Landscaping & Lawn Care
1. Beat the soil-testing rush by sending in your samples to the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Service’s Agronomic Division as soon as possible. The NCDA processes tens of thousands of soil samples for farmers once crops are harvested from the field. Testing is a free service to Tar Heel gardeners. The reports provide an accurate reading for correcting soil deficiencies related to pH and nutrients. The free soil test kits are available at county extension offices across the state. Extension agents are available to assist residents in interpreting the reports related to liming and fertilization.
2. Dead patches in your lawn? Dead spots may be the result of a grub infestation. Check the soil for signs of beetle larvae (grubs) by digging or pulling back a one-foot square of sod. Japanese beetle and Junebug grubs feed on grass roots in late summer before hibernating for the winter. A soil insecticide may be beneficial if your yard exceeds the dozen grubs-per-foot threshold level.
3. Warm-season turf-grass lawns, such as zoysia and hybrid bermudagrass, can benefit from an application of potash to enhance cold hardiness in winter and lessen spring grass dieback problems. Potash fertilizer is often sold as “winterizing fertilizer.” However, it is best to rely on soil testing before applying high-analysis lawn fertilizers in the Cape Fear and Neuse River Basins and similar sensitive watershed regions. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers in warm-season lawns as fall approaches.
4. Prepare for seeding new tall fescue/ bluegrass lawns. Begin over-seeding existing tall fescue lawns that have been ravaged by summer drought. Sodding and seeding should be complete before the first frost date if you live in the Piedmont and mountain regions of the state. Core aerification/plugging the lawn helps increase seed germination in established lawns to be over-seeded.
5. Groom gardens by deadheading and removing seedpods on perennials and herbs to build root systems. Collect seed for sowing in late winter and spring gardens. Store seed in paper bags after labeling each variety with a Sharpie marker.
6. Discontinue fertilizing roses this month. Continue removing diseased twigs and apply fungicides for disease control as recommended. Order new rose selections for fall planting in counties east of the foothills region.
7. Inspect junipers and other narrowleaf evergreens for bagworms. The cocoons should be removed by hand/scissors/shears as they contain hundreds of eggs waiting to hatch next spring. The two-inch “bags” are practically resistant to pesticide spray applications.
8. Common bermudagrass, wiregrass and other persistent, perennial weeds in landscapes can be virtually eliminated with a spray application of a glyphosate herbicide product. The active ingredient is quickly relocated into the roots of weeds when you time a spray application for a late summer window.
9. According to the N.C. Landscape and Nursery Association fall is the best season for landscaping and tree/shrubs planting. Remember to water new plantings throughout the fall and during the dry periods of winter.
10. Construct a compost bin and begin preparations to manage fallen leaves. Homemade leaf compost is like “black gold” for enriching garden soil, and mulching flower beds with compost helps conserve moisture.
11. Tulip bulbs are arriving at garden centers. Purchased bulbs should be stored in a basement or cool location for planting in November. Wholesale bulb suppliers have catalogs featuring new selections for planting; place online orders now. Remember that deep bed preparation is critical for bulbs to naturalize. Use a specialty bulb fertilizer at planting to support root growth.
12. Shear lightly or shape shrub plantings to deal with wild, rangy growth from the summer season. Heavy pruning is best delayed until winter and early spring.
13. Many landscape pests, such as azalea lacebugs and scale insects, produce a second generation of young in late summer. Eliminate many of these hidden pests with a spray application of horticultural oil or insecticidal soap, applied to the underside of foliage on broadleaf evergreens and prized ornamental shrubs.
14. Add a little color to your front gardens, porches, and patios with a few container garden mums. Many of these are cold-hardy and return to bloom next year when planted in borders and flowerbeds.
15. Don’t prune spring-flowering shrubs at this time. The flower buds are now formed and you will reduce the potential for wonderful spring color in the landscape garden.
16. Propagate a favorite coleus or geranium by taking stem cuttings and placing them in a plastic nursery pot of a mixture of equal parts vermiculite and perlite. Rooting powders speed up root development. Rooted annuals can be saved from frosts by using them indoors as houseplants and then planting them outside again in the spring.
Fruit and Vegetable Gardens
17. Fall vegetable gardening is a high priority for many organic growers. Plant leafy greens, crucifers, and root crops as suggested by planting guides. Insect populations are at their peak in the fall, so it is important to scout for hungry insects in vegetable plantings. Floating row covers offer protection from insects and extend the growing season as frosts occur in late autumn.
18. Tree fruit disease problems can be lessened by prompt removal of fruit “mummies” left hanging on trees after the summer harvest. Remove watersprouts/suckers on tree trunks; these are less likely to re-grow if removed now, versus pruning away in the dormant season.
19. It’s time to turn under summer cover crops grown as a green manure crop for improving clay soils. A garden tractor or rototiller will make for a quicker project. Fall cover crops, such as clover or rye, can be planted soon. Don’t forget to apply an inoculant when planting legumes cover crops in a new space.
20. Drought-stressed container gardens can be replanted or refreshed now. Consider using a bag of organic potting soil. Fertilize them with a liquid organic fertilizer product or time-release fertilizer developed especially for container plantings.