FALL Newsletter

Diggin’ in the Dirt –  2021

                     Signature Gardens 
                        The signature of God is written in flowers


September is the time for the third, final, and most important fertilization of the year.   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.     Water well after applying fertilizers. 

I use a broadcast spreader to fertilize my lawn.  To fertilize my beds, I just grab a handful of organic granular fertilizer and fling it into the beds, repeating the "grab and fling" method until I've covered all of the bed areas.  Easy, easy. 

The only caution I would make on fertilizer timing is if you have a St. Augustine lawn, you might wait until mid-September for the temps to cool a little bit, because gray leaf spot disease can be exacerbated by adding nitrogen in hot weather.

Organic fertilizer brands that I can recommend:
  • Good Natured Make it Green 4-1-2 and Texas 2-Step 5-1-2
  • Texas Tee 6-2-4
  • Bradfield Luscious Lawn & Garden 3-1-5
  • Redenta’s
  • Medina Growin’ Green Organic Granular Fertilizer
  • GardenVille Soil Food, 7-2-2
  • Soil Mender – Yum Yum Mix
  • Sustane All Purpose Plant Food 8-2-4
  • Espoma Plant-Tone, Garden-Tone

(MUST be done last week of August or first week of September for best control)

ORGANIC:  If you want to use the organic version of “weed and feed,” use Corn GLUTEN Meal in your lawn areas.  CGM 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 organic fertilizer for your shrub/flower beds, though). CGM goes down at the rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet, as well.  Using the powder form of CGM is more effective than the granular, spreadable kind.   Try to apply on a non-windy day.  Do not put CGM in any flower beds where you want seeds to germinate.   NOTE: Excessive moisture can reduce the effectiveness of CGM, so it is best to apply it when there is no rain forecast for a few days.  Apply, water it in lightly, then do not water again for several days. Click here for more info on CGM.

SYNTHETIC:  This is a departure from my normal advice to practice organic gardening, but I just wanted to give you the information and let you determine what is the best course of action for your lawn care.   I am basically summarizing Neil Sperry's advice, so if you want more details, please visit Neil's Facebook page or website for more information (neilsperry.com).

As mentioned above, synthetic pre-emergents MUST be applied during the last week of August or first week of September (per Neil Sperry's latest recommendations) in order to be effective against spring weeds.    Follow product labels as directed for application rates.

For spring GRASSY WEEDS such as Poa annua (annual bluegrass) and rescuegrass, apply a pre-emergent herbicide such as Dimension or Scotts WeedEx Prevent with Halts.   The label may say "crabgrass preventer," but don't let that confuse you.    Just pretend it says "grassy weed preventer."     Crabgrass is a summer grassy weed, so this same product can be used in the spring to prevent germination of crabgrass (I will address in my Spring Newsletter).

For spring BROADLEAF WEEDS such as henbit (purple bloom), chickweed (white bloom), dandelions, and clover, apply a Gallery pre-emergent (Ferti-Lome is one brand).

Both products can be applied on the same day, but it is recommended that you do not mix the granular products together before applying.  Water only lightly after applying.

I would caution you to NOT use chemical "weed-and-feed" products.  Read product labels.  The herbicides in weed-and-feed products can damage shade trees.


Fall is THE BEST time for planting trees, shrubs, and perennials. Even though the upper part of the tree, shrub, or perennial 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 the soil/root ball is very moist when planting, and keep soil moist until the 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 instructions below), be sure to add a generous amount of compost (3 inches) to the planting area. You can either till it in prior to planting, or just mix it in as you're planting. If you have heavy clay soil, add expanded shale to the planting area, as well.

Planting Trees:  When planting trees, do not add anything to the planting hole except the soil that came out of the hole.  No soil amendments such as compost, peat moss, or shredded pine bark should be added to the backfill.   

Dig a wide hole not deeper than the height of the root ball, and loosen or break up the sides of the hole with a shovel or rake.   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.   Break up any roots encircling the root ball.  If the tree is really root bound, you may need to slice into the sides of the root ball with a shovel or knife.  

Place the tree in the planting hole with the top of the root ball (the flare of the trunk) a couple inches ABOVE your soil grade.   Backfill around the root ball, once again, only with the soil that was dug out of the planting hole.   Add root stimulator and water well to settle the soil.  

Add compost to the TOP of the root ball area if needed, feathering it out to your surrounding soil grade.  Then mulch around the tree, taking care to not cover the trunk flare.  During the first year or two, you will need to give your tree supplemental water during hot, dry weather.  Water slowly and deeply to encourage deep root development. 


NOTE:   If you are planting a Shumard Red Oak or Chinese Pistachio, you will need to wrap the trunk with tree wrap (see picture below) for two years to prevent sun scald and borer attack.

It is not necessary, however, to stake trees after planting, unless you have a high wind situation that may cause the tree to uproot before it is established.  Trees will establish a stronger root system if not staked.  If staking is necessary, be sure to remove all staking material after about one year.

Herbs and Vegetables: Fall is a great time to plant cool-season herbs and vegetables: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, beans, spinach, leaf lettuce, radish, parsley, cilantro.  Plant garlic cloves in October.

Click here for complete vegetable planting guide for North Texas.

Wildflowers: 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. Wildflowers need full sun (at least 6 hours)

Somniferum poppies

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. Several good varieties of daffodils are: Ice Follies, Tete-a-Tete (my new favorite!),  Carlton, Fortune, Golden Dawn, and Grand Primo. Also try Spanish bluebells, Byzantine gladiolus, Summer Snowflake (Leucojum), species tulips, petticoats, fall crocus, and red spider lilies (Lycoris radiata), Oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida).

Tulips, Hyacinth, and Crocus need to be pre-chilled prior to planting.  To pre-chill bulbs, store the bulbs in the refrigerator at 45°F for 45 to 60 days; then plant in late December, early January, when soil temperatures reach 45-50°F.

'Ice Follies' Daffodils

Annuals and Containers: It's still a little bit early for planting pansies and other winter color.  Wait until it is consistently cooler (75 degrees-October/ November) to plant winter color.  If your spring/summer annuals in beds and containers are either totally fried or at least a little tired looking and you want to add a little color now, try crotons for foliage color, and petunias, marigolds, or garden mums for blooms. It is best to buy plants in bud, not full bloom.

For late fall/winter annual color, plant:   pansies/violas, dianthus, dusty miller, cabbage/kale, and curly parsley.   They can handle pretty much anything our Texas winters dish out.  Other color options are:  snapdragons, alyssum, cyclamen, mustard, and Swiss chard, but they may 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 can die very quickly, so be sure to wait until it cools down.


Fall Webworms:    If you 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.

Chinch Bugs:   Do you have a patch of St. Augustine lawn that started looking like this in the middle of the summer?  (see picture below)   The culprit is most likely chinch bugs.  They usually show up in the hottest, driest spot in your lawn.   Get down on your hands and knees in the green section of the lawn bordering the browned areas and look for these tiny bugs scurrying through the grass (again, see picture below).   Treat with an insecticide labeled for chinch bugs (follow the label directions in applying).   Early next summer keep an eye out for any signs of chinch bug damage beginning and treat at the first sign of damage. 
Chinch bug and damaged St. Augustine

Crape Myrtle Bark Scale
  Crape Myrtle bark scales are aggressive, sap-feeding insects that
appear as white, waxy encrustations most likely to occur near pruning wounds or in branch crotches.  Larger female scales "bleed" a pink liquid when crushed.    Click here for a video showing recommended treatments and how to apply.

Crape Myrtle Bark Scale

Twice-Stabbed Lady Beetle
You might also check with local garden centers to see if they can get Twice-Stabbed Lady Beetles for you. They are the lady bug that will attack this particular scale.  (They are black with two red dots on their back.)

Fire Ants For advice on the Two-Step Method from Texas A&M, click  here

For organic fire ant control, I use 2 ounces of Orange Oil and 1 ounce of liquid molasses mixed with 1 gallon of water to drench the mound.  Click here for more information

Aphids:  Just blast them with a strong spray of water.
Aphids and Lady Beetle

Rose Rosette Disease:  For the few who still have roses in your garden, be on the lookout for symptoms of Rose Rosette Disease, which present as red, distorted new growth (known as "witches' broom") on long, thickened stems with excessive growth of thorns along the stem.   This disease is transmitted by a microscopic eriophyid mite and is spread to other roses as the mite travels on wind currents.  At this point in time there is no effective control of the disease, and it is recommended that any roses with Rose Rosette Disease be completely removed and destroyed, roots and all.  Click here to learn more.


Most cities in our area remain under mandatory water restrictions, despite any recent rains.  Watering is limited to twice a week between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.  Twice-a-week watering should be sufficient for most landscapes (and even less for true xeriscaped gardens).  Watering more frequently develops shallow root systems and just sets your landscape up for failure when water restrictions are enforced.   I suggest using the "cycle and soak" method.   Run all zones of your sprinkler system, wait 15 to 30 minutes, and then repeat the cycle again.  This gives the first run cycle time to soak in before it runs again.  This requires either a Program A and B or multiple start times on your controller.

As the temperatures start to cool down this fall, you will not need to water as often.  Once a week will be sufficient in the fall.   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, if at all possible. Dark, cool, and wet = fungus! It is best to water early morning. Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deeper root development.  If the forecast calls for a hard freeze, be sure your soil is moist down to 6 inches (run sprinklers if we have not gotten a rain recently.) 


Mulch, mulch, mulch!!! Mulching all bare soil conserves moisture, helps moderate soil temps, and helps keep the weeds to a minimum.   As the mulch starts to break down, it continues to improve soil texture, as well.   Be careful that you don’t pile mulch up on 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 or Bermuda lawns.  Spread  ½ inch layer of compost over the area.

If you need to add sod to your yard, plant it by early to mid-September to give the roots time to develop before winter freezes.   Water new sod daily for 10 minutes for about 2 weeks to get it to root in; then resume normal watering schedule.

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 (pruning details are in my Spring Newsletter.)  If you need to prune now, prune selectively and lightly.  Shrubs that were hard pruned in the spring, like Burford and Dwarf Yaupon Hollies, may be sending off erratic new growth right now.  Go ahead and trim that erratic growth now to keep a tidy shape.  Long, gangly shoots of Abelias can be snipped off at any time.

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  -- You can prune spent flower stalks to the ground, or leave some to go to seed for the birds.

Shasta and Ox-eye Daisy  -- Prune spent flower stalks to the ground.

Salvia Greggii – Give it a "haircut" if blooming has slowed, trimming 3 to 6 inches, to get it ready for fall blooming. This is a prolific fall bloomer!!  

Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage) –  Fall bloomer.    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), Salvia guaranitica – If blooms are faded and plants are leggy, cut down to about a foot tall; they will rebloom in a few weeks.     After a hard freeze, you can cut down to the ground. 

Russian Sage – After a hard freeze, cut down to the ground.

Loosestrife and Lantana - cut to ground after freeze

Daylilies - pull browned foliage

Zexmenia - after a hard freeze, cut to the ground

Purple Heart - after a hard freeze, cut to the ground.

Canna - grasshopper damage?   Cut tattered stalks to the ground; there's still time for them to regrow.   Right before a hard freeze, cut to the ground.  You can wait till after the freeze, but stems will be mushy and messy.

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.

'Helen von Stein' Lamb's Ear - remove (cut or pull) any brown/dried leaves; it should rebound with new growth.

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.

Datura - Cut to ground after hard freeze.  Collect fallen seeds pods if you don't want lots of extra plants germinating.

Turk's Cap - Cut to ground after hard freeze.  If you don't want it to spread, pull any side shoots that have rooted into the ground and cut them back at the main root.

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 -  Right below fading blooms, you might see new leaves forming.  Trim right above those new leaves and it should bloom again.    After freeze, cut to ground.

Hydrangea macrophylla or quercifolia - 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.

Rosemary - Trim back in September by 1/3 to stimulate new growth and winter blooms.

Evergreen Herbs (Thyme, Oregano, Winter Savory, Salad Burnet) - Trim back in the fall, if desired, to produce new growth.

Roses - Ideally, shrub roses should be pruned by one-third in August, but if you have not already pruned them, do so very early in September; then fertilize and mulch.   They will put on new growth and will bloom again in October.  Again, remove completely if any Rose Rosette Disease is found.  


Stay tuned...

A few of my favorite gardening books are...
Easy Container Gardens by Pamela Crawford
Easy Gardens for North Central Texas by Steve Huddleston and Pamela Crawford
Lone Star Gardening by Neil Sperry   

QUESTIONS?   Please email me at:  signaturegardens@verizon.net

And remember…a day without dirt under your nails is like a day without sunshine

Happy Gardening this fall!

Toni :-)

Instagram:   @tonisignaturegardens