Saturday, September 11, 2010

Diggin' in the Dirt - Fall Newsletter


It is time for the third, final, and most important fertilization of the year, between September 15th and October 15th. Put organic fertilizer down at the rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet on lawns and all flower/shrub beds. If you can only afford to do one fertilization a year, this is the one to do.

If you want to use the organic version of “weed and feed,” use Corn GLULTEN Meal in your lawn areas. It is also a very good fertilizer, so if you go this route, you do not need to use additional fertilizer for your lawn (you will need fertilizer for your shrub/flower beds, though). Corn gluten meal goes down at the rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet, as well. The powder form of corn gluten meal works better than the granular, spreadable kind. Do not put corn gluten meal in any flower beds that you want seeds to germinate.

PLEASE do NOT use chemical weed and feed products. (This is the one thing that both Howard Garrett and Neil Sperry do agree on.)

Organic fertilizer brands that I can recommend:

• Nature’s Guide 5-3-2 or 6-1-4
• Texas Tee 6-2-4
• Bradfield Luscious Lawn & Garden 3-1-5
• Redenta’s
• Medina Growin’ Green Organic Granular Fertilizer
• Gardenville Soil Food, 6-2-2 or 5-3-2
• Lady Bug Natural Blend 8-2-4 Fertilizer (see bag for application rates)
• Soil Mender – Yum Yum Mix
• Sustane All Natural Organic


Fall is THE BEST time for planting trees, shrubs, and perennials. Even though the upper part of the tree, shrub, or plant may be dormant during the winter, the roots will continue to develop throughout the winter, and your plants will be very well established before next summer’s heat. Nurseries usually have great sales going on this time of year, too! Fall is also a great time to transplant shrubs and divide and transplant perennials, if needed. Make sure soil/root ball is very moist when planting, and keep soil moist until plant is established. If you need to transplant a tree, wait until it is completely dormant, usually January.

Before you plant or transplant anything (except trees – see note below), be sure to prepare the beds with lots of compost. Add the compost and till it in with a tiller or just a shovel. If you have heavy clay soil, till in expanded shale, as well.

Planting Trees: When planting trees, never add anything to the planting hole except the soil that came out of the hole. Plant the trees high. Take the tree out of the container, scrape the top couple inches of soil off the top of the root ball until you can see the flare of the trunk (I just use a broom to brush the soil away). That is the top of the root ball. Plant the tree with the top of the root ball (the flare of the trunk) a couple inches ABOVE your soil grade. Add compost to the TOP of the root ball area if needed, feathering it out to your surrounding soil grade. Then you can mulch around the tree without burying it too deeply. NOTE: If you are planting a Shumard Red Oak or Chinese Pistachio, you will need to wrap the trunk with tree wrap for two years to prevent sun scald and borer attack.

Herbs and Vegetables: Fall is a great time to plant cool-season herbs and vegetables: cabbage, broccoli, carrots, beets, beans, peas, spinach, leaf lettuce, radish, parsley, cilantro.
Go to: for complete vegetable planting guide for North Texas.

Wildflowers: September/October is also time to plant wildflower seeds (Larkspur, poppies, bluebonnets, etc.) Just scratch the soil and scatter the seeds, making sure they have good soil contact. Cover with no more than ¼-inch of compost. The wildflowers will germinate this fall and winter, and will bloom in the spring. I have lots of somnifera poppy seeds to share. If you would like some, just let me know. Wildflowers need full sun (at least 6 hours)

Bulbs: Plant bulbs in a hole 3 times the height of the bulb. Daffodils, do not need pre-chilling and can be planted anytime after October 1st and through mid-January. A few good varieties of daffodils are: Ice Follies, Carlton, and Fortune. Also try narcissus, leucojum, species tulips, petticoats, fall crocus, and lycoris (red spider lilies). Plant Tulips, Hyacinth, and Crocus late December, early January, when soil temperatures reach 45-50°F. Prior to planting, store bulbs in the refrigerator at 45°F for 45 to 60 days.

Annuals and Containers: It's still a little early for planting pansies and other winter color, but if your spring/summer annuals in beds and containers are tired looking and you want to add a little color now, try petunias, marigolds, and garden mums. It is best to buy plants in bud, not full bloom. Wait until it is consistently cooler (75 degrees/late October, early November) to plant winter color. For late fall and/or winter annual color, plant: Pansies, snapdragons, dianthus, dusty miller, alyssum, mustard, Swiss chard, kale (especially Red Bor or Peacock kale). From my experience, pansies, kale, and dusty miller are the only annuals that will survive a freeze if left unprotected. The other plants will need to be covered and protected if a hard freeze is expected. Pansies are susceptible to a soil-borne disease if the soil is too warm, and they will die very quickly, so be sure to wait until it cools down.


You may notice webs forming in some of your trees, especially pecan and mulberry trees. Those webs are formed by fall webworms. There are two to four generations of webworms each year. They will usually just do cosmetic damage to a tree but will not kill it. Just take a long-handled pole or rake and break the webs open. The birds and wasps will take care of the worms. You can also spray with a product called Bt, (Bacillus thuringiensis), but you will need to break the webs open first so that the Bt can penetrate the web. Bt will kill all caterpillars, whether webworm caterpillars or monarch butterfly caterpillars, so use it selectively. Bt can be obtained from any garden center. Use as directed by the label.


As the temperatures start to cool down, you will not need to water as often. In the winter months, if we do not get rain for a two-week period of time, then it is time to run the sprinklers. Do not water at night. Dark and wet = fungus! It is best to water early morning. Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deeper root development.


Mulch, mulch, mulch!!! Mulching all bare soil conserves moisture, helps keep plant roots warmer in the winter, and helps keep the weeds to a minimum. I prefer native cedar mulch, but any mulch is better than nothing. Please don’t leave this part out; it is very important. Be sure that you don’t mulch up around the trunks of trees or shrubs.


Until the grass goes dormant, continue to mow regularly, cutting no more than one-third of the grass height per mowing.

As it cools down this fall you may see fungal problems appearing in your St. Augustine, spread ½ to 1-inch layer of peat moss over diseased areas. Another option is to spread a thin layer of compost over the area.

As the leaves start to fall, just mow them and leave the clippings on your lawn. If you have an abundance of leaves, you can rake them up and throw them in the compost pile. Adding cotton seed meal and some water to the pile of leaves will turn them into rich compost quickly.


Trees: If you need to prune your trees, winter is the best time to do that while the trees are dormant. Also, it is best to prune oak trees during winter months to avoid the spread of oak wilt disease.

Shrubs: All major pruning of shrubs should be done in mid-February. Mark your calendars now so you remember to do major pruning in February. If you need to prune now, prune selectively and lightly. Burford Hollies may be sending off erratic growth right now; trim erratic growth to keep tidy shape.

PERENNIALS: (If you have a question about a specific perennial, just let me know. The following are just a few tips)

Continue deadheading blooming perennials until we have a hard freeze.

Fall is like a second spring with all of the fall blooming perennials. Some great fall blooming perennials are: Mexican Bush Sage, Fall Aster, Salvia Greggii, Chrysanthemum, Mexican Mint Marigold, Turk’s Cap, Copper Canyon Daisy.

Purple Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susan, Shasta and Ox-eye Daisy  -- Prune spent flower stalks to the ground now.

Salvia Greggii – Give it a slight haircut if blooming has slowed. This is a prolific fall bloomer!! Save heavy pruning for February.

Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage) – After a hard freeze, cut down to the ground, then mulch.

Mexican Mint Marigold – same instructions as Mexican Bush Sage.

Aster oblongifolius (Fall Aster) – You can cut to ground after a freeze, or wait until mid-February for winter texture and interest.

Chrysanthemums – same instructions as Mexican Bush Sage.

Salvia farinacea (mealycup sage), Russian Sage, Salvia guaranitica – After a hard freeze, you can cut down to the ground.

Loosestrife and Lantana - cut to ground after freeze.

Hardy Hibiscus: After freeze, cut stems to the ground, then mulch.

Blackfoot Daisy, Calylophus, Pink Skullcap, Dianthus, 4-nerve Daisy: No need to prune.

Dwarf Mexican Petunia (Katie's Ruellia) - after a freeze, on a dry day, just stomp on them and break the stems off at the ground and remove browned foliage.

Ornamental grasses: After a hard freeze, the grasses will turn tan, but just leave them alone until February. The grasses add texture and interest in your garden during the winter.

Columbine: They should start putting on new growth as the weather turns cooler. They will be evergreen through the winter and will bloom in the spring.

Powis Castle Artemisia: Wait until February to cut it back.

Ferns: Holly Ferns and Autumn Ferns are evergreen – don’t cut back. Wood Ferns and Japanese Painted Ferns will turn brown after a freeze. Cut them to the ground and mulch.

Summer Phlox: After freeze, cut to ground.

Hydrangeas: Do not prune. The only time to prune is immediately after they finish blooming. Pruning now or in the spring will sacrifice next year's bloom.

Roses: BEFORE mid-September cut shrub roses back by about a third, then fertilize and mulch. They will put on new growth and will bloom again in October. This must be done late August or early September. Do not wait until late September to do this.


Remember... a day without dirt under your nails is like a day without sunshine

Happy Gardening…

Toni Moorehead

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