Early Fall Tips
1. Cool-season lawns can benefit from dethatching, aerification (read more), and fertilization. Take advantage of the cooler days of October to finish up lawn work, as spring seeding is the next recommended window for sowing tall-fescue lawns. Keep falling leaves from accumulating on newly seeded lawns. Irrigate these lawns routinely, and mow as the grass approaches four inches in height.
2. On established lawns, apply the equivalent of two pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in the fall. Apply half of the fertilizer early in the season and the rest later on.
3. In eastern counties, bermudagrass lawns can be overseeded with ryegrass for winter color. Most other varieties of warm-season turfgrass are best left in their natural state to go dormant. Back off on fertilization, and raise the mowing height.
4. Prepare houseplants placed outdoors this summer for the move indoors. It is best to do this in stages. Bug-proof them by repotting and cleaning containers. (Some insecticides are approved as a soil drench if you don’t plan on repotting them. Contact your county extension office for this information.) It helps if you have a garage to quarantine plants before their final move into your living space.
5. Fall weather is ideal for planting and transplanting perennials, shrubs, and trees in the landscape. Take advantage of fall plant sales at garden centers and by community organizations and clubs, such as master gardener associations.
6. Keep deadheading established, fall annuals and vegetables for continued production. Groom perennial gardens, and apply a preemergent herbicide if winter annual weeds make it difficult to enjoy your garden.
7. Fall cleanup in vegetable gardens is a critical task because some pests overwinter on old root systems and plant debris from the growing season. Always pull up tomato, squash, and other plant roots once the plants have wilted or quit producing.
8. Keep a keen eye out for signs of fruit worms and other insect pests in fall plantings. Cold crops, such as cabbage and broccoli, may need a spray application of B.T. (Dipel and similar biological insecticides) to control ravenous worms. Handpicking works well for most small gardens.
9. Don’t neglect watering fall plantings as Indian summer days can leave a garden high and dry. Mulching is always the appropriate action to conserve moisture.
10. Mature tomatoes should be harvested and stored indoors before frost. These generally soften in a matter of days. Fried green tomatoes are a Southern delicacy!
11. Pop a little color into a front bed or entrance space. Visit a garden shop for some hardy container plants such as garden mums, pansies, calendulas, snapdragons, dianthus, violas, ornamental kale, and cabbage. While you are planning ahead, consider purchasing spring flowering bulbs for planting during the next several weeks as the holiday season commences.
12. Municipal compost is a great source of free (or very economical) organic matter for your ornamental gardens. Stockpile it for next season, and use leaf compost to protect plowed land from winter erosion. Compost, aged manure, and cover crops are the primary means for enhancing soils for successful gardening.
13. Hummingbird feeders can be cleaned and stored away until next season. Sanitize them by removing molds in a bath of sudsy water first; then pour very hot water over the feeders. A disinfectant wipe can help with mold removal.
14. Outbuildings and detached tool sheds are a favorite hiding place for mice looking for a warm spot for the winter. Seal cracks around doors, and consider setting a mouse trap.
15. Rain barrels are a popular method to harvest water for gardens. Take advantage of the cooler days to construct one out of a food container drum. Rain barrels must be drained before freezing weather returns.
16. In western North Carolina counties, tender perennial bulbs should be harvested and stored to avoid freeze damage. Some common plants handled in this manner are caladium, gladiolus, tuberoses, canna, dahlias, elephant ear, plumbago, calocasia, and banana. (Even in the Piedmont region tender perennials, including lantana, angel’s trumpet, geranium, and Chinese hibiscus are harvested; suckers are removed and potted for overwintering.)
17. Many herbs can be planted at this time. A few good selections are chives, leeks, garlic, parsley, cilantro and rosemary. Enrich the soil with an organic vegetable fertilizer or compost before planting.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org