Lace Bugs. They will be active all year anytime the leaf surfaces are warm enough (e.g. about 40 degrees). Being diligent now will help keep them at bay after you have cleaned and put away your sprayer. Also, Azaleas planted in sunny places will have more lace bug issues than those planted in shade.

Spray Peach trees and Nectarine trees for Peach Tree Borers.

Maintain your rose program.

Be watchful in your Fall garden. Many insects and diseases are more active in the Autumn; They like this weather, too.

Weeds to be controlled this month:  Trumpet Creeper, Bermuda Grass and Blackberry.

Only spray if necessary.  Spray as little as possible. ALWAYS READ THE LABLE!

Lawn Care
September is the best time to seed and/or reseed a Tall Fescue lawn. Loosen the soil in bare areas and cover any areas larger than one square foot with wheat straw.

Apply lime and fertilizer as recommended on your FREE SOIL TEST.

Do not fertilize warm season grasses (e.g. Bermuda, Centipede, Zoysia). Fertilizing them now is like giving sugar to your kids at bedtime. They get real active much to their (and your) detriment.

If you missed the August window to treat your lawn for grubs, it is still open until the middle of September.  After that the little buggers quit feeding and go to sleep for the winter.

Propagation
You may dig and divide spring flowering bulbs now. Daffodils will be especially appreciative of this activity and will show it in the Spring.

Other Stuff to Keep You Outdoors on Gorgeous Autumn Days
Mulch shrub and flower beds.

Clean up and put away sprayers and other gardening equipment that won’t be used again until Spring.

Get your houseplants ready to come back inside. Break it to them gently by bringing them in for a little while each day. Be sure to rid them of insect pests before they come in for good.

If you do not have a fall garden, (What do you mean you don’t have a fall garden?!?) then it is time to chop, burn or toss dead vegetable plants. Burn or toss, especially if they had disease or insect issues.

Checkout the local garden center for spring flowering bulbs you can’t live without (or just covet a whole lot).  October and November will be the time to plant them. You know, “Shop early for the best selection.”

Find a good trail and take a hike. Take your kids or grandkids to the park. Read a book on the deck or patio. Get out of the house with any excuse you can come up with.

See ya’ in October for leaf season.

August: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Alrighty then! We survived July, just barely. Thank you, Mother Nature, for the break at the end of the month. So, how does your garden look?  And the water bill? (Ouch!) Well, July is behind us now and August is upon us with her bounty of veggies and plethora of blooming plants. Let us hope the rain gods will be less capricious and the heat stays somewhere else. Whether or not those things come about there are things to do in the garden and don’t forget to be hurricane prepared. (You know, the ones that come in off the ocean – not the ones that reside at PNC Arena.)

Lawn Care

Check the lawn for grubs. If you find some, treat with an appropriate insecticide. If you do find any, be grateful and put the sprayer away.

Late in the month prepare any areas that need to be seeded with cool season grass (tall fescue, bluegrass).

Fertilizing

Give your strawberries a shot of nitrogen fertilizer.

DO NOT fertilize trees or shrubbery until December.

Planting

Sow pansy seeds this month in flats to transplant to the landscape in September.

Perennials, hollyhock, delphinium and Stokes’ aster can be sown now for healthy plants in the spring.

Repot more house plants.

Plant a fall garden with beets, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, radish, rutabaga, squash and turnips.

Pruning

Nada. Nope. Don’t! No pruning of trees or shrubs until November.

In case of hurricane damage, disregard the above admonition.

Spraying

Same stuff as last month. Look for spider mites on coniferous evergreens (juniper, arborvitae, etc.) and lace bugs on azaleas and pyracantha.

Continue rose spray program and weekly spraying of fruit trees and bunch grapes.

Watch for worms on cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) and borers on squash.  Spray only if necessary. Follow the label instructions.

Propagation

You may still take cuttings of shrubs.

More fun things to do if you just can’t get enough of the August heat

Make sure your LANDSCAPE PLAN is up to date especially if you plan to modify the landscape this fall.

Keep running up the water bill when the August thunderstorms skip your house.

Build a compost bin.

Dig Irish potatoes.

Stay cool and hydrated. September and October will soon be at hand.

July: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Alright, y’all. It’s July. This is the Piedmont of North Carolina. ‘Nuff said. Except … we’re gardeners and we must garden! Heat? Humidity? It’s all just more stuff to keep our horticultural minds busy. Does a fungus love heat and humidity? Yes it does. Does your water bill go through the roof trying to keep stuff alive just so it can drown in the next thunderstorm? Probably. Can you keep up with the aphid, spider mite and lacebug outbreaks? Hopefully!

But wait. Remember the 70-degree days we enjoyed in February? Can’t get that in New Hampshire or New York or Nebraska or North Dakota, or a whole host of other states. Then think ahead to October.  Will we worry about snow then? Will our growing season have ended? Nope! Sure it’s hot and humid now, but we can escape to the sea for a breeze or to the mountains for some cooler temps. Yessirree, give me North Carolina every time, thank you very much. Now let’s go out in the yard and be grateful.

Lawn Care
Fertilize warm season grasses (Bermuda, Zoysia and St. Augustine) if you haven’t already. When mowing these lawns remove one-third of the growth. Change directions with each mowing to strengthen root systems and expose different side of the blades to sunlight.

Fertilizing
Continue side-dressing your vegetable garden plants. July is the last time to fertilize landscape plants until next year.

This is an excellent time to take soil samples especially from your lawn. Sample boxes and instructions can be obtained from the extension office.  It is a FREE service until November.

Planting
Veggies that can still be planted include Brussels sprouts, collards, beans, carrots, tomatoes and pumpkins.

A young Brussels sprout plant, ‘Long Island Improved,’ one of three varieties that perform satisfactorily in N.C.  The others are Jade Cross E Hybrid and Royal Marvel. About 85 to 95 days are required from field seeding or transplanting to maturity.

Get ready for the fall garden by starting broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower plants to be transplanted in mid-August.

July is also a good time to transplant overgrown houseplants.

Pruning
– “Bleeder” trees like maple, dogwood, birch and elm can be pruned this month.

– Overgrown hedges can be pruned.

– Coniferous evergreens (they make cones with seeds in them) can be pruned.

– Raspberry and blackberry fruiting canes can be cut to the ground following harvest.

– Rhododendrons, azaleas (I know that’s redundant) and blueberries can have the dieback removed.

– Keep garden mums pinched until mid-month.

– Remove faded blooms on perennials to encourage a second blooming.

Spraying
Insects to be watchful for include bag worms, leaf miners, aphids, spider mites and lace bugs. Oh, yeah.  Japanese beetles, duh. Watch tomatoes for signs of blight and spray as necessary. Continue with rose program. Also continue fungicide program for bunch grapes and fruit trees.

Vegetable pests to watch for:  cucumber beetle (cucumber, ironically enough), flea beetle (tomato, eggplant and beans) and aphids (everything).

Only use pesticides when necessary and ALWAYS follow the label instructions.

There’s not too many extra things to do this month unless you want to build cold frames and greenhouses to be ready for next winter. I recommend you kick back on the deck in the evening with a cool beverage and enjoy summer in this goodly state. 

Further Reading
Browse, or search, Horticultural information leaflets from NC State Extension:  https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/catalog/series/73/

Learn more about Brussel sprouts – https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/brussels-sprouts

Photo credit: Downtowngal, no changes made:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Young_brussels_sprouts_plant.jpg

Garden Calendar: To Do in June

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

“June is bustin’ out all over.” And apparently it is going to be HOT. Are y’all ready?  After a relatively benign summer last year this one is looking like a scorcher already. My potted annuals on the deck want a serious drink every other day and I had to put a soaker hose in the four by eight-foot veggie garden box. So, even though it means getting out of the AC there are things to do outside. (Just get up earlier. Beauty sleep is a myth.) Think of going outside as detoxifying through sweat.

Lawn Care

If you have heretofore procrastinated on this item it is TIME to fertilize warm season grasses (i.e. Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine). It is also the best (and really only) time to fertilize Centipede. The general recommendation is for a half pound 15-0-14 or equivalent per 1000 square feet. Should you desire to be truly accurate – GET a FREE SOIL TEST.

It would be difficult to core aerate our clayey soils too much, so a day or two after a rain (like any day this spring) or a good irrigation would be an ideal time do just that.

When mowing warm season grasses a good rule-of-thumb is to remove one-third of the new growth per mowing.

If you have been drooling over your neighbor’s Zoysia lawn, June is a good time to start your own with sod or plugs.

Fertilizing
After getting your FREE SOIL TEST in order to avoid over fertilizing, now is the time to feed your dogwoods following the recommendations.

Vegetable gardens would like a side dressing of fertilizer about now to maximize production.


Planting
Again, for the procrastinators out there, if you want a crop this year better get these plants (too late for seeds) in the ground ASAP: tomatoes, peppers, black-eyed peas, lima beans, green & wax beans, pumpkins, sweet potatoes.

Start (from seed) Brussel sprouts & collards to set out in mid-July.

Pruning
Coniferous evergreens (they produce seeds in cones) like pines, cedars, junipers, arborvitaes, etc. may be pruned now.

Hedges can be pruned now but be advised do not remove more than a third of the total plant top (the green part.)

Keep pinching your garden mums until mid-July.

Hydrangea macrophylla (the ones with the BIG leaves) can be pruned when the flowers fade.

Azaleas may be pruned until July 4. (An “old wives tale” that works.)

Dieback in ericaceous plants (acid-loving) such as azalea, rhododendron, Pieris, etc. can be pruned out now. Remember to cut below the damage and to sterilize the pruner with 10% bleach between cuts.

Pest Control and Herbicides
Patrol your shrubs for the following likely suspects: lace bugs, leaf miners, spider mites, aphids and bag worms. Use appropriate measures to curtail their destructive tendencies. If the bag worms have already bagged themselves you will have to hand pick them and destroy them in any manner you see fittin’.

June is also the beginning of the Asian invasion better known as Japanese beetles.  There is a myriad of treatment options.

Tomato early blight could be rampant this year what with all the warm dampness.  Watch for dark spots on the leaves and treat with an appropriate fungicide. There are some good organics on the market.

June is a good month to eradicate poison ivy, kudzu and honeysuckle. Get ‘em with an appropriate herbicide while they are rapidly growing.

As with shrubs it is time to be on guard in the garden. Several (many?) insects are looking for gourmet gardens to satisfy their gastronomic inclinations. Look for a variety of worms on cruciferous veggies (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower), cucumber beetles on cucumbers (ironically), squash borers on other cucurbits-squash and melons, flea beetles on green beans, tomatoes and eggplant, and aphids on anything green.

Continue with regular pest-management programs on bunch grapes, fruit trees and roses.

Use pesticides wisely, sparingly and only when necessary. Always read the label and follow directions.

Other Fun Garden Stuff to Keep You Outside
Water lawns as necessary but try to do it early in the day to avoid evaporative loss.  Watering a lawn in the evening promotes disease. Lawns and gardens need about one inch of water per week either from natural sources or irrigation. 

Strawberry beds can be renovated now.

It is also a marvelous time to sit on the deck or patio with a glass of your favorite cold beverage and enjoy your garden.