1. Even though cooler weather has arrived, planting continues to be a high priority in the Piedmont and coastal regions. Trees, herbaceous perennials, and shrubs are plentiful at garden centers, and our warm autumn soils are conducive to landscape installations.
2. Amending the soil with organic matter is not generally considered beneficial when planting trees. It is more helpful to dig a wide planting hole — as much as five times the width of the root ball or container.
3. Warm-season turfgrass lawns, like zoysia, St. Augustine, and hybrid bermudagrass, are going dormant. Raise your mower’s height for final mowings before winter. Lawns should not be fertilized until next spring. Consider sending a soil sample to the NCDA Agronomic Lab if you have a centipede-grass lawn. These lawns are generally sensitive to overfertilizing. (Note: It is best to rely on soil testing before applying lawn fertilizers in the Cape Fear Basin and similar watershed regions.)
4. Tall-fescue, bluegrass, fine-fescue, and ryegrass lawns can be fertilized before the Thanksgiving holidays. Continue to mow as necessary. Irrigate newly seeded lawns during dry periods of autumn.5. Groom gardens by deadheading and removing seedpods on perennials and herbs to build root systems.
6. Discontinue fertilizing roses. Continue removing diseased twigs on shrub roses. Hybrid tea rose bushes (cutting-rose types) can be pruned back halfway. Order new rose selections for fall planting in counties east of the foothill regions.
7. In counties in eastern North Carolina, continue planting leafy greens and cover crops as suggested by planting guides. Insect populations are at their peak in the fall, so it is important to scout regularly for hungry insects in vegetable plantings. Floating row covers can offer both insect control and extend the growing season.
8. Inspect junipers and other narrow-leaf evergreens for bagworms. The cocoons should be removed by hand, scissors, or shears as they contain hundreds of eggs waiting to hatch next spring. The two-inch bags are resistant to pesticides.9. Store gourds and winter squash in a dry location for the winter. A mild disinfectant can be used to clean around the stems after harvesting. Keep an eye on these during the coming winter months and dispose of those developing roots.
10. Persistent, perennial weeds, such as brambles, can be controlled with a spray of a glyphosate herbicide product. The active ingredient is quickly translocated into the stems of the weeds and into the roots. Also, spray the cut stems of weedy trees that you hope to remove from woodland gardens. Sweet gum, locust, and persimmon are notorious for resprouting after the trees are pruned to the ground.
11. Fruit-tree disease problems can be lessened by prompt removal of fruit “mummies” left hanging on the trees after harvest time. Also, remove watersprouts and suckers from the trunks of trees. They are less likely to regrow more sprouts if removed in fall versus being pruned away in the dormant season.
12. Consider hiring a registered landscape contractor to assist with major landscape renovations. Reputable contractors are licensed by the state, members of the N.C. Landscape Contractors Association, and licensed in pesticide application. They are also properly insured and carry workers’ compensation on all employees.13. Construct a compost bin for managing the fall-leaf drop. Some towns allow leaf burning, but you can go green by composting leaves or using them to cover fallow gardens. Homemade leaf compost is excellent for enriching garden soil and mulching existing flower beds. By soaking compost in water, you can make “compost tea,” which can be used as a fertilizer.
14. It’s spring-bulb-planting time! Bulbs are quite an investment for estate and public gardens. Though most public gardens treat tulips as annuals, gardeners can keep them flowering for years by taking the time to create raised beds for their tulips. Rototill beds and incorporate pine-bark soil conditioner and bulb fertilizer. (A pH of 6.0 is recommended, so limestone may be needed in acidic soils.) Some gardeners have discovered that crushed rock or PermaTill® added to the beds discourages voles from eating the bulbs in woodland plantings.
15. Shear hedges lightly, and shape evergreen shrub plantings to deal with wild, rangy growth from the summer season. Heavy pruning is best done in late winter and early spring.
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16. Many landscape pests, such as azalea lace bugs and scale insects, produce a second generation of young in late summer. Eliminate many of these hiding pests with a spray of horticultural oil or insecticidal soap applied to the underside of foliage on broad leaved evergreens and prized, ornamental shrubs.
17. Add a little color to your front gardens, porches, and patios with a few container garden mums. Japanese mum varieties are especially cold hardy and return to bloom year after year in borders and flower beds.
18. 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.19. Don’t miss the opportunity to prepare a new garden space for next season. The drier days of fall provide wonderful weather for accomplishing this task. Spring rains put a damper on plowing or tilling when March rolls around.
20. Squirrels can be a menace at bird feeders. Some studies indicate that by adding crushed hot peppers to the bird seed you can deter unwanted squirrel visitors. Lace the bird seed, with red, cayenne pepper. Capsaicin, the active component in chili peppers, acts as a repellent. You may have to retreat during a four- to six-week period. Your local garden center or birding store may be able to provide a product and information on this subject.
21. Many of our Southern native perennials grow better and require less water than nonnative selections. Visit www.ncsu.edu/goingnative for information on plant selections native to North Carolina.
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