Fall Gardening: What to do Now

Story by guest columnist  Christine Pechner, Landscape Architect. Photo by Hal Goodtree.

This sure was a hot summer here in Cary and there is no doubt that you are looking forward to the beautiful weather of the coming months. With cooler temperatures comes the opportunity to get outside to tackle some gardening tasks that need to be done along with things that you can do to add color to your yard next spring.

  • Control weeds: More important now than ever. If not killed, they will be back next year. The most effective ways to eradicate weeds is to pull them up or use an herbicide. You will need to tackle lawn weeds before reseeding, however, you must wait about 7 days after application.
  • Lawns: Renovating the lawn may be at the top of the list for many after the hot dry summer has left brown patches in the lawn. Fall is the best time to reseed fescue and bluegrass. Be sure to core-aerate first. Fertilize and keep watered until the seed germinates. Mulching newly seeded areas with barley straw will aid in keeping the moisture in and speed germination. Water periodically to prevent the grass from drying out. (See “Rescue the Fescue”)
  • For color now, add pots of mums, pansies or aster. Other cool season plants to consider are Purple Fountain Grass, Marigolds, and ornamental peppers. Mums with lots of tight buds will ensure a long display, but if you buy plant with lots of blooms on them, expect the display to last only a few weeks.
  • Spring Flowering Bulbs: Buy the bulbs now, but do not plant them until November. Be sure to fertilize and water, then look forward to the burst of color in the spring. 
  • Landscaping: Planting or transplanting trees, shrubs and perennials in the fall allows the plants to get established before the hot summer. For trees, be sure the hole for the tree is wide enough – twice as wide as the root ball-and to use a quality planting mix with organic matter as a backfill. Water newly planted landscaping at least weekly if rainfall is deficient throughout the winter and until established.  
  • Perennials such as daylilies, hosta, pinks, bearded iris and ornamental grasses can be divided spring or fall.  Plants will grow more thickly and bloom more lavishly if you divide every few years. Dig the entire plant up, choose the healthiest looking sections and replant them 8-12 inches apart from each other a few inches below the surface. Enrich the soil with bone meal and some compost.
  • Fertilize established trees and shrubs after they go dormant, in late fall, and new landscaping at time of planting to encourage root growth.
  • Mulch: Renew all mulches; adding enough mulch to make sure it’s as deep as when applied in the spring.  This helps the soil maintain a constant soil temperature and prevents exposure of roots and winter damage.
  • Pruning:  Do one last pruning of shrubs and trees before winter to maintain shape, avoiding major trimming until winter when plants are dormant. Cut back long canes of roses and remove diseased or dead wood on shrubs or trees. Do not prune spring flowering azaleas at this time or you will cut off the spring blooms.
  • Clean up beds, cut perennials to the ground, but consider leaving the seed heads on flowers; the birds love them. Dig up tender plant tubers, bulbs and rhizomes such as cannas, dahlias, caladium and other summer bulbs and store in a cool, dry place.  Replant them next spring. 
  • Vegetable plot: If a fall planting was not done consider planting annual rye grass as a cover crop which will look green all winter, and control weeds. In the spring, fold it into the soil for instant nitrogen compost for spring planting.
  • Watering: Begin soaking the soil around perennials, shrubs, trees once or twice a week if rainfall is less than an inch. Especially important for evergreens which continue to transpire through their leaves all winter and are prone to dry out and look sunburned.  This is less likely to happen if they have soaked up enough water before winter.

As the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler, it is important to prepare plants for the winter, with its freezing temperatures, alternating freezing and thawing, and windburn.  Preparations done now will help ensure that your plant survive, and thrive next year. Once you are done, you will have time to think about next years landscape and plan for the coming year.  Happy Gardening!


Christine Pechner, a CaryCitizen reader, is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, a LEED Accredited Professional and a Registered Landscape Architect.


The Gardening column on CaryCitizen is sponsored in part by Garden Supply Co.

1 reply
  1. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Using an herbicide should not be an option any gardener would consider. As a gardener, I should hope that you have some respect for the planet and our environment. Herbicides such as Round-Up and the like, run off and pollute our water supply, kill soil organisms and can even be found in the air we breathe. Stop promoting their use and educate yourself on organic and natural methods of weed control: hand pulling, mulch, vinegar, even boiling water will kill weeds without polluting our planet.

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