To Do in October

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, wasn’t September fun?! Dry, wet, dry, OMG wet. Heartfelt sympathies to those who suffered loss by Florence. For those of us whose gardens were only moderately affected (or not at all) here is the October calendar.

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.


  • 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 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.

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 to move in the spring.

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 for 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.

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 to April.
  • Put those raked 0r 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 Cooperative 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 twelve weeks bring them out into the house and watch them grow and bloom. Kids love it.


To Do in September

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

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, and hurricanes. Enough contemplation! There is still much to do in the garden this month. Let’s get to it.

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.

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

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 (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. Spray at dusk, when pollinators are inactive.  Always read and follow directions on the label!

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 (Bermuda, centipede, zoysia). Fertilizing them now is like giving sugar to your kids at bedtime; They’ll 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.

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.
  • Check out 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.


To Do in August

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Just in case you were napping when it happened, IT’S AUGUST! The dog days are here. That means at our house that the dog is permanently camped on an AC vent.  Who knows? Maybe she’s got the right idea. However, if you are one of those people who insist on torturing yourself in the garden, here are some hints to get you in and out of it quickly.

About the only things that will benefit from fertilizing in August are strawberries. If you don’t have strawberries don’t even think about fertilizer.

Plant pansy seeds in flats for transplanting into the landscape in mid-September. (You can do it in the cool kitchen!)

Bulbs to plant in August include Lycoris (spider lily), Colchicum (autumn crocus) and Sternbergia (autumn daffodil).

Sow seeds for Delphinium (larkspur), Stokesia laevis (Stoke’s aster) and Alcea rosea (hollyhock) now for a dazzling display next spring.

Go all in for a fall veggie garden by planting beets, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, radish, spinach, winter squash and turnips.

NO!! DO NOT! Sharpen and oil the shears and hang them back up where you can find them in January.

Watch for spider mites in coniferous evergreens and potted annuals especially if the plants are water stressed. Spray if you must.

Keep up with your rose program.

Peach and nectarine trees need their trunks sprayed for borers at the end of August.

Watch the cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, etc.) for worms and spray squash (except butternut) for squash vine borers.

Maintain the weekly program for bunch grapes and fruit trees.

August is an effective time to apply broadleaf herbicide on Similax (greenbrier), kudzu, Campsis (trumpet creeper), and Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria).

Lawn Care
If you think of grubs as, well, grubby now is the time to apply an appropriate pesticide.

It is time to prep bluegrass and fescue lawns for fall overseeding. Sorry, but if you want Yard-of-the-Month next spring ya gotta overseed in the fall. The other option is a really big natural area (with HOA approval, of course). Or you could look into sustainable landscaping which is really cool stuff.

Other Activities to Make You Hot and Sweaty
Take your landscape plan out (You DO have a landscape plan, right?!?) and see what you might be ready to add to the yard in the fall. Fall is for planting.

Water stuff when Mother Nature is slack in that department.

Build a compost bin.

Dig your Irish potatoes. This time of the year I dig them in a sour cream potato salad.

August is also your last chance to chill out and rest up before fall planting and harvesting season.

Gardeners Calendar: To Do in July

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

And June is gone. I trust you didn’t miss celebrating the solstice. There are some ancient traditions out there that bear repeating.

Now it is July. Time to set the automatic drip irrigation and go to the beach. Let the neighbors harvest the veggies for a week (or month) and kick back. Yeah, yeah I know. The weeds. Well, they’re going to be there anyway. Pull ‘em in August. Okay, here are the things you need to be aware of this month.

Lawn Care
Hopefully you fertilized your warm season grasses in June. However, if you procrastinated now (as in this week) would be propitious. When mowing those grasses remove 1/3 of the growth per mowing. To promote root strength of all lawn grasses and overall aesthetics change directions each time.

Continue to side dress the vegetable garden.

July is your last chance to fertilize trees and shrubs.

Those Brussels sprouts and collards you started last month should be ready to set out by mid-July.

Get a jump on your fall garden by sowing beans, carrots, and pumpkins. If you are optimistic about a warm fall you may also set out tomato plants.

This is also a great time to repot any overgrown house plants.

Trees that bleed readily (e.g. maples, dogwoods, elms and birches) can be pruned in July.

Prune out die-back from rhododendron species. Sterilize the pruners between cuts.

Cut back to the ground any fruiting canes of blackberries and raspberries post-harvest.

Prune hedges as necessary.

Narrow leaf evergreens can be pruned early in the month.

Pruning spent blossoms from crape myrtles and perennials will promote a second blooming.

Cease pruning spring blooming shrubs. Pruning now will most likely remove next year’s flower buds.

Pinch your mums (chrysanthemums that is) one last time the first week of July.

What to watch for:  lace bugs on azaleas, pyracantha and pieris, bagworms on flat needle evergreens (arborvitae, Leyland cypress, etc.), white flies on several species (they are especially fond of my lantana and hibiscus), spider mites on any plant under stress and aphids on everything.

It is prime Japanese beetle season.

Continue your rose program as well as fruit trees (many of which are members of the rose family) and bunch grapes.

Vegetable garden pests that can ruin your day now include cucumber beetles (guess where), flea beetles on beans and eggplants, and the ubiquitous aphids.

Watch for blight on tomatoes. Treat with appropriate fungicide.

July is a good time to treat poison ivy (oak), honeysuckle and kudzu with the appropriate herbicide.

Remember to spray wisely—never too much, always only when necessary and ALWAYS READ THE LABEL.

July is a really good time to take semi-hardwood cuttings of azalea, other rhododendron species, camellia, holly and many other spring blooming shrubs.

Other Stuff You Can Do if You Don’t Have a Pool and a Good Book and Access to Adult Beverages
Check your landscape plan (You DO have a landscape plan, don’t you?) to see if it needs tweaking.

If you have fruit trees that didn’t bear this year they can be pruned as if they were dormant. This will help prepare them for next year (or maybe it will scare them into performing next year).

Prune any storm damage.

Blossom end rot on tomatoes is caused by erratic watering–they really prefer not to get too dry — and low pH solved by adding lime. The lime won’t help this year as it takes four to six months for it to break down into a form usable by plants. There are calcium salt sprays available as a stopgap measure for this year. So, you can solve the water problem immediately, but the solution to the pH problem should involve a FREE soil test.

Giving your plant a long slow soak a couple of times a week is a much better method than 5 or 10 minutes per day.  It will help them develop deeper root systems.

Gardeners Calendar: To Do in June

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

It’s June? (very soon!) OMG!! Did May ever happen? I hope you are more ready for summer than I. Although, ready or not, here it comes. Forthwith a hopefully helpful list of possible gardening activities presented for your perusal.

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 half a pound 15-0-14 or equivalent per 1000 sq ft. 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 or a good irrigation would be an ideal time to 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.


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.


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 and collards to set out in mid-July.


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 one-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 out there.

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 out there.

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 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.

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