General Lawn and Plant Care

1. Cool-season lawns that were fertilized in September should be lush and growing quickly. It is not too late to fertilize tall fescue and bluegrass lawns; in fact, a second application of fertilizer is suggested to build a strong root system.

2. Winter weeds such as wild onions, chickweed, annual bluegrass, and bittercress, can overtake lawns in the fall. Find a warm afternoon to apply a broadleaf weed killer to infested areas if these weeds become problematic. You may also consider using a commercial lawn care company for large yards or manually intensive work.

3. Thinning tall fescue lawns can be overseeded now; it is better to sow grass seed while the soil is still warm. Don’t forget to have the soil tested if your lawn is weak and bare spots exist.

4. Annual flower gardens can fall victim to deadly frosts, with the exception of cold-hardy winter annuals such as pansies, violas, and ornamental kale. Consider mulching beds of these stalwarts to prevent “frost heaving,” which is caused by the continual freezing and thawing of soil. In coastal gardens, flower beds can benefit from routine watering and liquid fertilizing until winter arrives.

5. Spring flowering bulbs should be planted by now. Tulips and daffodils can still be planted for late blooms. Paperwhite bulbs, amaryllis, and lily-of the-valley pips can also be potted for the indoors.

6. Raked leaves are a terrific resource for improving soils. Layer them on gardens to protect tilled beds, or shred them and apply them as mulch.

7. Consider using some of your downtime away from lawn care to service your mowers and other maintenance equipment. Some appropriate tasks include cleaning both the air filter and the mowing deck, changing the oil, adding stabilizer to the gas tank, checking the spark plug.

8. In piedmont and coastal gardens herbaceous perennial beds can be groomed, however they should not be fertilized with a nitrogen source. Established perennials can still be transplanted to new locations. Mountain gardens can be mulched as needed before the ground freezes.

9. Use the winter months to prepare new beds that will receive roses next spring. This preparation may include soil testing, cutting back established roses, placing mulch six inches high over graft unions for winter protection, ordering new rose plants, and flushing irrigation lines.

10. Tree planting and pruning season is in full swing for landscaping companies. A mature tree can have its canopy thinned by a certified arborist in order to remove dead wood and help with wind resistance.

11. Container grown garden mums should either be planted in the ground or nestled together in a cold frame to protect their roots from freezing. An unheated crawl space or garage is a great storage space for tender bulbs and geraniums that need some winter protection.

12. Continue planting deciduous, woody ornamentals as the season allows. The list of suitable candidates includes perennial flowering vines, fruit trees, brambles, grapes, shrub borders, and peonies.

13. Tropical houseplants should be moved indoors as night temperatures dip into the mid-forties. Spraying insecticidal soap will eliminate mites and other pests, while also making the plants shine. Make sure to place a saucer under containers to protect your furniture or floors when watering your plants.

14. “Grasscycling” is a recommended practice for organic lawn care in established cool-season lawns. Mow over your leaves and allow grass clippings to remain on the yard.

Fruit and Vegetable Gardens

15. Many vegetable gardeners save seed of heirloom and open-pollinated varieties. Dried seeds should be kept in a cool location. Place them in labeled envelopes and store them in an airtight container.

16. Cold frames and row tunnels can extend the planting season of cool-season vegetables. Vegetables that can be started by seed with the help of cold protecting devices include lettuce, mesclum, mustard, turnips, onions, spinach and carrots. Garlic bulbs and shallots can be planted in Zone 8 gardens spaced four or more inches apart and mulched with straw or compost. It is best to buy organic cloves at a garden center to avoid growth inhibiting chemicals in grocery store garlic.

17. Fresh herbs, such as rosemary, parsley, thyme, chives, and cilantro are a welcome addition in the kitchen. If they are not in your garden, consider planting a portable bowl garden that can be moved to a sunny space indoors during the winter. They are also available from most local market gardeners.

18. Prune out dead wood on fruit trees and remove decayed fruit. Give the ground under and around fruit bearing plants a thorough raking to eliminate diseased foliage and other sources of pathogens. A good cure for cabin fever in the winter is to begin pruning mature apple trees. Newly planted fruit trees, brambles, and vines should not be trained or pruned severely until late winter when buds begin to swell and forsythia bloom.

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For more than 30 years, Toby Bost has been a resource to North Carolina gardeners and growers as an agricultural extension agent, a trainer for master gardeners, and an author. His books include The Successful Gardener Guide: North Carolina, North Carolina Gardener’s Guide, and The Carolina Gardener’s Guide. He can be reached through Our State magazine at gardening@ourstate.com

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Since 1933, Our State has shared stories about North Carolina with readers both in state and around the world. We celebrate the people and places that make this state great. From the mountains to the coast, we feature North Carolina travel, history, food, and beautiful scenic photography.

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