December: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

December 2020
Finally, is here.
Let’s hope it’s a time
Of goodwill and cheer.

A time of peace
A time to be jolly,
Decorate the house
With red and green holly  (Ilex sps).

Let’s celebrate
So many things,
A festival of lights,
The birth of a king.

Kwanza will fill us
With hope and cheer,
And the 31st
Will conclude this strange year.

But before it gets COLD
And the ground hardens,
There are things you can do
Out in your gardens.

If your lawn is Fescue
Or Kentucky blue,
There’s still some mowing
You’ll need to do.

Not too short;
Four inches is neat.
Or there’ll be more weeds
You’ll have to defeat.

And speaking of broadleaf
Weeds to be slam(ba)
Try 2-4D
And/or dicamba.

Always, always
Follow package directions
In order to prevent
A lawn insurrection.

Check the results
To see how much
Lime would be best.

If in your Spring garden
Blooming bulbs shall be found,
Now is the time
To put the bulbs in the ground.

Even though
The sun’s rays are slanting,
It’s not too late
For Fall plant planting.

Trees and shrubs
And things that bloom,
Somewhere in the garden
There must be some room!

You can prune again
Now that it’s cold.
Remove those branches
That have gotten too old.

Shape those non-blooming shrubs
Make ‘em real nice
Before they get covered
In snow or ice.

If there are bugs
Still left to foil
Give them a shot
Of horticultural oil.

Then clear out the sprayer
And hang it to dry.
You won’t need it again
Until Spring is nigh.

Other stuff
Other activities
And gardening fun
For staying outside
In the winter sun.

Look at the garden
Is there mulch to be spread
To protect the plants
And enhance the bed?

And what of that spot
Right over there?
Does it need a plant
To make it less bare?

And if it’s too cold
Outside to be,
There are seed catalogues
That have to be read.

And when it’s all done
Find a good book
Grab a hot cup of something
And curl up in a nook.

Happy holidays, y’all! Here’s to a great 2021!

November: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

It appears to be November, not that we could have missed that fact this year.

The accidental cottage garden is a mixed bag this time of year. The driveway border planting has only a few hardy ageratums (Conoclinium coelestinum) and flat-topped white asters (Aster umbellatus) keeping it from looking like a totally neglected weed patch. The kitchen garden looks slightly less morose. The Chrysanthemum ‘Spreads Like Crazy’ is nearly done. There are some black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fuglida) and three sunflower plants (Helianthus annuus) from seeds donated by wildlife. The other end of the house has Galardia (Galardia puchella) and Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) gracing us with their brightly painted blooms.

Lawn Care

If you have a warm season grass lawn (Bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass) all you need to do is keep it relatively free of leaves.  If on the other hand you have a cool season grass lawn (tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescues, and perennial ryegrass), you are still cutting it 3.5 to four inches tall AND keeping it relatively leaf-free. Continue the never-ending war with fire ants.


Not much going on here. If your soil pH is low, less than 6.0 (I’m sure you were astute enough to get it tested before NCDOA starts charging for the service later this month), apply the recommended amount of lime. A good way to incorporate it into the soil is to core aerate the lawn before the application. Wood ashes from your fireplace can be spread on your gardens and shrub beds. Be careful to avoid acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, gardenias, etc.


Let me repeat, “Fall is for planting!” There is still lots of time to add and/or transplant plants in your landscape (per your PLAN, naturally). Plant one-year-old asparagus crowns now. Sow a cover crop* over the veggie garden if it is done for the year. A planting of annual rye, wheat, or barley will help prevent erosion and keep weeds to a minimum. Besides you can just till it into the soil in the spring as a bonus.


After Jack Frost has claimed the last of your herbaceous perennials including existing asparagus they can be cut back to the over-wintering rosettes or the ground. Dead and/or diseased wood can be pruned out at any time. Weeds and undesirable trees can now be removed without the three bottles of water per hour, head sweat band, and insect repellent.


Surely by now you have cleaned up and put away the spray equipment. If not, “Just do it.”

Other stuff to do that will keep you outside and prevent eggnog overdose
As mentioned earlier, add lime where recommended. No fertilizer until spring.

Walk around the yard on mild days and, this year anyway, maybe on some not so mild days. Not only are mild days numbered for the rest of the year, but outside seems to be the safe place to be.

Okay, you can go inside now and order those fruit trees* and vines you’ve been talking about. They will be delivered in time for planting in February or March.  (Did you know hardy kiwi will grow well in a sunny place and produce a prodigious amount of fruit?)

While you are inside look at your landscape plan and make adjustments based on this year’s experiences. I hope you have a great, though perhaps modified, Thanksgiving. Cook enough to share with someone who wouldn’t otherwise have any.

And, stay safe: Wear your mask. Wait six feet apart. Wash your hands. The life you save may be your own.

*Resources & Further Reading
A list of common plant diseases, pests, and other problems you may encounter in your garden in November

Covid-19 information

Winter annual cover crops

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

Growing tree fruits and nuts in NC

September: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

September, it appears, is upon us which means only two more months of obnoxious political ads.  Except for baseball,  it’s PBS (and books) for me until November.

The Accidental Cottage Garden looks like most perennial gardens in September—more than a little scraggly. There are a few hanger’s-on:  Galardia (Galardia puchella), both coreopsis species (C. lanceolate and C. verticilata), balloon flowers (Platycodon grandifloris) and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) are still pretty. The surprise to me is the tenacity of the forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica). They have been faithful since May. The canna lily (Canna cv. Unknown) has a new friend, swamp aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum).

Forget-me-nots. Photo: Joshua Mayer CC-BY-SA

The tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquiemaculata) have been especially prolific this year. We have six plants and have forcibly removed over 20 caterpillars. Might have to go inorganic.

On an unrelated note, we have a much greater respect and admiration for school teachers. Twice a week our house becomes Zoom school for a kindergartner and a first-grader. Helping them stay engaged is a challenge for those of us who are in the room with them. Watching teachers who are not present with their students attempt to import knowledge and maintain some semblance of order is amazing. Bless all the teachers out there.

And now to the garden.  Bet you thought I’d never get there.

September is the best time to seed/reseed tall Fescue lawns. Loosen the soil in bare areas and cover any area larger than one square foot with wheat straw.

Apply lime and fertilizer as recommended on your FREE SOIL TEST.  (You got one, right?)

Do not fertilize warm season grasses (Bermuda, Centipede, Zoysia).  Fertilizing them now is like giving sugar to your kids at bed time. They’ll get really active much to their (and your) detriment.

The window to treat your lawn for grubs is open until the middle of the month. They tend to go sleepy-by after that.

Nope FERGIDABOUTIT!! Sharpen the shears and put ‘em back up.

Same bad guys as last month. Wooly Adelgid on Hemlock, spider mites on all coniferous evergreens, lace bugs on Azalea and Pyracantha, and Tea Scale on Euonymus and Camellia.

Spray peach and nectarine trees for borers

Maintain your rose program.

Many insects and diseases are more active in the fall. They like this weather, too.

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

And I just learned (who said you can’t teach an old reprobate new tricks?) mid-August until November is prime time to transplant peonies. Dig a big hole and a big root ball. Do not plant too deeply. Cut back the stems from this year.

More Things for When You Can’t Get Enough of This Beautiful Weather

  • Mulch shrub and flower beds.
  • Clean and put away sprayers and other equipment that you won’t need again until spring.
  • For those without a fall garden (sad) it is time to chop, burn, or toss dead veggie plants. Especially burn or toss plants that had disease or insect problems.
  • Take somebody’s kids to a park.
  • Just get out of the house and do something. September and October only come around once a year and outside is safer than inside. Besides, you have all winter to stay inside socially distanced and masked.

Stay safe y’all!

Further Reading
2020 Top Performing Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass Cultivars:

This publication for homeowners and landscapers describes how to mow, fertilize, irrigate, and control weeds in a zoysiagrass lawn.

Learn about Azalea lace bugs:

Roses and the insects of summer:

Peonies for the home landscape:

Visit our Tomato Grafting Project page – A group of Durham County Extension master gardeners grafted their favorite tomatoes onto disease-resistant root stock and wrote about the results.

August: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell EMGV

Already it’s August! We must be having fun ‘cause the time sure is flying. It’s a good thing we’re supposed to be staying home mostly. I surely don’t have time to go anywhere. Nature abhors a vacuum and so, like most folks, I’ve found plenty to do without going anywhere.

I don’t know about your yard, but ours didn’t get a drop of rain from the first week in July until the 29th.  The Accidental Cottage Garden looks like an accident happened. It is sad. There are a few black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) hanging on along with some coreopsis (C. lanceolata and C. verticilata). The butterfly weed (Asclepeis tuberosa) and a late blooming daylily (Hemerocalis x August Flame) are making an orange show and some blanket flowers (Galardia pulchella) are thumbing their noses at the droughty-ness.

We stuck some tomatoes in Earth Boxes in front of the kitchen window and they are very happy. Then there’s the basil … Last year we had three plants. (I like basil.) This year we have 10,378 – more or less.  Basil as a weed species is a novelty to me!

Anyway, here are a few things you can do in your garden when the heat index is not in the stratosphere.

Lawn Care
– Check the lawn for grubs.  If you find some, treat with an appropriate insecticide. If you do not 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).

– Give your strawberries a shot of nitrogen fertilizer.
– DO NOT fertilize trees or shrubbery until December.

– Sow pansy seeds this month in flats, indoors, to transplant to the landscape in September.
– Perennial seeds, such as hollyhock (Alcea rosea), larkspur (Delphinium) and Stokes aster (Stokesia Laevis) can be sown now, outdoors, 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 & turnips.

Nada! Nope. Don’t. No pruning of trees or shrubs until November. In case of hurricane damage disregard the above admonition.

– 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.

You may still take cuttings of shrubs.

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

  • Read our Tomato Grafting Project page and up your game for next year’s tomato crop.
  • 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.
  • Wear your mask and wash your hands.

September and October will soon be at hand and we can do all those things in relative comfort.

Additional Extension Resources

How to make a meadow:

Maintaining quality turf:

Plant a fall vegetable garden:

Propagation by stem cuttings

Landscape planning and design:

How to build a compost bin

April: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Welcome to April in the age of pandemic. Who knew two months ago that we’d all be practicing “social distancing” (though a friend opined that we’re really practicing physical-distancing and e-socializing), sheltering-in-place from an invisible invader and dealing with a shortage of toilet paper? BTW, my sister suggested that those of y’all who do needlework should knit or crochet granny squares to make up for the shortage of TP. Talk about sustainable. And what a great time to be a bidet salesperson!

Oh, wait. This is supposed to be about gardening. My bad. At my age it is easy to get distracted. Did everybody enjoy the March-in-North Carolina weather roller-coaster? I think it does that so that we will appreciate April and May more. So, while we’re all confined to our own yards, (Surely “stay home” doesn’t mean “hide in the house with the covers pulled over your head!?!) let’s go garden.

Lawn Care
Go ahead and fertilize the warm season grasses (Bermuda, zoysia, centipede). They will be breaking dormancy soon and will be grateful for the feed.

STOP fertilizing cool season grasses (tall fescue, bluegrass) unless you want to invite a host of fungal diseases to spend the summer decimating your lawn.  Just sayin’.

Climate change may have made it too late to apply crabgrass preventer this year. The marker is to apply before the dogwoods bloom (usually mid-April), but mine have already begun to open.

Warm season grasses can be planted by mid-month. Seeding is possible, but not recommended.  Sodding and plugging are the preferred methods. NC State’s Turf Files website is an excellent resource for information on all things grass in North Carolina. See resources below.

Any shrubbery that you didn’t get around to in March. See also: Lawn Care.

It is time to get giddy in the garden! The average last frost date in Durham, NC is April 13, give or take 12 days. I suspect this year it was in mid-March. So, put on those knee pads and plant, plant, plant.

From seed: melons, squashes, pumpkin, beans, cucumbers, corn (okra at the end of the month). Transplants:  tomatoes and peppers. Hopefully your soil has already been amended according to the recommendations of your soil test 🙂 Please plant enough to share with those who may not have any, especially this year because that might be a neighbor who works in a “non-essential” industry. 

Remove winter damage from trees and shrubs.

Refrain from pruning spring flowering shrubs such as azaleas (Rhododendron x hybrid), lilac (Syringa spp.), forsythia, spiraea, weigelia, etc. until after the petals fall from the blooms, but before the end of June.

Prune fruiting shrubs like holly (Ilex spp.), and pyracantha while they are in bloom so as not to remove all of this year’s berries.

Prune spring flowering trees such as flowering cherry (Prunus hybrids) and redbud (Cercis spp.) only as needed for damage removal and/or aesthetics.

Be on the lookout for the following pests: azalea lace bugs, boxwood leaf miners, euonymus and tea scales and hemlock/ juniper-spruce spider mites. Spray only as needed and follow label instructions.

Spray iris bed for borers.

Continue in perpetuity a rose spray program (please consider organic products).

Treat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) for worms.

Spray squash plants near the base of the stem to control squash vine borers. Continue doing so weekly until June 1 using a pesticide labeled specifically for vegetables.

Spray apple and pear trees with streptomycin while they are in bloom to control fire blight. Apply twice. Once at early bloom and again at full bloom. If the weather is rainy a third application may be desirable.

Begin weekly fungicide applications for bunch grapes.

Begin weekly fruit tree spraying once the flower petals fall. Again, please consider organic products.

Other Stuff to Do to Avoid Spring Cleaning of the House and Garage
Mulch, mulch, mulch. And did I mention mulch? Unless you are a very recent arrival to the area you know that at some point in the coming summer it will be HOT and at some point, it will be DRY and at some point, it will be both simultaneously. Then you will be glad you MULCHED. Mulch will help to mitigate the effects of a Piedmont North Carolina summer and cut down on your water bill.

And, of course, like death and taxes, there will be weeds. Unless there are an overwhelming number of them, pulling is the recommended (and therapeutic) method of removal. Just be sure that if you get down low enough to pull weeds you can get yourself back up because if you need assistance it will require a block and tackle apparatus in order for the assistor to get you up from a distance of six feet.  You don’t want to go there.

Stay healthy. Stay connected. Take care of each other and keep gardening.

Resources and Further Reading

Everything you need to know about lawn care in NC

About rose fertilizers

If you grow roses, learn more about the Rose Rosette Virus

Pruning trees and shrubs