Fall is a fantastic time to be in the garden. Soon enough there will be a killing frost; once that happens, it’s time to tuck your garden into bed for the winter. Our first frost date is unpredictable in terms of regions and microclimates. The first frost date for Raleigh, North Carolina, as calculated by NC State University, is November 5. I live about 4 miles away from NC State, and my garden’s average frost date is October 31. If you are cutting it close with chores, watch your local weather carefully to get them done before the first killing frost hits.
Later this month when mowing has come to a stop, service your mower before putting it away. Drain the gas tank (or in my case, I give the lawn one last cut to run out the gas and tidy up), or use a gasoline stabilizer. Untreated gasoline can become thick and gummy. Remove the spark plug, and add a few drops of oil to help lubricate the cylinder. Replace spark plug now or in the spring.
Rose disease prevention
To help prevent diseases of your roses, rake up any leaves from the beds. Removing some of the mulch exposed to the leaves is good idea as well. These leaves and exposed mulch can harbor blackspot spores that can over-winter in the leaves. Top-dress the garden with fresh mini-chip mulch.
A good time to transplant roses
It is not time to plant bare-root roses or container roses, but it is a good time to transplant them. If you have a rose that has outgrown its spot, needs better light, or you just want it in an area to more readily see to enjoy, November is a good month to move roses.
Watch for cool season mites on junipers, conifers, azaleas, hollies, and camellias. Infested leaves turn gray or brown and may fall prematurely. Heavily infested shrubs and conifers may die. Use the white paper test–place a piece of white paper under the stem and shake the plant. Mites are smaller than a period in a sentence.
Perennials can be cut back after frost; however many perennials give the garden an interesting look in the winter and still provide cover and food for wildlife. Consider waiting until spring to cut back perennials.
Most spring and summer perennials can still divided through early winter. Water in well before and after dividing.
November is the best time to plant most spring flowering bulbs. When planting, mix in some lime and a balanced fertilizer, like 10-10-10 or a special bulb mixture (9-9-6) at planting time.
Planting trees and shrubs
Woody plants like trees, shrubs, and fruit trees grow roots best in cool soils. Plant these now to give roots a chance to develop and withstand the heat of next summer.
Delay pruning trees and shrubs
Delay pruning until late winter, except for minor shaping and to remove dead and diseased wood.
Camellias are a beautiful plant all year long, but fall and winter begins their flowering seasons, blooming at a time when little else is in showy.
Mulch your camellia plants well with a material that will allow air to flow, such as pine needles or pine bark. Avoid flat leaves as they tend to mat, get soggy, and prevent air from reaching the top of the root area. The mulch will serve as a blanket, regulating the soil temperature, to maintain temperatures above 25ºF.
Camellias should be protected from cold, desiccating winds if, possible. Plant in an area with a natural wind-break on the north and west side of young plants.
If your plants are in containers, group them together in a protected area and mulch deeply around the container. For additional insulation, throw pine needles over the top of any plants which may remain unprotected in cold weather.
Camellia plants become dormant after 3 or 4 days when temperatures reach below 40º F. Let them sleep. While they are dormant, the roots are still growing and the buds further develop into blooms.
Camellia sasanquas begin to bloom in September in the Raleigh area, and with different varieties, can bloom through Christmas. C. sasanquas are available in white, pink, and red flowers and can be single, double, or semi-double in form.
Camellia sinensis is another fall blooming camellia. The leaves of C. sinensis is where tea is produced. Blooms are either white or pink with solid green or variegated foliage.
Roadsides and back gardens alike can come alive each fall with red and yellow foliage. It’s not just something you see up north; the southern garden can be filled with rich reds and yummy yellows.
Good sources of yellow in the November garden are sweet gum, hickory, redbud, and Ginkgo.
For fiery reds consider Red maple, serviceberry, dogwood, both sweet and black gum trees, sourwood, and persimmon.
Fall blooming plants with sweet scent
Fragrance from my Osmanthus (both, O. heterophyllus and O. fragrans) can be identified from the curb of the front garden even though the scent is is originating from the back. It’s amazing how much smell can come from the smallest flower.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is also a good source of fragrance in the fall garden.
Fall leaf clean-up
Blow your leaves into the natural areas of your garden to decompose or provide mulch for plants through the winter. Instead of using a blower to move fallen leaves to the street for pick-up, put those leaves to work for you as mulch in the garden. The birds will thank you as they forage for insects.
The site of bare soil does not soothe my soul. I like a finished look. Crazy, I know, but it is part of my makeup. For most places in the garden, this is not a problem since the early spring application of mulch still remains in the garden. But the vegetable garden is another matter. With the summer abundance gone, less vegetation is in view leaving me more soil to contend with; there is typically more earth than I want to see. That’s where a cover crop comes in. Not only am I adding Nitrogen to the soil by growing a cover crop.
This year, I sowed 3.5 ounces of rye grass seed per 1,000 square feet. The cover crop will grown all winter. I happen to like the look of the grass when it’s flattened by the elements later in the year; no need for me to mow. If you, however, prefer your grass (rye or otherwise) to be tidy, you can mow the rye. Be sure to leave the grass on the ground, adding nutrients back into the soil.
In addition of adding nutrients to the soil, cover crop will also prevent soil erosion and compaction. Wheat, barley, and red clover also make a good cover crop.
There is still time left in the year to divide and transplant irises and daylilies. Water well before and after dividing.
Don’t cut back chrysanthemum, ferns, and salvias, until new growth appears in the spring. The current year’s growth aids in insulation from the cold.
You can add color to your garden all winter long with pansies, violas, snapdragons, and ornamental vegetables such as kale.
Did you know the Carolinas are part of the Atlantic Flyway, the migratory path for waterfowl and other birds? Show some Southern hospitality by putting out bird feeders and birdbaths full of fresh water.
Fall migratory birds begin to wing their way back down south. In doing so, they need to pack on as much fat as possible. In addition to adding feeders to provide supplemental feed for the birds, consider creating a garden bird friendly.
Here are some things you can do to provide for the wildlife as they make their way further south:
Wait to tidy up the garden. Leave seed heads for the birds to enjoy, and resist pruning shrubs with persistent fruit. If you must prune, consider making an arrangement in a natural bouquet. Put into a hand-tie arrangement, leaving outside for the birds to enjoy. Secure to a fence post or other post like a birdhouse or feeder, put the arrangement so the birds can make lunch easy.
Clean nesting boxes with soap and water. They will be ready for spring, but in the meantime, the boxes are available for winter roosting habitats. These habitats will be a welcome site on a very cold night. Warmth burns fewer calories.
Aside from not liking the term “forcing,” I enjoy getting bulbs to bloom indoors to jump-start spring. I don’t do this on a massive level, but I like a few to have around, brightening a January day. Even if they are already blooming outside, I like having the flowers inside as well.
Since a true bulb contains all it needs to bloom the first year, no additional nutrients are needed. This is why you see hyacinths blooming in those cute, specially designed glass containers. However, without added nutrients, the bulb will not return again. So after it blooms, you should place it in the compost pile.
Bulbs will need excellent drainage; you can use gravel or sand as a planting medium instead of potting soil. Choose a well-drained container, and fill it with planting medium (within two inches from the rim for larger bulbs and closer to the rim for smaller bulbs.)
Arrange bulbs on the planting medium with the pointed end up. It’s better to crowd them so they are almost touching. We want to make a statement, so let’s make it! Once positioned, the tops of the bulbs should all be level, about half an inch from the surface. Backfill with more planting medium so the bulb tips are just barely poking out.
Place pots in a chilling area, ideally in a low-light or darkened area. This period will be dependent on the bulb—you will need anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks of chilling. Keep the bulbs evenly moist but not in standing water. Good drainage is important.
Once they sprout, gradually give the bulbs warmer temperatures and light. Place them where you can enjoy them the most.
Popular choices for Christmas blooms are paperweights, narcissus, hyacinths, and amaryllis.
Words by: Helen Yoest
Sponsored by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association