Gardening Guru

Mastering The Art Of Fall Gardening

by Pam Eagles // October - November - December 2023

Happy fall, fellow gardeners! We have successfully navigated another North Carolina summer amidst our beloved gardens. I hope you journaled both your triumphs and your mishaps for reflection and learning for the next growing season. If not, consider starting now – it’s a captivating chronicle of your time spent nurturing your garden.

Did you plant a fall garden? If so, surely you are enjoying the sight of fresh plants popping through the soil and the excitement of a bountiful harvest not too far on the horizon. Personally, I am monitoring the progress of cucumbers, corn, and pumpkins, as well as a few tomatoes and an array of greens.

As fall arrives, so does the call for garden clean-up and rest for the upcoming winter season. I let everything that is surviving stay until the first frost takes its toll. On warm autumn afternoons, I uproot and compost what will not survive our winter stretch. A similar fate awaits the falling leaves, as I gather and add them onto my compost pile and my empty garden beds, rewarding me with the best soil as the leaves break down over winter.

Now is a great time to divide perennials, expanding our gardens and allowing us to share our beautiful blooms with friends and family. Hostas, daylilies, and coneflowers will make themselves happy in their new winter homes, prepping for a splendid show next summer. This is the best planting time of year for trees, shrubs, and perennials, as the cooler months promote root establishment and the chance to develop an extensive system, ensuring success next summer. If we do experience a fall dry spell, keep them watered!

Our lawns will pretty much take care of themselves now. In November, you will want to fertilize your cool-season grass one final time for the year. Conversely, warm-season grasses do not need fertilizing now that cooler weather has arrived, as they will be going dormant any day now. As with all plantings, if we are dry, water. Now is also the time to treat for grubs if you have noticed infestation … doing so will ward off the Japanese beetle invasion next June. We all know that North Carolina’s autumn weather isn’t exactly consistent, so if grass is still growing, you can still mow. One last thought – don’t let leaves smother your grass. Rather than letting them lie on your lawn, use your mower to chop them up. As I said earlier, use the broken-down leaves on your compost and to mulch and enhance other garden areas naturally.

The time is ripe for planning bulb planting. Spring bulbs can be planted November through early December, guaranteeing a great show next year. Peruse catalogs and visit local garden centers for varieties that do well here. Personally, I love allium – their many colors, forms, and sizes offer boundless charm. I plant them in both the ground and in pots, intermingling them with pansies, dusty miller, dianthus, and snapdragons. All are readily available this time of year. Whatever your favorite, plant a nook within your garden for future enjoyment on a chilly late winter, early spring morning.

For those potted plantings around your garden, perhaps they could welcome the addition of a conical boxwood and heurchera, or a Japanese maple with some annual underplantings. Are they looking a bit tired after a season of summer sun and heat? Snip some pieces of your favorite evergreen gems for a fresh fall arrangement – think acuba, nandina, and magnolia. These should last quite a while after clipping. Once the Christmas decorating season commences, incorporate evergreen boughs from your tree for an aesthetic and aromatic allure. Be sure to keep these clippings watered during dry spells to prolong their existence and give an extra drink or two to those thirsty year-round inhabitants. Another nice gift is the occasional bird who might be found taking shelter in your impromptu arrangement. Illuminate with some twinkling lights and add a lovely bow for a pretty holiday surprise.

Pansies and mums are everywhere now. To breathe new life into empty pots around your garden, fill them with these beauties in your favorite hues and sit back and enjoy their seasonal splendor. They can also be planted directly in the ground – your preference. If you opt for the pot route, make sure it is frost-proof to avoid a cracked container. Should the unfortunate happen, use the shards in the bottom of a new pot when planting, or turn it sideways in your garden and plant hens and chicks next spring. Remember, we gardeners are excellent and resourceful recyclers!

Along with December’s arrival comes the desire to bring the colors of nature inside to complement our trees and all the lovely lights and fandangles that hearken the holidays. Introduce a poinsettia – or five. Group a few together or display them individually in festive containers. Available in an array of gorgeous hues, showcase poinsettias throughout your home for a jolly pop of color. Keep in mind, though, that while not poisonous, you do not want children and pets to nibble them, as they may cause a stomach upset.

Cyclamen, amaryllis, paperwhites, and Christmas cactus will be readily available too. There is nothing more satisfying than pulling that sleeping amaryllis bulb out and placing it in an oversized vase, lulling it out of hibernation and into a beautiful bloom. Enjoy them as standalone showstoppers or cluster several together for an added wow factor.

Friends, embrace the essence of fall. It’s a time to reflect and perfect. Strategize for an improved upcoming planting season, or one of repeated successes. Plan to find something new and exciting and to share with others. Just as the garden is ever-changing, so are we, the gardeners. Happy digging!

Pam Eagles

Pam Eagles lives in Rolesville where she gardens with two dogs and a cat. She is a founding member of the Community Gardeners of Rolesville Garden Club and serves as a Wake County Master Gardener.