I garden smack dab in the middle of the Carolina Piedmont. Some folks call it Zone 7 or 'The Middle South', but I like the ecological term 'Piedmont' better. One of my passions is vegetable gardening (I do it in my front yard, back yard, and in community gardens, too).
You can grow cool season crops—lettuce, broccoli, you name it beautifully in the spring and fall. In the summer, all the heat-lovers thrive, from tomatoes to okra to sweet potatoes. Annual and perennial flowers also grow well, and you can have field day with hearty native perennials like black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia). Fruit crops are a challenge to grow organically here, but three stand out as good choices: Figs, strawberries and, best of all, the native rabbiteye blueberries.
Challenges? Well, sure, that's part of gardening. Here, in addition to that hot summer weather, gardeners often have to deal with acidic heavy clay soils, insect and disease pressures, unpredictable weather including long dry spells between August and October. But these can all be overcome generous helpings of compost, a bit of good advice, and most of all, a laid-back and positive attitude that's not afraid to try new things in the garden.
We are still cleaning up after the big ice storm last December, which hit Bradford pears especially hard. Sad as it is to lose mature trees, there are important lessons here. Though Bradfords are beautiful in an over-the-top kind of way, these trees are horribly prone to splitting in Zone 7's climate. There are better choices for our landscapes, beginning with native tree species such as redbuds (Cersis spp.), Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina), fringe tree (Chionanthus virginiana) or serviceberry (Amelachier spp.) (I like Autumn Brilliance, A. x grandiflora).
Mulch, Water, and Protect. Keep your garden is well mulched to keep soil temperatures even and protect roots. Remember that autumn leaves work fine as mulch. For most purposes, 2- 4 inches (5-10 cm) of mulch is plenty. Route any excess to paths or the compost pile.
Shield Plants From Hungry Critters. Keeping determined rabits and deer away isn't easy. Commercial repellents and strong smelling homemade 'scent sacks' (mothballs, smelly soaps) might help. If not, barriers are probably needed, either chicken wire cages or even fencing.
Plant Patrol. Watch out for 'heaving', when your pansies, coral bells and other plants pop right out of the ground after cold snaps. Simply press roots back into their proper position as soon as you notice.
Fruit Tree Tip. If you have fruit trees such as peaches, pears, apples or plums, spray now with dormant oils to reduce insect problems later in the year. However, wait to prune fruit trees and grapes until later in the winter, after the worst cold has passed.
Order Up! Don't just ogle those catalogs—get that order in! Check online, there are some wonderful heirloom and organic seed sources out there. When you order, carefully look for things that do well in our region (especially during long muggy summers). But be sure to try three new varieties this coming year.
Pea Planting. Soak seed overnight and sow direct in your vegetable garden. Start them under row cover fabric, but once up and growing they laugh at the cold. Also, plant cool weather leafies including leaf lettuce, spinach, greens and chard, especially under row covers, a short row or two every couple of weeks.
Cole Crops. Toward the end of the month, you can plant flats of cole crops (like broccoli) under lights indoors for spring transplanting in March. But it's far too early for warm season crops and flowers, so wait a few weeks before starting tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer flowers and the like.
Keep Ahead of Winter Weeds. Most, like henbit and chickweed, are relatively easy to pull or hoe while still small. It is easier now to untangle honeysuckle vines from leafless shrubs. This is also a good time to root out invasive exotics like Autumn olive (Eleagnus spp.), privet and English ivy.
Grass Tip. Hot season grasses, like Bermudagrass, are dormant now and should not be fertilized. For cool season grasses like fescues, a top dressing of 1/2 inch of compost or application of an organic fertilizer such as Espoma 'Plant-tone' (5-3-3) will encourage healthy growth. Remember, clover in a lawn is a natural source of nitrogen.
The Zone 7 garden dance gets a little livelier in February, though it's heavily syncopated with uneven weather at best. This is prime time for pruning and for building soil fertility. And then, there's always weeding. My rule for February is: When it's chilly, read. When it's pretty, weed. This is the month of Valentine's Day—buy your beloved a packet or two of seeds, so you can cultivate your passion in flowers all year long.
Garlic and Onions. Wild garlic and onions are a special weeding challenge. Unfortunately, our native onions (Allium canadense) have now been joined by wild garlic (A. vineale), an exotic invasive weed. To tell them apart, the garlic has hollow stems and smells like—you guessed it—garlic.
Take Action Against Invasives. Remove and root out Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) and other weedy vines now while many garden plants are still leafless. Control or eliminate English ivy (Hedera helix); do not allow it to climb trees so it can escape and take over natural areas.
Shake Up Your Compost. Try to turn (remix) your compost pile once this month. You can also start new piles from fallen leaves any time. Keep an eye on your worm bin to make sure it doesn't dry out or get too cold.
Pruning Party. This month is a good time for vigorous pruning of summer blooming shrubs that flower on new wood. This includes beautyberry (Callicarpa—I like the native C. americana), Abelia, Althea, Hydrangea, Gardenia, Nandina, crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia), rose of Sharon (Hybiscus), Osmanthus and butterfly bush (Buddleia). Prune sensibly.
Pretty as a Peach...or Nectarine. Treat your peach (Prunus persica) and nectarine trees before early March with lime-sulfur (Bordeaux mixture) to prevent peach leaf curl. Organic peach growing is especially challenging in the southeast—an ounce of prevention is worth a bushel of peaches.
Start Seeds Indoorsfor Spring Cool Season Transplants. I grow mine under inexpensive fluorescent 'shop lights' in a corner of the basement. Keep lights very close to the tops of seedlings, and move the lights up as the plants grow. If you have a big bright sunny window, that will work, too.
Transplant Preparation. In order to transplant in mid-March, start brassicas like broccoli, cabbage, and bok choi, plus lettuces and cool season flowers like calendulas, forget-me-not (Myosotis) and Drummond phlox. In spring, I prefer quick maturing veggie varieties (50-60 days), like broccolis Southern Comet (about 50 days where I live) and Packman (about 60 days). Wait to start warm season transplants indoors until early March.
Happy Houseplants. Give houseplants lots of TLC, since the end of winter is their toughest time. Remove leggy growth (which you can root), pinch them back, and take out dead branches and leaves. On nice days, take your favorites out for air and bright shade, and wash off any infestations of various bugs.
Grass Growing. If you have a warm season grass such as Bermuda or centipede (it is brown now), do not fertilize now, but wait until spring. It's also time to mow or otherwise trim to 10 cm (3"-4") our Monkey grass (Liriope) and Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon). Just run them over with your lawnmower.
Plan Ahead For Veggies. Don't neglect your landscape and garden planning, when the cold and damp keeps you out of the garden. Plan your vegetable rotation for the coming season.
March is one of the loveliest and most productive months in the Zone 7 garden. You can plant cool season veggies this month, but wait until April before putting out tomatoes and planting beans.
Our local 4H agent is selling blueberries and strawberry plants as a fundraiser. Both are excellent choices for edible landscapes, plus 4H and other youth gardening and farming opportunities are well worth supporting. Check around for similar programs where you live. Happy gardening!
Planting Preparation. It's time to plant cool spring vegetables, including broccoli, lettuce, spinach, greens, cabbage, chard and root crops, and cool season flowers like snaps and calendulas. You can still plant onion sets, peas and potatoes.
Seed Starting. It's time to start tomatoes, peppers and eggplants indoors, along with flowers like zinnias and cosmos. Wait to set out or plant warm season crops until next month (April 15 in our area).
Woody Plants. Before woody plants break dormancy and as they begin to bud out, take care of pruning chores and applications of preventatives such as dormant oil.
Preparing Beds. Prepare your garden beds deeply and well, especially for vegetables. However, don't try to work the soil—with spade, fork or tiller—until the soil is dry enough to crumble in your hand. Especially with our clay soils, be careful not to work them when wet. (Remember this is for vegetables only—most of the garden does not need regular tilling.).
Direct Seeding. Direct seed mustard, lettuce, spinach, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots (don't delay), onion sets, chard, mâche, mesclun, and Asian vegetables (try gai lan, 'Chinese flowering broccoli', it's great and easy.). Anything that prefers cool weather and grows fairly fast.
Keep an Eye on Floating Row Covers. You may want to pull them back on unseasonably warm days, but don't remove them from the garden. Next thing you know it we'll have a freeze and you'll need them again.
Keep Pruning. Continue pruning fruit trees, landscape trees and shrubs. Remove dead or broken branches, crossing branches that rub another branch, and all dead and diseased wood. Also trim flowering shrubs like Forsythia and Japanese Camellia after they bloom.
Apple Health. Check with your extension agent to see when and if you need to treat your apple and pear blossoms with organically-approved agricultural streptomycin if fireblight is present in your area. Pears are extremely susceptible.
Flower Starting. Start warm season flowers like zinnias, marigolds and cosmos, along with any flowers you can't find in your local nurseries. Start perennial flowers now, too, like hollyhocks, Monarda, and many others. Set out any cool season flowers, like phlox, calendulas and snaps, that you started next month.
Don't Forget to Deadhead. Deadhead daffodils when blooms droop, but leave the leaves alone. Daffies need their leaves to recharge the bulbs for next year. Cut them back in a few weeks, after they turn brown. Deadhead those pansies, they will bloom longer and look better if you do. They also appreciate a feeding with fish emulsion or another organic fertilizer this month.
Start Mowing Fescue Again. Tall fescue needs to be at least 3 inches in height to outcompete the weeds. Mow at least once a week, never removing more that 1/3 of the leaf. The easiest way to handle the clippings is by grasscycling (i.e. leaving clippings on the lawn). Sometimes, the lawn generates so many clippings in the spring that I'll rake up a load and mix them into my compost.
Happy Houseplants. Repot any houseplants that need it in a good potting mix. Don't use an overly big pot, just graduate your pot up a step. If you've been rooting cuttings of Creeping Charlie, begonias, or other houseplants, plant them into pots when you see roots have forms.
Enjoy all the beautiful blooming flowers—dogwoods, redbuds, crabapples, Halesia, Viburnum (a bunch of varieties kick in now), azaleas and Rhododendron. Around here, the 'Pinxter' piedmont azalea lights up the woods. While you're in the woods (or in your natural garden area), step lightly and keep an eye out for bloodroot, bleeding heart, Jack-in-the-pulpit and, if you are lucky, Trillium. April is truly a month that's both busy and delightful in the garden.
Remember Your Row Covers. Don't put away those season extenders yet. Spread them over plants like laying down a blanket in case the cold returns. You must, however, remember to remove them on hot days.
For Amazing Annuals. Prepare new annual (vegetable and flower) beds by turning compost or other organic material blended with a slow-release fertilizer into the soil. You may also add lime at this time, based on a soil test.
Seed Starting. During the first week or two of April, you can still start warm weather flowers and vegetables indoors, like zinnias, asters, marigolds, sage, tomatoes and peppers. If I don't get them started by then, I just wait and direct seed the flowers in early May.
Temperature Tip. After mid-month, once danger of frost is past, nighttime temperatures are above 10 degrees C (50 degrees F), and soil temperatures are above 15 degrees C (60 degrees F), it's time for tomato and annual flower transplants, and for direct seeding beans, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, pumpkin, squash and watermelon. (I wait until May to sow okra, and to transplant peppers, eggplant and sweet potatoes). The 'magic date' around here is April 15.
Tomatoes. Do not plant your tomatoes in the same place year after year Diseases can easily built up in the soil, so make sure to rotate your crops, even on a small scale.
What's Growing? In the vegetable garden this month, you'll have cool season crops (like sugar peas, lettuce and greens) growing strong, even as you sow your Summer crops. Try integrating edibles into 'ornamental' parts of your yard, wherever you have sufficient sun. Remember, the peas make a great 'green manure' for the next crop.
Spring Flower Tip. After spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils have finished blooming, don't cut those leaves! Keep the foliage until it begins to turn yellow. They need those leaves to make new bulbs for next year's flowers. I plant daylilies and other plants with my bulbs, so that the fading leaves are hidden a bit when the succeeding plant begins growing.
Healthy Herbs. Plant herbs after the danger of frost has passed. You can plant herbs directly into the ground or in containers. Basil, an annual, I handle a bit differently—I plant it beside or right in my tomato beds. Purchase clean seed, though— since basil seed has been linked to transmission of soil-born pathogens.
Support Your Perennials. If you have tall perennials, like hollyhocks and peonies, it's time to think of giving them a helping hand with a stake or support. Small tomato cages work for peonies, if you don't mind populist garden art (the leaves hide the wire, anyway).
Feed Your Fruit Trees. It is time to feed your fruit and nut trees, vines and bushes, such as blackberries, grapes, raspberries and blueberries (careful! Blueberries are very shallow rooted). Figs, maybe the easiest fruit crop to grow organically, do not need fertilizing or special care.
Hybrid Roses. If you have hybrid roses, cut canes back to just above a strong new shoot when bud growth starts, on strong growing plants. For weaker growers, go easier, just remove diseased wood and pinch back on top.
May is the swinging door into summer and by the end of the month, we'll all be roasting in Zone 7's summer heat. Meanwhile, enjoy lovely spring flowers like phlox, irises, roses, daylilies (and Trilliums an maypops, down in the woods), and relish the harvest from our spring gardens.
Clear Your Compost Bin. Make sure you've got an empty compost bin to hold finished pansies, cleared-out weeds, and any bags of leaves you decide to harvest from the curb. I usually start a new worm bin about this time, too.
Fill In Bald Spots. On any bare places in the garden, sow a cover crop to build soil and out-compete weeds. I like buckwheat and black-eyed peas as summer covers.
Sow and Transplant. You can sow or transplant beans, black-eyed peas, Crowder peas, cantaloupe, squash, melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, sweet corn, okra, hot weather lettuce mixes, tropical greens, basil, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and sweet potatoes.
Crop Care. Harvest your cool season crops regularly, keep them watered and weeded. When the snow peas show signs of heat fatigue, you can dig them right into the bed to enrich the soil, or contribute to the compost.
Flower Power. Now is the time for planting annual flowers like asters, cleome, coreopsis, cosmos, flowering tobacco, marigold, petunia, sunflower, Tithonia ("Mexican sunflower") and zinnias (all types). Continue setting out summer annuals like begonia, geranium and petunia this month.
Pooped Pansies. Relegate pansies to the compost pile when they burn out, replace with summer annuals.
Pruning Preparation. Prune flowering trees and shrubs after they bloom, and then spread a fresh inch of compost followed by mulch. Don't wait on azaleas and other spring bloomers.
Ravishing Roses. Like vegetables, roses are big feeders. Side-dress with an organic fertilizer this month, and keep topdressing with compost.
Time For Softwood Cuttings. Make cuttings of old-fashioned roses (modern ones are patented). Cut stem about 1 foot long, discard last 3-4 inches.
Hummingbirds Are Back! Red flowers attract hummingbirds to your garden, they especially like tubular shaped blooms, like Penstemon—in my yard, they love Monarda, especially the old fashioned red one.
Veggie Bugs. In the vegetable garden, monitor for squash vine borer, flea beetle on eggplant, cucumber beetle. In the landscape, watch for bagworms, azalea lace bugs, leaf miners, camellia-tea scale, euonymus scale and aphids, of course. Remove azalea and camellia leaf galls when you spot them.
Soft, Slimy, and Sinister. Slugs and snails can create huge problems this time of year. I hear that diatomaceous earth or ashes can help discourage them, but hand picking works most effectively for me. Go out at night with a light, a container, a strong stomach and iron will.
Invasives and Pest Plants. Poison ivy and invasive exotic plants like Japanese honeysuckle can be real problems. If you are using only cultural controls, be constantly vigilant and take action while invaders are small.
Mix That Compost. Turn those compost piles you made this spring, mixing in the spent pansies and bolted lettuces. Check your fall piles—you may find some black garden gold ready to use by the end of the month. Put it to work in the garden. Unlike wine, compost doesn't, "improve with age".
Solar Power. After you harvest the last of your spring cropsoil, solarization is a useful organic technique for controlling soil diseases and weeds.
Feed Your Vegetables (So They'll Feed You). Sidedress veggies with a soluble organic fertilizer ('Omega'6-6-6 and 0-6-6 from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply work well), compost tea, organic granular, or generous topdressing of good worm castings or compost. The asparagus bed can always use a generous dressing of compost.
Healthy Herbs. Leafy herbs like basil will start to flower. When you see the first signs of flowering, harvest the top. Pesto time!
Transplant Cole Crops. Toward the end of the June, start Brussels sprouts, collards and other brassicas in flats for transplanting into the garden in early August.
Happy Harvest. Keep harvesting your tomatoes, cukes, squash, peppers and other fruiting crops, or they will lose interest in producing and put their energy into seed.
Beautiful Berries. When your June-bearing strawberries are finished producing, clean up the bed and spread a top-dressing of compost. Everbearing strawberries also benefit from this, though they will continue to produce through the summer. Everbearers may not be the most productive choice for farmers, but they make a very interesting and appealing edible ground cover for home gardeners.
Water Sprout Removal. Get rid of water sprouts on fruit trees. Especially watch out for suckers growing from below the graft, and eliminate them.
Coniferous Care. In June you can trim new growth on conifers like pines. On conifers, don't cut into brown wood, since it won't regenerate green vegetative growth.
Gorgeous Gardenias. Prune your gardenias immediately after bloom. Don't wait until after July 4th. Likewise, prune your hydrangeas while flowering or right afterward, don't wait until the flowers fade.
Lawn Tips. Do not fertilize tall fescue now. Keep it mowed high, at 3 1/2 inches (about 8 cm) so it can out-compete weeds. Mow before the grass gets above 5 inches (12 cm) tall. Plan to water your fescue regularly. Continue fertilizing warm season grasses like Bermuda, centipede, St. Augustine and zoysia.
Watering Tips. Water your plants during dry spells, and don't forget your pots, planters and containers. Watering in the cool of early morning or late afternoon is most efficient. The key point is to be sure that 1-3 cm (1/2-1 inch) of water a week gets to your vegetable garden and other demanding plants.
Please Welcome...The Beetles. Be ready for lots of Japanese beetles and their kin. Hand pick bugs off sensitive plants, like roses, in the early morning. I'm not much of a fan of pheromone traps, which can actually attract beetles to your yard!
Happy gardening, stay cool!
This year, the weather has been much cooler for much longer than usual in the Carolina Piedmont. I was still picking snow peas and harvesting lettuce and cabbage past the middle of June. Some folks are seeing slow growth in peppers and eggplants, which comes as no surprise. On the other hand, folks are already harvesting squash and cukes they put in around April 15.
Organic gardeners (and good gardeners of all philosophies) instinctively understand the deep value both of lovingly tended gardens and wild places. Now, if only the dandelions weren't so eager to grow, and the chiggers so eager to bite...
Water, Water, Everywhere. This month's big job is watering. Water containers daily, vegetable gardens and first season landscape plants two times a week, and everything else about once a week.
Harvest Time. Harvest herbs and veggies on a regular basis. Don't let your zucchini reach cetacean proportions—pick it before you need a harpoon to deal with Moby Zuke. Also, harvest your Irish potatoes when the tops begin to brown and die back.
Start Fall Plantings. Start fall vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. This is also a good time to start biennials and perennials from seed, such as foxglove and hollyhock, for planting out this fall.
Leave Space For Fall Garden Crops. Instead of planting more warm season crops every time a bed of bush beans gets past its prime, I often pick a section to solarize. I also plant cover crops such as buckwheat or black-eyed peas that I dig in before planting my fall crop.
Tomato Tip. If need be, cut up to a third off your tomatoes to keep them from overwhelming their posts or cages. Leave some leaf to protect against sunburn.
Taking Cutings. Take semi-hardwood cuttings of roses, azalea, camellia, holly and other shrubs this month. Select new green-brown stems that "crack" when you snap them. If this is new for you, follow a good guide such as Lewis Hill's "Secrets of Plant Propagation".
Water Roses Regularly. Roses need one inch of water per week. Prune your old fashioned and climbing roses after they've finished blooming. Secure climbing roses to the trellis as they grow. Remove diseased vegetation and deadheaded flowers.
Chop Chop. Clemson University recommends a sharp mower blade to cut the lawn cleanly, ensuring rapid healing and growth. Grass wounded by a dull blade is weakened and less able to ward off weeds, diseases and insect attacks, or cope with dry spells.
Keep Up With Weeding. Don't let summer weeds go to seed. Pull them up and prevent return by mulching and persistence. If you make hot compost, it will probably take care of weed seeds when you put weeds in your pile.
Bag Those Bagworms. Handpick bagworm bags on evergreens. Pesticides are worthless once the caterpillars are safe in their bags.
Liberate Your Houseplants. Many tropical houseplants love to spend at least part of the summer outdoors in Zone 7. All the watering in the summertime causes nutrients to wash out of pots, so feed your container plants every 2-3 weeks with a dilute organic liquid fertilizer or compost tea.
Man, is it ever hot! On the other hand, don't those fresh tomatoes and cukes taste good, and aren't those watermelons sweet? Besides, with thunderstorms making their seasonal racket, there's no more harmonious place than the garden, early in the morning, with sunflowers gazing up at the sun, like a choir with all eyes on the director at the moment they burst into song.
Fertilizer Tip. Don't fertilize or heavily prune trees or shrubs after the middle of this month. Both of these stimulate growth, setting your plants up for stress and possible death when temperatures drop. For major pruning, wait until late fall, after deciduous plants have dropped their leaves and become dormant.
Stake Out. Stake up tall plants that might blow over during a storm (such as tithonia, sunflowers and sweet peppers).
Mix Your Compost. Turn established compost piles this month. If you made piles last fall or in the early spring, check to see if they are ready to spread for fall planting. Compost is ready when the composted materials have broken down enough that you can't readily recognize what they are made from.
Dress Up. Sidedress peppers and eggplants with an organic fertilizer.
Planting Time. Plant varieties of bush beans ('Contender', 'Provider'), cucumbers ('Poinsett', 'Marketmore 76') and squash (yellow crookneck and straightneck, pattypan, 'Zephyr' from Johnny's seed) that mature rapidly.
Super Strawberries. Feed strawberries with an organic fertilizer rich in nitrogen, such as liquid fish and seaweed fertilizer.
Don't Forget to Make Cuttings. You can still root hardwood cuttings of your favorite shrubs and trees.
Shrubs and Trees. Hold off on planting shrubs and trees at least until next month, if possible. The best time to plant woodies and perennials in Southeast Zone 7 is later in the fall.
Bulb Planting. Plant bulbs for Spider lily (Lycoris) and Autumn crocus (Colchicum).
Brown Patch Alert. Our warm wet summers lead to "brown patch," a fungal disease that kills patches of grass. If this happens, check with your local Cooperative Extension to determine the exact type of problem you are dealing with before taking action. High numbers of beetle grubs can also kill grass in patches.
Beware of Borers. Squash vine borers are active this month. Remove affected plants; don't let the larva pupate in the soil.
Wasp Watch. Watch for wasps' nests, both in trees and in the ground. If you see a vivid blue and red fuzzy 'ant' wandering around your yard, give it a respectful berth and mind your pets and small kids. That 'velvet ant' is a wingless wasp, and its sting packs a real wallop.
Strange, but you may find yourself working harder in the garden in September than in April here in Zone 7. The big jobs are staying ahead of the weeds (and bugs), and getting that fall garden vegetable garden going.
Sowing cover crops is highly desirable anywhere you've got bare soil, because they prevent erosion and add organic matter back to your soil. Buckwheat makes a good short-term cover. The classic winter cover crop here in the Carolinas is crimson clover, which will be growing through spring. Annual rye grass can do a similar job.
Harvest Time. This is an ideal time to harvest and spread compost from your home bins. Remember that even a relatively small amount (1/2" covering of the soil) brings great benefits by enriching microbial life in the topsoil.
Mulch Check. Check your mulch and renew if needed. Remember to keep it away from the trunk or main stem of your plants, and don't apply more than about 3 inches—any deeper and it will be difficult for water to reach your plant's roots.
Shrub Care. Leave your shrubs and trees alone this month—no fertilizer, no pruning. Be especially careful not to prune plants that bear autumn flowers (like Sasanqua camellias) or set berries (like winterberry holly, Ilex verticillata), as well as spring bloomers like azaleas.
Relocate Perennials. Now is a good time to begin relocating perennials (and planting new ones). If black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia. spp.) have taken over, dig out most and share them with friends, and add some other plants to the bed such as coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), bee balm (Monarda spp.) and tickseed (Coreopsis spp.), to name only a few native charmers.
Mum's the Word. Speaking of garden centers, this is the time for 'instant color' mums. I say I don't really like chrysanthemums, but I always end up with a few.
Wild Weeds. Weeds have a field day in August. Keep on top of them by hand pulling the day after a good rain.
Hardening Off Plants. Plants need to harden off before the rigors of winter, even in our mild climate. Go easy on adding nutrients such as manures (except, of course, for vegetables) and on pruning.
By the end of this month, more than likely, Jack Frost will be back in town. October in Zone 7 may seem like summer at times, but winter is just around the corner. It's a busy month in the garden—though what a pleasure to work outside now that the skeeters, heat and humidity are gone.
Bargain Watch. October is prime time to set out new landscape plants. Watch for bargains at local nurseries, and be on the lookout for fall plant sales sponsored by botanical gardens and garden clubs.
Keep Watering, Please. If rains taper off (as they did this September), be sure that your plants don't get stressed, especially shallow rooted plants like camellias and azaleas that are getting ready for winter and spring bloom, and everything in containers.
Prepare for Winter. Be sure to clean up garden beds, pulling out annual flowers and vegetables as they start to look ratty. Except for diseased plants, put everything on the compost pile, which is about to grow bigger when the leaves begin to fall. Remember to add compost and/or other organic matter to empty beds.
Cover Crop. This is the perfect time to plant cover crops on any vegetable beds you won't be using immediately and in your home mini-orchard. My favorites are crimson clover and annual ryegrass, though locally wheat and barley are also popular.
Compost Tip. Get ready to begin your fall compost bins. Begin with all the debris left from the summer garden, adding fall leaves as they begin to fall. Put your compost bin in a spot that is convenient to access.
A Sweet Idea. Just before the frost comes (watch the weather report it can be unpredictable), dig your sweet potatoes. Also pick all your green tomatoes. You can wrap them in newspaper and have tomatoes for a few more weeks.
Happy Herbs. Pot up herbs such as lemon verbena and scented geraniums. I let most herbs live outdoors over the winter, including rosemary—but I'm in the southern half of Zone 7, and you may want to pot up other herbs if you live closer to Zone 6.
Root Trouble. If a plant is rootbound in its container, make 3 or 4 slits with a knife in the root ball. Set the plant at the same level as it was in the container. Make sure there is no air pocket under the roots, and water twice when transplanting, once when the roots are half covered with soil, and once after final covering. Keep soil moist, especially in case of a dry spell.
Plant Patrol. Monitor your Asian persimmons, checking for ripeness— many varieties need to be completely ripe before you eat them. When leaves fall, the fruit remains hanging on the bare gray limbs like golden ornaments. I especially like the variety 'Eureka'.
Don't Forget to Aerate. Do all those lawn maintenance jobs this month, including aeration (a core type aerator is better). You can seed whole lawns or fix patches. When you seed, keep the area evenly moist and very gently remove tree leaves daily.
Here comes old cold winter, no doubt about it, even here in the mild Carolina Piedmont. The changes bring some benefits—Greens taste sweeter after the first frost, and the bugs and the kudzu are finally in full-scale retreat. And the catalogs start to arrive, tempting us with visions of what can be, even as the leaves drop to reveal all the various holes, spaces and openings in our gardens. As the month ends, we celebrate the bounty from our gardens, and give thanks for the living soil that sustains us.
Cantankerous Cankerworms. Apply sticky bands to control cankerworms in mid-November, focusing on your large trees, especially oaks. After leaf drop, apply a Tanglefoot barrier about chest high around the trunk, using techniques suggested by your extension agent. Don't apply Tanglefoot directly to the bark, and remember to make a note to remove traps in February.
Prepare Veggie Beds. If you have time, with all the planting, clean up and composting going on, try to get some vegetable beds prepared for spring planting. Till or double dig each bed and add organic matter. Wait on high nitrogen fertilizer, such as dried manure or commercial organic blends like Espoma 'Plant-tone' (5-3-3) until planting time in the spring.
Clean Up the Garden. Remove dead vegetable plants from the garden to prevent insects and diseases from overwintering. Remember to keep diseased plants and weed seeds strictly out of your home compost.
Test Your Soil. This is still a prime time to send in a soil test, since labs are less busy in the fall. Soil test kits are available at Cooperative Extension offices and Soil and Water Conservation Districts, or you can use a 'do-it-yourself' version.
Keep Up Your Garden Care. Be sure to keep on top of weeding, thinning, harvesting and watering with your cool season vegetables. Crops (and pansies) benefit from a soluble organic fertilizer or 'tea' as the weather gets colder and soil microbes begin snoozing.
Plant Asparagus Crowns This Month. If you already have asparagus (if you have space, you should), cut back ferny tops after frost as they turn yellow and brown.
Fruit Tree Tip. When buying fruit trees, including plums, peaches and apples, be sure to check the chill hours in your area (a measure of low temperatures over time). Match the varieties you select to local conditions to avoid plants that flower too soon and get blasted by our zone's unpredictable late frosts.
Mucho Mulch. Mulch well around figs, pomegranates and other southern-inclined warmth loving fruits.
Perennial Power. Keep picking up, moving, swapping and giving away perennials, from daylilies to black-eyed Susans. Fill in holes, move things around, like Monet did constantly at Giverny. Now's the time.
Botanical Gifts. This is a good time to 'force' bulbs or put amaryllis in pots for winter holiday gifts, though you want to get this done very early in the month for bloom around New Year.
Wildly fluctuating temperatures cold enough to freeze a bucket of water one day and warm enough to open wintersweet blossoms the next are December's hallmark. The last leaves fall from water oak trees mid-month, so that's when I schedule our final clean-up for the year. I also like to spend time catching up on my garden journal and browsing gardening Websites.
Tree Tips. You can plant bare-rooted TREES throughout this month. This is also a good time to dig and transplant small SHRUBS and trees, including wild seedlings and old boxwood.
Cut It Out. Cut back by half or more all the long shoots that have formed on your Wisteria in the last few months. Rein in English Ivy that has risen to absurd heights in a tree by cutting through all the vines at ground level.
Tulip Tricks. Plant Tulips before mid-month and they will probably bloom on time in the spring.
Poppy Party. If you haven't yet sown seed of Shirley Poppies, now is the time. You can scatter the seed directly on garden soil, then gently rake it in.
Onion Seed Starting. Start onion seed indoors.
Appetizing Artichoke. Dig up and eat Jerusalem Artichokes, which are now at their tastiest.
Prepare New Beds. If the soil is dry enough, dig new beds, especially those to be used in February or March. Add plenty of organic matter while digging so that only a light raking will be needed at planting time.