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Maintenance

Remove leaves to keep your grass from being smothered.

Maintain tall fescue at the proper mowing height of 3.5″ to minimize weeds and to let it mature before winter.

Renovating

Fall is the true growing season for cool-season lawns, so it is the best time to renovate and seed. Cool-season lawns seeded in the spring don’t last through the summer because their roots don’t have a chance to grow deep into the soil before hot weather arrives. NCSU’s turf files website has an excellent tool to help you select the right type of grass for your situation.

You can still seed fescue and bluegrass early in October.

Weeds

Control winter annual broadleaf weeds.

Bloom

Below is a simple ‘shortlist’ of plants that are normally in bloom this month or are of interest for fruit, bark or foliage. See Bloom & Berry for comprehensive lists with links to photos and cultural information.

Perennials Shrubs Trees
Aster
Chrysanthemum
Goldenrod
Sedum
Beautyberry (frt)
Hollies (frt)
Nandina (frt)
Pyracantha (frt)
Franklinia
Washington hawthorn (frt)

Photos
JC Raulston Arboretum
NC Botanical Garden

Watering

Reduce watering somewhat to encourage plants to prepare for dormancy. A little water stress enhances fall color on many trees and shrubs. However, be sure to water foliage plants like hosta and plants that are/will produce flowers/berries.

Mulching

Mulch newly-planted plants to a depth of about 1″, keeping it away from plant crowns, to conserve moisture and suppress weeds.

Wait to mulch established plants until early winter after a hard freeze. Because mulch traps heat, heavy mulching in fall is counterproductive: it prevents plants from entering dormancy properly and thus increases susceptibility to winter damage.

Don’t mulch established peonies. Peonies require a minimum number of chill hours in order to bloom and mulch can keep the crown too warm.

Pruning

Do not prune. Pruning now will promote tender new growth that cannot survive the cold.

Planting, Propagating

Fall is the ideal time to plant, divide, and transplant most species. Our detailed instructions for all aspects of planting show how to choose soil amendments, prepare the soil, and install plants (including special advice for planting trees).

Plant/transplant most species and divide spring/summer-blooming perennials. Note that bonemeal and vitamin B12 do not stimulate root production or decrease transplant shock.
The myth of beneficial bonemeal
The myth of vitamin stimulants

Root-prune any woody plants that you plan to move next spring.

Bulbs

Fertilize spring flowering bulbs at planting time with a balanced fertilizer. Bonemeal is not necessary.

Dig and store summer bulbs like gladioli, dahlias (hardier cultivars can overwinter in the ground in protected locations), and caladiums before frost.

The Three ‘C’s’ Among Fall-flowering Bulbs: Colchicum, Crocus and Cyclamen
Summer and fall flowering bulbs for the landscape
The myth of beneficial bonemeal

Disease

Rake up debris around and under rose bushes — blackspot can overwinter in fallen leaves and appear again next spring.

Pests

Cool season mites — Monitor evergreens (especially hollies and pyracantha) by holding a piece of white paper under a stem and vigorously shaking the foliage. Ignore anything that moves quickly. Watch for specks smaller than a period to begin moving. Damage (interior browning of foliage) is not seen until early summer, when the mites are no longer present.

Armored scales — Monitor ornamental cherries, including Carolina cherry laurel, dwarf laurel and English laurel.

Emerald ash borer — The emerald ash borer has been found in Orange County. This exotic pest infests and kills all native ash species plus our native fringe tree. While the borers spread a few miles per year by flight, the main route of spread is from contaminated firewood. As of Nov 2, 2015, interstate movement of EAB-host wood and wood products is regulated for all of NC. However, movement within our state is not. Please be cautious when purchasing or accepting firewood, wood chips, etc.

Weeds

Watch for cool season annual weeds such as henbit, chickweed, hairy bitter cress and annual bluegrass.

Treat perennial weeds such as wild onion/garlic and mock strawberry with a broadleaf herbicide when temperatures are above 50°F. Be careful to distinguish mock strawberry, an invasive alien, from our native barren strawberries.

Manage vines such as trumpet creeper, blackberry and poison ivy, and remove ‘weed’ or unwanted trees from your landscape.

Houseplants

Check your houseplants for insects before bringing them indoors. A few insects on plants outside can easily turn into a problem inside. Wash leaves thoroughly and soak the soil in a bucket of water for 3–5 minutes to encourage any insects hiding in the soil to emerge.

Harvesting
  • Dig sweet potatoes before frost kills the plants.
  • Dig and divide rhubarb.
Planting

Start salad vegetables like lettuce, green onions, carrots, radishes, and most leafy greens in a cold frame and enjoy them all winter.

Prevent erosion over the winter by planting a cover crop. The biomass will add needed organic matter when tilled in next spring, and legumes such as clover and alfalfa will further enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen. Alternatively, you can till organic material like tree leaves into the soil, then mulch with shredded leaves.

Cover Crops
Summer Cover Crops
Winter Cover Crops

Pests

Insect control can be a challenge on fall-grown cabbage-family crops. Some of the best controls are organic:

Aphids
Strong water sprays or insecticidal soap work well. Don’t miss the lower leaf surfaces.

Cabbage worms and other caterpillars
Pick off or use weekly applications of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Wildlife & insects

Ladybugs
October is ladybug season. These beneficial insects sometimes gather in large groups and choose your house as a warm spot to spend the winter. If they are finding their way inside, check the condition of weather stripping and caulking around windows, doors, ceiling light fixtures and other possible entryways.

Kudzu bugs
Kudzu bugs also try to winter indoors. Fortunately, numbers are much lower this year due to our cold snap last winter and to the appearance of their natural enemy, a parasitic wasp, in the Southeast. To prevent them from invading your home, caulk and weatherstrip as for ladybugs.

Birds

  • Although most hummingbirds are heading south, leave feeders out for late travelers and the occasional rufus hummingbird.
  • Most birds select their winter feeding stations by October. If you put out seed or suet only in the winter months, now is the time.

Use shredded leaves as mulch

Grinding speeds decomposition and prevents mats that create an impenetrable barrier once wet. If you don’t have a shredder, rake the leaves into rows and run over them with a mower.

Add fall and winter color

The Three ‘C’s’ Among Fall-flowering Bulbs: Colchicum, Crocus and Cyclamen
Success with Pansies in the Winter Landscape

Site plants to minimize frost damage

While damaging autumn frosts can occur here, damaging spring frosts are a major issue. These can greatly impact plant performance and health and should be considering when selecting and siting plants. After deciding on the plant species, good site selection is your best protection. Consider your property’s microclimates before planting. The best quick way to choose a planting site is to visualize the flow of cold air and its possible buildup. If a site has good cold air drainage, then it is likely to minimize frost/freeze damage.

Topography

Locate less hardy plants in the highest part of the yard. Frost pockets/cold spots are formed because cold, dense air flows by gravity to the lowest areas of the local landscape, where it collects. This causes temperatures to differ in relatively small areas, called microclimates.

Wind

Protect plants from cold wind with a tall evergreen hedge of trees or shrubs. Note that in the wrong spot, a dense hedge, wooded area or solid barrier such as a fence can create a cold air dam that will increase the likelihood of frost.

Sun

Shade plants from direct winter sun, especially early morning sun. Plants that freeze and thaw slowly will be damaged the least. A shaded exposure will also delay spring growth, decreasing the risk of injury to new growth or flowers from late spring frosts. The south side of the house with no shade is the worst place for tender plants; the north side of the house is the best.

Fun reading

The Science of Color in Autumn Leaves
Fall color in the Carolinas
Autumn in the Raulston Arboretum

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