- Inspect gardens for overwintering pests and diseases.
- Clean, inspect, and sharpen garden tools.
- Clean flower pots that are being stored for future use. Sterilize the pots by soaking them for at least 10 minutes in a solution of one-part bleach to nine-parts water.
- Clean and sterilize (one-part bleach to nine-parts water) any soiled seed flats or seedling trays in anticipation of reusing them for this year’s seedlings.
- Inspect perennials for frost heaving (alternate freezing and thawing cycles). Gently replant any that are out of the ground making sure roots are well covered with soil. Apply a layer of mulch to help protect roots.
- In the event of heavy or wet snow, gently brush accumulated snow off shrubs and trees to minimize breakage.
- Prune broken tree and shrub branches that have been damaged by snow or ice.
- Periodically inspect the base of tree trunks and shrubs for vole damage. Voles like to hide under mulch, so make sure mulch is not touching the trunks.
- Inspect stored tender bulbs and tubers, such as dahlias and canna lilies, to make sure they are firm and free of mold. If the bulbs are shriveled, lightly moisten them as necessary.
- Use de-icing products carefully on walkways, steps, or other icy surfaces to avoid damaging nearby plants.
- Develop a plan for the coming season’s garden with a focus on plants to be divided, transplanted, added, or eliminated.
- Decide which vegetable crops to plant this spring and how many plants will be needed. Calculate the number of weeks required for seeds started indoors to be ready for transplant.
- Develop a planting schedule for both direct-sown seeds and transplants. Keep in mind the last average frost date and the vegetable’s specific growing requirements.
- Do a simple germination test on any old seeds to make sure they are still viable. Space 10 seeds about an inch apart on a moist paper towel and fold the bottom half of the towel up over the seeds. Place the folded towel in a plastic bag and leave the bag in a warm place (your kitchen counter should be fine). Check the seeds periodically to make sure they are still moist. If at least 70% of the seeds sprout, the seeds are viable If less than 70% sprout, either plan to plant the seeds more thickly then normal or buy new seeds.
- Order new seeds from catalogs and online sources now while supplies are plentiful.
- In preparation for spring planting, order seed starting supplies, such as cell packs, transplant pots, potting mix, and fertilizer.
- Recycle plastic mesh bags that onions and other produce are sold in and store for use this summer to air dry onions, garlic, and shallots.
- Avoid excessive foot traffic on lawns over the winter months to prevent damaging the sod and compacting the soil.
- Avoid using ice melting products containing nitrogen and phosphorus.
- Inspect lawn after winter storms and pick up any fallen tree limbs, compacted leaves, or other debris.
- Avoid parking vehicles on the lawn; the weight can kill or damage the grass.
- Complete orders for new seeds from catalogs and online resources. Once the seeds arrive, label the front side of each packet with the year so that, in the future, you can quickly tell how old any unused seeds are.
- If starting seeds indoors, order inventory supplies, such as cell packs, transplant pots, potting mix, and fertilizer.
- Most pruning of woody plants may be carried out now while plants are dormant.
- Continue inspecting stored tender bulbs monthly and lightly moisten them if they are shriveled.
- Check evergreen trees for drought stress caused by either frozen soil, which prevents the plant from taking up water, or from lack of rain or snow over the winter.
- Prune deciduous woody plants to remove dead, weak, or crossing branches. This is the ideal time to prune late spring or early summer-flowering shrubs such as Abelia, Beautyberry, Buddleia, or Caryopteris.
- Monitor trees and shrubs for deer, rabbit, or vole damage; look for scraped or gnawed bark. Pull back mulch from the trunk a couple of inches to discourage vole damage.
- Cut back ornamental grasses before spring growth occurs.
- Look for emerging foliage of early blooming daffodils, snowdrops, hyacinths, and other spring bulbs. If daytime temperatures are above freezing, the foliage can tolerate short periods of frosty temperatures without harm. If prolonged freezing weather is predicted, protect the foliage with frost covers, a layer of newspaper, light mulch, or chopped leaves.
- Inspect tillers, sprayers, and other gardening equipment to make sure they are well maintained and ready to operate once the gardening season starts.
- Prune apple and peach trees to open the canopy and remove any diseased wood.
- Disinfect pruning tools between cuts to avoid spreading disease.
- Sow seeds indoors for crops such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and onions that can be transplanted in March.
- If you didn’t get around to this at the end of the last growing season, consider servicing your lawnmower now so that you can beat the crowds at the repair shop before warm weather arrives.
- Avoid walking on ice or frost-covered lawns. Foot traffic on frozen grass can damage the leaves and compact the soil.
- Inspect gardens for overwintering pests and diseases.
- Once the soil has thawed and is dry enough to work, begin preparing beds for planting.
- Begin removing cool-season weeds from beds.
- Apply soil amendments in accordance with soil test recommendations.
- Redefine bed edges with a sharp, straight-edged shovel or half-moon edger to keep grass from growing into flower beds.
- Fertilize spring-blooming bulbs with a balanced fertilizer.
- In late March, cut back perennials such as coneflower and sedum that were left standing over the winter.
- Cut back ornamental grasses before they start to display new spring growth.
- Direct sow hardy annuals such as larkspur, sweet peas, and love-in-a-mist.
- Prune evergreen hedges; keep the base wider than the top of the hedge.
- Apply dormant oil to trees and shrubs as needed to control overwintering pests and diseases. Make sure temperature will remain above freezing for 24 hours after spraying.
- Prune tree or shrub twigs that were affected by winter kill; cut back to green wood. To determine if the twig is alive or dead, scratch the bark with your fingernail.
- Plant bare-root roses after the ground thaws, but is moist without being overly wet.
- Start feeding house plants with a diluted solution of soluble houseplant food.
- Once soil can be worked in spring, till under or mow cover crops.
- Add compost and other amendments as needed to soil in preparation for planting.
- Plant bare-root bramble fruits and grapevines in mid to late March.
- Set out dormant strawberry crowns about 3 to 4 weeks before the average last frost date.
- Plant potatoes from mid-March to mid-April using seed pieces measuring about 1 to 1.5 inches and having one or two good buds or “eyes” per piece.
- Fertilize established fruit trees about 3 to 4 weeks before active growth begins, starting about 2 feet from the trunk and extending to just beyond the drip line.
- Direct sow cool-season vegetable crops such as peas, carrots, collards, leeks, mustard greens, spinach, and arugula after the soil temperature reaches 40-50° F.
- Harden off cool-season crop seedlings in preparation for planting in the garden.
- Prune older canes of everbearing raspberry varieties to the ground, leaving 1-year canes in place. This assures a mid-summer crop as well as a larger fall crop. Or, if you prefer, cut all the canes back to the ground, which will result in one large crop.
- Once soil is dry enough, aerate and de-thatch lawn as needed.
- Inspect the lawn for bare spots and sow grass seed where needed.
- Keep grass seed moist until it sprouts and becomes established.
- Eliminate standing water on the lawn by correcting drainage if needed.
- Get a soil test done to find out what, if any, nutrients your lawn may need. The Virginia Cooperative Extension office (at 460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, VA 22902) provides soil test kits and instructions for the residents of Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville. Follow the instructions for preparing the soil test and submitting the kit along with $10.00 to Virginia Tech for analysis and recommendations. NOTE: If fertilizer is needed, it is generally best to apply it in the fall rather than in the spring.
- Prepare new beds for planting.
- Work organic matter into existing garden beds.
- Pull weeds from garden beds.
- Clean up any debris that may harbor pests and diseases.
- Inspect roots of perennials for vole damage.
- Divide perennials and transplant at original depth.
- Prune rose bushes back to outward-facing buds.
- Cage peonies as they emerge from the soil.
- Inspect plantings for insect pests such as lace bugs on Azaleas and leaf miners on Columbine.
- Fertilize bulbs with a balanced fertilizer after they finish blooming.
- Plant berry crops such as blueberries, strawberry crowns, and raspberries.
- Plant cool-weather crops such as arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and spinach.
- Plant lettuces every week or two to extend harvest.
- Plant herbs such as chives, sage, oregano, thyme, and tarragon now, but hold off until warmer weather in May to plant basil.
- Before transplanting vegetable seedlings, gradually harden them off starting about 2 weeks in advance of planting them outdoors.
- If possible, transplant vegetable seedlings on a cool, cloudy day or in the late afternoon to lessen transplant shock.
- Thin carrots and radishes to proper spacing.
- Install supports for vining crops such as spring peas and pole beans.
- Use row covers to protect vegetable crops from nighttime temperatures that drop into the 30s.
- Delay putting down organic mulch in the vegetable garden until after the soil warms up.
- Sharpen mower blades in advance of mowing season.
- Set mower for highest preferred height for your specific grass variety. Taller grass blades can support a deeper root system, which helps roots find water and nutrients.
- Before using the lawn mower, inspect the lawn for broken tree branches, twigs, rocks, matted leaves, toys, and other items that may have accumulated on the lawn over the winter.
- Inspect the lawn for damage caused by moles, voles, and other burrowing animals.
- Apply pre-emergent herbicide to control crabgrass.
- Remove henbit, chickweed, and other cool-season weeds before they go to seed.
- Business at local nurseries generally peaks during May. To get the best selections, shop early in the month while supplies are plentiful.
- When buying vegetable starts and ornamental plants, buy the best possible quality. If your nursery owner doesn’t object, slip the plant from the pot to see if the root structure is well-developed, but not pot-bound. A plant with underdeveloped roots will take longer to settle in and may not be as robust during the high heat of summer. A plant that is pot-bound cannot take up water and nutrients from the soil. Such plants may not thrive over the long haul unless you removed part of the root mass before planting.
- Check hoses and fittings for irrigation systems to make sure they are in proper working order. If using an in-ground sprinkler system, make sure the sprinkler heads are working and pointed in the correct position.
- Install a rainwater barrel to capture rainwater for irrigation.
- Replace cool-season bedding plants such as pansies and violas with warm-weather annuals.
- Transplant bedding plants on cool, cloudy days if possible in order to reduce transplant shock. Monitor moisture levels while the plants are settling in and provide water as needed.
- Plant tender bulbs such as dahlias, caladiums, canna lilies, and gladioli after the danger of frost has ended.
- To minimize the spread of fungal diseases, provide sufficient spacing between newly installed plantings to allow for good air circulation.
- Start checking plantings for signs of insect damage. Hand pick pests when possible. If a pesticide is necessary, use one tat will do that least amount of damage to the environment such as insecticidal soap.
- Inspect emerging hosta foliage and other susceptible plants for slug damage. Remove slugs by hand or use non-toxic control methods such as sharp sand or crush eggshells at the base of the plant.
- Pull weeds when they are small and shallow rooted.
- Move houseplants outside into a shaded area once the danger of frost has passed. Gradually acclimate them to the sun so that the bright light doesn’t burn the foliage.
- Ticks are active now. Take preventative measures to avoid being bitten. Wear long pants, closed shoes, and tall socks when working in the garden. Inspect yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks after being outside.
- To encourage fuller, sturdier asters and chrysanthemums, pinch them back by about a third this month and again in June or early July.
- Snip off seed heads on daffodils, but leave the foliage in place until it turns brown and begins to dry.
- Stake tall-growing plants that are susceptible to wind damage. Loosely tie the plant to the stake in a figure-eight configuration with the knot again the stake (not the stem of the plant).
- If mosquitoes are a problem, incorporate plants that naturally repel them such as scented geranium, lemon balm southernwood, catnip, nicotiana, marigold, lemon thyme, peppermint, and lavender.
- Plant warm-season vegetable crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant after all danger of frost has passed or be prepared to protect them if night temperatures drop into the 30s.
- Plant beans every 2 weeks through June for an extended harvest.
- Plant corn every 2 weeks for an extended harvest or plant early, mid-, and late-maturing varieties all at the same time. For best pollination, plant several rows together in a block instead of in one long row.
- Cage or stake tomatoes at the same time they are planted. Caging holds the foliage upright, which helps prevent sun scald on the fruits. Staking is best done when the plant is small to avoid damaging the plant’s roots.
- For canning purposes, plant determinate tomato varieties because the fruit will ripen all at once. For fresh tomatoes over a long period of time, plant indeterminate varieties because the fruit will ripen on a staggered basis.
- Cover eggplants with floating row covers to prevent damage from flea beetles (small, shiny black insects).
- Check potato plants regularly for any potatoes that are exposed to the sun and pile more soil over the hills. Green skin on potatoes indicate they have been exposed to sunlight, which can cause bitterness as well as toxicity.
- Protect newly planted summer squash, zucchini, and other susceptible vegetable seedlings from cutworm damage. An easy method is to cut strips of cardboard 2 inches wide by 8 inches long. Form a collar by stapling the ends together and position the collar around the base of the plant. Push the collar one inch into the soil.
- Avoid cutting grass when it is wet. Besides resulting in an uneven trim, cutting wet grass can clog the mower as well as cause the clipping to fall in clumps on the lawn.
- Set the blade on the mower for 3 to 4 inches for cool-season grasses.
- Anticipate cutting cool-season grass varieties, such as fescue, at least once per week and possibly twice a week at the time of the year.
- Remove only the top third of grass blades with each cutting. Taller grass blades help shade out weeds and other undesirable grass species.
- As a safety precaution when mowing on a slope, mow from side to side rather than up and down the slope.
- Monitor both ornamental and edible gardens for Japanese Beetles, which can rapidly skeletonize the leaves and flowers of many plants. Pick them off by hand early in the morning when the beetles are sluggish and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.
- Be on alert for rabbit damage. The most effective method for repelling rabbits is to install a physical barrier comprised of chicken wire or other wire with openings no more than one inch wide. Rabbits can tunnel, so bury the bottom of the fence about 6 inches deep. If a physical barrier is not practical, the scent of blood meal or Milorganite fertilizer may be a good alternative.
- Keep weeds under control. Pull them when they are small and when the soil is soft after a rain.
- Deadhead spent blooms on perennials to encourage the plants to produce more flowers. This works with many perennials, but not all. Lilies, for example, will not re-bloom if deadheaded.
- Daffodils may be divided this month once the foliage had died back. To avoid damaging the bulbs and their offsets, dig several inches away from the clump. Life the clump of bulbs and gently twist them apart with your fingers.
- To help trees and shrubs survive heat and drought conditions, water them deeply but infrequently, particularly during the first few growing seasons.
- Take stem cuttings from shrubs and trees not to propagate new plants.
- To protect bees and other beneficial insects from harm, avoid using pesticides until absolutely necessary. If you must, spray in the evening hours after bees have returned to their hives or nests.
- Control mosquitoes by eliminating all sources of standing water. These include birdbaths, sauces under flower pots, drain pipes, and even playground equipment where standing water can remain in place for more than a few days.
- Cut flowers for bouquets in the morning or late in the day when temperatures are coolest.
- Because ephemeral plants die back and disappear early in the growing season, it’s easy to lose track of where they were planted. Mark the location of such plants with a stake or tag of some sort.
- In the absence of adequate rainfall, provide the vegetable garden with supplemental water about once a week during the growing season. An inch of water is generally sufficient for most vegetables. A drip irrigation method is an effective method for getting moisture to the roots of your crops. To prevent powdery mildew and other fungal problems on vegetables, avoid spraying water on the foliage.
- For best taste, harvest cucumbers, summer squash, beans, peas, lettuce, and greens while they are small. Regular harvesting increases the yield of each plant.
- Cucumbers and lettuces are crisper and taste better when harvested in the early morning.
- Peas and corn taste sweetest when harvested late in the day when they contain the most sugar.
- Stop cutting asparagus by mid- to late-June when the spears start to become thinner. At that point, broadcast a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, at the rate of 2 lbs. per 100 square feet. Allow the foliage to mature over the summer months and store nutrients for next year’s crop.
- Inspect squash plants for signs of squash bugs, which can live for several months and may produce two generations per growing season. To reduce their populations, carefully check both sides of leaves for shiny, copper-color egg clusters and destroy them. The eggs can easily be removed by scraping them off the leaf with your fingernail.
- Check cabbages, kale, broccoli, and other members of the cabbage (Brassica) family for cabbage loopers and imported worms. These little green worms eat large holes in the produce and leave behind messy frass, or excrement. The worms can be controlled by hand picking or sprayed with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is a natural, non-toxic preparation.
- Rather than bag grass clippings, allow them to fall back onto the lawn where they will decompose and provide nitrogen and other nutrients for the lawn.
- If grass has grown particularly tall, break up any clumped grass clippings and scatter with a rake. Otherwise, the clumps will smother the grass beneath.
- To avoid compacting soil and causing ruts in the lawn, vary mowing patterns rather than always mowing in the same direction.
- Monitor sod for signs of insect damage.
- Monitor the landscape for summer insect pests, such as Japanese Beetles and Stink Bugs. When possible, use non-toxic means to control them such as picking the pests by hand and dropping them into a bucket of soapy water. If that’s not practical, contact our Horticultural Help Desk for advice on more appropriate pest control strategies.
- Mid-summer is when a lot of plant diseases become noticeable including fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, black spot, rust, root rot, etc. Early detection and prevention can make the difference from minor annoyance to devastation. For help identifying and treating plant disease, check with our Help Desk located at the Virginia Cooperative Extension office.
- Encourage fireflies in the landscape. Their larvae eat mites, slugs, snails, and soft-bodied insects larvae. Incorporate a variety of shrubs, grasses, and perennials to provide habitat for them. Because fireflies communicate by light signals, dim or turn off unnecessary exterior lights to minimize light pollution.
- In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water plants slowly and deeply in the early morning hours.
- Pay close attention to the moisture levels of all newly planted perennials, trees, and shrubs.
- Container gardens often dry out very quickly and may need to be watered daily.
- Garden phlox and Monarda species are often susceptible to powdery mildew. When buying these plants for your garden, look for cultivars that are more disease resistant.
- Deadhead day lilies (Hemerocallis) to keep them looking tidy. Snap off each spent blossom at its base, but be careful not to snap off adjacent buds by accident.
- To control pests, hand pick slugs, stink bugs, Japanese Beetles, and other pests and drop them into a bucket of soapy water. Knock aphids off susceptible plants with sharp spray of water from a hose.
- Irises may be divided now through September to give them time to become re-established before cold weather arrives.
- Protect edible crops from water stress. Too much or too little water can affect the taste and quality of some vegetables. For example, tomatoes often crack from drought conditions followed by a heavy rain.
- Direct seed cool-season crops such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts in the garden.
- If you find it necessary to spray vegetables with an insecticide, check the label carefully to find out how many days you must wait before you can harvest from the affected plants.
- Check tomatoes from sun scald, which is frequently a problem if the plants are not caged. Place shade cloth or an old window screen over the plant to help shade the fruit.
- Crabgrass is a summer annual that represents a major nuisance in the landscape. As an alternative to using herbicides, control crabgrass by digging it out by the roots and making sure you remove every bit of the plant.
- Other annual weeds, such as yellow wood sorrel and ragweed, are prolific re-seeders that should be removed from the landscape before they set seed.
- Horse nettle is a perennial weed that must be completely dug up. Otherwise, any parts of the root system left in the soil can remain viable for years.
- Japanese Beetle eggs hatch into grubs, which may feed heavily on grass roots from July through early Fall, causing extensive damage. Symptoms of grub damage include yellowing or browning of grass. These symptoms can be indicative of other causes, so pull back a patch of grass to verify the presence of grubs. For more information on this pest, read VCE Publication 2902-1101.
- Monitor the landscape for signs of drought stress: premature fall color on trees, leaf scorch, shedding of older leaves, and shoot dieback. Provide supplemental water and water deeply.
- Stay alert to plant diseases such as rust and powdery mildew. While they typically won’t kill a plant, they can stunt it or reduce its vigor. For severe damage, apply an appropriate fungicide and remember to follow package directions carefully.
- Deadhead garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) before it sets seed. Phlox seedlings, particularly from cultivars, do not come true to parent flower color.
- Direct sow seeds in late August or September for early-blooming, hardy cool-weather annuals such as calendulas, Iceland poppies, larkspur, primrose, pansies, violas, snapdragons, stock, or forget-me-nots.
- Remain vigilant throughout the growing season for fungal diseases on roses such as black spot. Clean up and dispose of all fallen rose foliage. Fungal spores on any affected foliage that falls to the ground will overwinter in the soil and infect next year’s roses.
- Do not prune trees or shrubs at this time of year. Pruning can trigger new growth, which will be too tender to survive cold winter temperatures.
- Cut back any remaining day lily flower stalks to keep the plants looking tidy. Also, August or September is a good time to divide day lilies so that they become re-established before the onset of winter.
- Order spring-flowering bulbs now while selections and quantities are good.
- If annuals are looking tired, but still have some life left in them, shear them back, fertilize, and water them to encourage another round of blooms.
- Be on alert for fall webworms and their tent-like silken webs, which appear mid- to late-summer through early fall.
- Harvest tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, and other warm-season crops on a regular basis to maximize crop production.
- Snip herbs such as oregano, marjoram, mint, and parsley to stimulate new growth.
- Since August is generally very hot and often very dry, monitor moisture levels and water crops deep at least once a week. A layer of mulch helps retain moisture and keeps roots cool.
- Cut back chard that was planted in spring to spur it to produce new growth.
- Keep weeds under control.
- Plant transplants of cold-tolerant crops such as cabbage, kale, collards, cauliflower, mustard greens, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
- Sow spinach seeds toward the latter part of the month or in early September if the weather is still too hot.
- Flea beetles can still be a problem at this time of year, so check for them daily and be prepared to cover susceptible crops with light-weight row covers as necessary.
- Mow grass during cooler times of the day like early evening. Mowing in the heat of the day stresses the grass blades.
- If weather conditions turn hot and dry, lawn grasses may go dormant. To tell if grass is dead or merely dormant, find a brown patch and tug gently on the grass. If it doesn’t easily pull up and appears to be firmly rooted, then it is likely dormant due to drought and will rebound under the right conditions.
- If grass was planted this year, its root system may not be robust enough to survive drought conditions. If it is necessary to provide supplemental water to keep the grass alive, water in the early morning to minimize moisture loss. Watering during the heat of the day results in a significant loss of moisture due to evaporation.
- Remove ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia) from the landscape by pulling it up by hand or by using a hoe to remove it from cultivated beds. You can also use a broadleaf weed killer if you prefer. Ragweed typically blooms in August and produces a fine pollen that peaks around mid-September causing hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) in millions of Americans.
- Begin fall garden cleanup by removing spent annuals and composting them. If a plant is diseased, do not put it in your compost pile. Bag it and dispose of it in the trash instead.
- Root stem cuttings of begonias, coleus, geraniums, lantana, and other annuals and overwinter them indoors. This technique works better than trying to overwinter an entire plant, which is not likely to survive the transition indoors.
- Bring all houseplants indoors before night-time temperatures drop into the 50s. Inspect the plants carefully for insects such as scale, white fly, mealy bugs, or fungus gnats.
- Wipe down all potted plant containers and sauces to remove dirt, debris, spider webs, insect eggs, or larvae. Don’t forget to check the bottom of pots and saucers.
- September is the ideal time to divide and transplant spring- and summer-flowering plants such as day lilies, irises, oriental poppies, and garden phlox. This gives the plants enough time to develop a strong root system before the advent of cold weather.
- Peonies should also be divided this month or early October. Peony tubers are very fragile, so avoid damaging the root mass as much as possible. Replant the divisions at least 3 feet or more apart and position in the planting hole so that the buds are only one or two inches below the soil surface. If planted any deeper, they may not bloom.
- As fall approaches, the cooler temperatures make this an ideal time to plant trees and shrubs. Newly installed woody plants do best when soil temperatures range from 55° F to 75° F. Root development typically stops once soil temperatures drop below 40° F.
- As summer crops such as squash, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants begin to shut down production, remove spent plants from the garden. Don’t put diseased plant matter in the compost pile.
- Sow lettuce seeds every week or two to provide fresh crops until cold weather sets in. Time the last planting so that the crop matures and about two weeks before the first frost.
- Sow or transplant cold-tolerant green such as kale, chard, Chinese cabbage, spinach, tatsoi, and arugula.
- For a winter crop of carrots, sow seed in early September and keep moist until they sprout. Thing crop as needed.
- Cure winter squashes (such as butternut, spaghetti, Hubbard, and pumpkins) once the rind is hard and not easily scratched with a fingernail. Harvest unblemished squash for curing before the night temperatures drop into the 40s and before the first frost. Use pruners to cut the squash from the vine leaving a 2-inch to 3-inch stem attached. Lay the squash in a warm, sunny spot with good air circulation for about two weeks to cure, but move to a protected spot if rain is predicted. Store cured squash in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Acorn squash does not need to be cured.
- As raised beds become empty, sow cover crops such as oats, rye, or red clover to protect the soil.
- This is the ideal time of the year to reseed and aerate your lawn. Days are warm, but nights are cool. In addition to a higher probability of rain this month, heavy dews provide extra moisture to newly planted grass seed. Moisture is important until grass seeds germinate.
- If a soil test indicates a nutrient deficiency, the first half of September is an ideal time to apply fertilizer when grass roots are actively growing. Don’t guess — always apply fertilizer according to soil test recommendations.
- While lime can be applied any time of year, fall is generally the best time to apply it because it takes several months to become fully incorporated into the soil. A soil test will recommend how much lime to apply.
- A fine layer of organic compost is beneficial to the lawn at this time of year.
- As nighttime temperatures turn chilly, the gardening season is starting to wind down and it’s time to start preparing the garden for winter.
- Clean and store any breakable lawn ornaments, containers, or other items that are not frost-proof.
- Don’t do any pruning this late in the season unless it’s to remove a broken or damaged branch. Save pruning tasks for late winter when plants are dormant.
- Plant spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses, Dutch irises, and alliums after the ground temperature drops below 60° F.
- For a head start on next year’s blooms, seeds or transplants of cool-season annuals (particularly of pansies and violas) may be planted in October. They need to be well established in the soil before freezing winter weather arrives.
- After a frost blackens the foliage of tender perennials (such as canna, dahlia, caladium, alocasia, tuberose, and gladiolus), dig up the bulbs or roots and prepare them for winter storage. Cut off all foliage, clean off soil, and pack loosely in peat moss or vermiculite in open baskets or cardboard boxes. Store in a cool, dry, dark, frost-free place. Label the bulbs so that you can easily identify them next spring.
- Continue dividing and replanting overcrowded perennials up to about 6 weeks before the ground freezes.
- Plant or transplant trees and shrubs before the ground freezes. Keep them well watered until they become dormant.
- Bag all dispersed foliage and stems from peonies, garden phlox, roses, and any other perennials that are prone to develop fungal diseases and dispose of the debris in the trash. This will reduce the overwintering of Botrytis blight, mildew, and other fungal spores.
- Collect fallen tree leaves and chop them into small pieces to help them decompose.
- Spread netting over water features to keep falling leaves and other debris from accumulating in water.
- Don’t become overzealous in cleaning up flower beds. Consider leaving some seed-bearing perennials in place to provide food and sanctuary for birds during the winter months.
- Save, clean, sort, and label seeds from your favorite annuals fro planting next spring. Store them in an envelope or clean glass jar in a cool, dry place.
- Leave seed heads in place for annuals that you want to self-seed. Alternatively, just scatter the seeds where you want them to sprout next year.
- Monitor weather reports and be prepared to protect the vegetable garden from frost damage. Cover vulnerable groups with frost covers, which can provide several degrees of protection.
- Following a frost when asparagus foliage has turned brown, cut it back within 2 inches of the ground to help control pests and diseases.
- Pick herbs and either dry or freeze him. Or try potting up some herbs from the garden to enjoy over the winter by giving them a sunny spot on the window sill.
- If a frost is predicted, harvest immature tomatoes while still green (and preferably just starting to show some color) and ripen them indoors. For just a few tomatoes, place them in a bag with a ripening banana or apple and store at room temperature. For a larger quantity of tomatoes, wrap them individually in newspaper, place them in a single layer in a cardboard box, and store the box in a dark, dry spot.
- Plant garlic and shallots in the latter half of the month to harvest next year. Cover them with a layer of straw for winter protection.
- Harvest sweet potatoes before the first frost. Cure them by holding them for about 10 days at 80-85° F and high relative humidity (85-90%). Curing them converts starch to sugar.
- To prolong your harvest, set up hoops for frost covers over vegetable beds before the first frost occurs.
- It’s not too late to re-seed the lawn — although the earlier, the better.
- It’s also not too late to core, aerate, and de-thatch the lawn, if needed.
- Tackle cool-season weeds such as chickweed, dandelion, wild onion, and plantain as it sprouts in the lawn and in flower beds. The more you remove now, the less you will have to deal with next spring.
- Now that the weather is colder and plants are entering their dormant period, it’s time to inspect, drain, clean, roll up, and store hoses.
- Drain irrigation systems in preparation for winter.
- Clean, sharpen, organize, and store garden tools.
- Inventory any leftover seed packets, organize them by category, and store in a cool, dry place.
- Water newly planted trees and shrubs deeply before the first hard freeze so that they are better prepared to withstand winter weather.
- Wait until after a killing frost has occurred to cut back late-blooming chrysanthemums. Leave about 3 inches of stalks above the ground.
- Fertilize trees and shrubs as needed before the ground freezes so that the nutrients are available to the plants in early spring.
- Protect younger trees from deer damage by wrapping the tree trunk with a physical barrier such as a fence, a wire mesh trunk guard, chicken wire, or a plastic tube or pipe. Make sure the barrier does not rub against the bark or restrict the trunk from expanding as it grows.
- Finish preparing ponds and water features for winter. Scoop fallen leaves from the water and remove dead stems and foliage from aquatic plants to prevent the debris from decaying in the water over the winter months.
- Drain garden hoses and store them in a protected place before the onset of cold weather.
- After the ground freezes, place a layer of mulch over the root zone of new plantings added during the fall months to help protect them from soil heaving. Keep mulch from touching the trunks of tree and shrubs.
- Tulips and Dutch irises may be planted in November’s cooler weather (less than 60° F). The colder soil temperatures will prevent the bulbs from sending up shoots before the roots are established. Plant the bulbs deeply to protect them from mice, voles, and squirrels.
- Clean, dry, and store Terra cotta pots, rain gauges, bird baths, garden art, and any other gardening items that may be damaged by winter weather.
- Clean greenhouse windows to allow the maximum amount of sunlight to penetrate to plants. Inspect for any broken or cracked windows and repair or replace them now.
- Check all pesticide, fungicide, and herbicide containers to make sure they are well sealed. Store containers in a frost-free area over winter.
- Inspect lawn mowers, tillers, or other gardening equipment for any servicing requirements. Do not wait until spring to start servicing equipment.
- Clean up all spent plant matter from vegetable beds. This is important to prevent pathogens and pest larvae from overwintering in the soil.
- If you weren’t able to do this in October, cut asparagus stalks back to within 2 inches of the ground once frost kills the foliage.
- For cold-season crops being grown under low tunnels and frost covers, monitor both night and day time temperatures closely. On mild days, heat can build up under the frost covers and “cook” the vegetable foliage.
- Before the ground freezes, place a thick layer of straw or shredded leaves over root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips, and rutabaga to protect them from extreme cold. To harvest, push aside enough mulch to access the quantity of vegetables needed.
- If you didn’t get around to planting garlic in late October, plant it in early November and place a 6-inch layer of straw over top.
- Remove all weeds, particularly chickweed and other cold-season weeds, from the vegetable beds.
- For the last grass cutting of the season, mow the lawn fairly short in preparation for winter. Although not normally a problem in Virginia lawns, grass that is left too long over the winter months can fall over on itself and become matted under a heavy snow. That reduces air circulation and can create the perfect conditions for a destructive early spring lawn disease called snow mold.
- Clean your lawn mower and remove any gasoline from it in preparation for winter storage.
- Now that the landscape is largely dormant, this is the time to reflect on those gardening aspects that bring you satisfaction and those that need additional work.
- If you do not keep a garden journal, now is the time to start one. Resolve to be a better gardener by keeping track of bloom times, harvest times, pests, diseases, and other landscape issues.
- For the ornamental gardener, now is a good time to take inventory of your plantings, noting species you currently have and species you want to acquire.
- If you’re thinking of adding a hardscape feature, this is a good time for planning one when you can see the “bare bones” of your landscape.
- Inspect flower beds periodically for leaves that may have matted down and remove them to minimize the chances of overwintering pests in the beds.
- Check for standing water in perennials beds after long periods of rain or snow. Standing water can damage or kill perennials and is a warning sign of a drainage problem that needs to be addressed.
- Check beds for plants that have been displaced due to soil heaving. Gently replant, making sure the roots are well covered to protect them from freezing.
- If weather permits, remove chickweed, henbit, purple deadnettle, and any other cool-season weeds that have sprouted. However, when weeding in winter, reach into flower beds rather than step into them to avoid compacting the soil.
- Monitor houseplants to make sure they have sufficient light and humidity. Give them a quarter turn periodically so that they grow evenly and don’t lean toward the light. To increase humidity, mist plants often or place the plants on a tray of moist pebbles. Avoid overwatering houseplants during the winter months.
- Update your gardening journal on crops that worked well, those that didn’t, and new edible crop varieties that you want to try next year. If you didn’t plant a fall garden, now is the time to plan one.
- Make a list of seeds you want for next year’s garden and order early in order to get the best selection.
- Make a list of garden supplies that need to be ordered, tools that need to be maintained, and new tools to be purchased.
- If you are overwintering crops under row covers, check them daily to make sure the covers are secure.
- Mulch berry crops, such as strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries with shredded leaves, straw, or other organic mulch.
- Unless soil is too wet to walk on, continue removing cool-season weeds on mild days when it’s comfortable enough to work outdoors.
- Make sure flower pots, toys, wading pools, bird baths, lawn furniture, and other portable items have been removed from the lawn and stored for the winter. If left on the lawn over the winter months, they can kill the grass beneath them and leave bare spots in the turf. This creates an unsightly spots in the lawn and can leave the are susceptible to weeds and crabgrass come spring.
- Avoid walking over the lawn in winter, especially when there’s ice on the grass. Foot traffic can damage the grass blades, rendering them unable to take up water and nutrients.
- Service your lawn mower over the winter months to avoid a rush next spring at the repair shop.