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!

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.

April To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Hallelujah it is APRIL!! Real Spring is here. Statistical frost-free date is April 11. Get them tomato plants ready!! I mean if the seed packet says 65 days and you started the seeds in mid-February then you should be enjoying that first ‘mater sammich about Easter this year. Right? Well, maybe that’s pushing it a bit, but definitely by Mother’s Day. So, here’s a bunch of stuff to do while you are waiting for the tomatoes.

Lawn Care
This is the first month you may fertilize warm season grasses (i.e. Bermuda, centipede and zoysia) as they should be breaking dormancy soon. DO NOT fertilize cool season grasses again until fall.

Mow fescue and bluegrass at a height of three to four inches.

This is your last chance to put out pre-emergent crabgrass control. The deadline is when the dogwoods bloom. After that, the seeds will have germinated and pre-emergent by definition will no longer be a viable option.

Fertilizing 

  • See “Lawn Care.”
  • Fertilize any shrubbery that didn’t get fed in March.

Planting
Is this what everybody’s been waiting for, or what? By mid-month it is crazy time in the garden(s).

In the veggie garden sow, sow, sow. Melons, squashes, beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, peppers, tomatoes and corn. Presumably you have already amended the soil per your SOIL TEST recommendations. Be sure to plant enough to share with someone who might not have any at all.

Warm season grasses can be planted by the end of the month. Seeding is possible, though not recommended. Plugging and sodding are the better options with warm season grasses. Check out NC State Turf Files for detailed information on all lawn turf types.

Pruning

bloom-blossom-blue-sky-1505004
Flowering cherry tree photo by Carissa Rogers from pexels.com

  • Remove any winter damage from shrubs and trees.
  • Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs [I.e. azalea (Rhododendron x hybrid), lilac (Syringa species), forsythia, spiraea, wiegelia, etc.] until after the blooms fade.
  • Prune fruiting shrubs [i.e. holly (Ilex species) and pyracantha] while they are in bloom to avoid removing all of this year’s berries.
  • If necessary, prune spring flowering trees [i.e. Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’), flowering cherry (Prunus hybrids), redbud (Cercis species)].

Spraying

  • ALWAYS check plants for pests before spraying (except for borers which you won’t be able to see).
  • Be on the lookout for the following insect pests: azalea lacebugs, boxwood leaf miners, euonymus scale, hemlock & juniper-spruce spider mites. Spray only as needed following label instructions.
  • Spray iris beds for iris borers.
  • Treat cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) for worms. An organic product containing BT is a good green choice.
  • Spray squash plants near the base of the stem at first bloom to control squash vine borers. Continue this procedure weekly until June 1 using only an appropriate insecticide.
  • Spray apple and pear trees while in bloom with streptomycin to control fire blight. Use two applications: one at early bloom and a second at full bloom. If we have a rainy spring consider a third application.
  • Begin weekly applications of fungicide on bunch grapes.
  • Continue a rose spray program (forever and ever).
  • Begin weekly fruit tree spraying after the flower petals fall off.

Other Exciting Things (or not) to Keep You Happily Outside in the Glorious Spring Weather
Mulch. Mulch, mulch, mulch. The possibility of a hot dry summer always looms large in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Shredded hardwood, pine needles (pine straw), shredded cypress and pine bark in its many guises are all good mulches.

When you are bored or desperate to remain outside to avoid painting the bathroom, dusting the ceiling fans, bathing the cat … whatever, there are and always will be weeds to pull. It is the environmentally sound way to get rid of them and the kids and/or grand kids can help (until they turn 11 at which time the helpfulness gene goes dormant).

It’s Spring y’all.  Go out and enjoy.

Further Reading
https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/

 

 

To Do in February

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

It’s February!! Those of us who are die-hard just-can’t-help-ourselves gardeners are

bluebird and box
male eastern bluebird and bluebird box. photo credit: Patricia Pierce on Flickr

nearly beside ourselves—right? I mean, we can do stuff! We can dig in the dirt (well, at least the dirt that isn’t moisture-saturated or frozen)! YEA!! Besides, it is almost March when we really get to do stuff. In addition to breaking out the shovels, rakes and hoes the chem-heads out there can start spraying and fertilizing. So, here goes. A prelude to Spring in the key of D# major.

Lawn Care
Cool season grasses (i.e. fescue and bluegrass) should be fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer following the recommendation of your SOIL TEST.

Late February/early March is the best time to apply a pre-emergent crabgrass preventer. There are several easy to use granular products on the market. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label for safe and proper handling and application. Calibrate your spreader to ensure accurate application amounts; Too little will not give you effective control and too much may damage the turf.

Fertilizing
See Lawn Care above and Planting below.

Planting
And so it begins: The vegetable garden. The reason for some gardeners’ existence, for frozen fingers in February, summer sunburn and the endless supply of liniment in the medicine cabinet.

It is time for root vegetables and salad (and beef Bourguignon—which you can’t grow in the garden).  Plants that can go in the ground in February include cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips. Work a little fertilizer into the soil that was tested in October (while it was still free to do so) following the recommendations of said SOIL TEST.

Be cognizant of soil moisture levels. It appears that Mother Nature is going to maintain that for now, but she can be really fickle.

Pruning
If you have been ignoring previous posts, now would be a good time to prune bunch grapes and fruit trees. Also due for judicious trimming are summer flowering shrubs and small trees.  That list includes Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus seriatcus) crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and hydrangeas that bloom on new wood (Hydrangea arborescens & H. paniculata).

While you’re out there, whack back the ornamental grasses, too. The new blades haven’t emerged yet and the plants are looking a bit tired anyway.

Got some overgrown shrubs that you’ve been meaning to (or reluctant to) prune heavily? Go for it now.  I understand that if you’ve never done it before it can be a bit intimidating, trust me. The plant will almost always not only survive, but thrive. I am aware of the never-more-than-a-third rule, but sometimes that is not enough. If it needs to go back to 12”-18” … go for it.  Chances are, you and the plant will be glad you did.

Spraying
The orchard needs attention. Peaches and nectarines should be sprayed with a fungicide to prevent leaf curl. Spraying a dormant oil on the fruit trees will help control several insects later in the year.

Other fun stuff to do outside in February
– Perennials can be divided if the soil ever gets dry enough.

– Many landscape plants can be propagated via hardwood cuttings this time of the year.  Some of the plants in the category are crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia sps), flowering quince (Chaenomoles sps), junipers (Juniperus sps), spiraea (Spiraea sps) and weigelia (Weigelia sps).

– Bluebirds will be most appreciative of a thorough house cleaning before the spring nesting season. Remove all the old nesting materials and let them start afresh. It’s like clean linens for them.

Oh, yeah. Lest we forget … order flowers or other living things from the plant kingdom for your significant other. Just for the record, guys like flowers and plants, too. Happy Valentine’s Day y’all! Think positive thoughts about an early Spring and no late freezes.

 

Photo credit
Creative commons, copyright Patricia Pierce,  https://www.flickr.com/photos/47602497@N06/26758856348