Have you made a list of your fall garden chores? If not, do it now! Fall is a busy time for gardeners and it involves more than raking leaves. This three-part blog series shares my list of projects to prepare the garden for winter and to help it thrive in the coming spring.
The top three garden chores on my fall list are always lawn repair, planting, and leaves. But that’s just a beginning. I also focus on a general garden clean-up, pest control—both fall insects and winter weeds— pruning, mulching, and garden tool clean-up. Then I’m ready to use the coming winter months to update my garden journal and plan my spring garden.
Most people consider this their #1 fall garden chore. What you do in the fall prepares that lawn for a gorgeous spring and helps it survive the hot, dry summer. Fall is the best time for serious work on the lawn. Cool season grasses (tall fescue and bluegrass) are best for Western North Carolina. Your lawn will benefit from cooler days, the long fall growing season, and your extra care!
Plan to get your grass seed and fertilizer down by early September—definitely by mid-October. Prepare the site by getting rid of weeds and loosening the soil by raking or with a core aerator. Keep new seedlings moist by sprinkling one to three times a day. Give established lawns one inch of water a week during the growing season (fall and spring). Mow correctly—about 3 inches high—with a sharp mower blade.
For details, check out these blogs in which Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer, Debbie Green, describes three stages of lawn care—assessment, maintenance, and replacement.
Insects abundant in the fall
Fall is the time many insects lay eggs to prey on your garden next spring. But don’t be too quick to spray insecticides. Be sure you know what the insect is. Is it beneficial or harmful? Know that not all pesticides are effective on all insects. An insect may be susceptible to the pesticide only at certain times of year or stage of development. Never apply pesticides randomly, “just in case.”
Late August is the time to think about doing battle with Japanese beetles. In July, the adult beetles burrow into the ground to lay their eggs. The white grub larvae hatch, feed on grass roots, overwinter deep in the soil, and emerge in late spring the following year. NCSU recommends using either a biological treatment (e.g., Milky Spore) or a chemical insecticide at this time of year. They caution gardeners to first verify an infestation (five or more grubs per square foot of soil) and to apply a pesticide only when grubs are actively feeding near the soil surface. See White Grubs in Turf at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/Ornamentals_and_Turf/lawn/note67/note67.html
Webworms make their nests in trees in the fall. Pull the nests down and let the birds enjoy eating the worms. While unsightly, the worms won’t cause long term damage to the trees. See Fall Webworms at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/O&T/trees/note46/note46.html
Look for bagworms on juniper, arborvitae, and Leyland cypress. By September, the female has laid her eggs and the larvae have spun the protective bag where they will overwinter, emerge as caterpillars in summer, and devour the plant foliage. The best defense in the fall is to remove the bags by hand. Insecticides won’t penetrate the bagworm nests in the fall. See Bagworms at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/O&T/trees/ort081e/BAGWORM.pdf
Woolly adelgid adults lay their eggs on hemlock trees in late spring and early summer. The eggs hatch and the nymphs feed on the hemlock needles throughout the winter. October is the best time for home gardeners to spray small hemlocks with insecticidal soap or horticultural oils. For large specimen trees, it may be necessary to employ a professional to treat with registered insecticides. See Hemlock Woolly Adelgid at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/O&T/trees/note119/note119.html
Other insects common to our area are scale, lacebugs, and spider mites. These insects lay their eggs in fall and overwinter on branch stems. The most effective time to treat with insecticidal soap or horticultural oils is when the crawlers emerge in the spring. Watch for scale on susceptible plants such as camellia, holly, and cherry laurel. Lacebugs prey on azaleas, cotoneaster, and pyracantha. Spider mites, which prefer spruce, fir, and junipers, thrive in drought conditions. Their damage is often not apparent until the heat of summer. For information on control, see Scale Insects at https://macon.ces.ncsu.edu/2015/07/scale-insects-3/ , and see Two-spotted Spider Mites at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/O&T/flowers/note25/note25.html .
Article written by Beth Leonard, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer.