Welcome to Garden Zone, a monthly newsletter for anyone interested in gardening. ​​It's produced by Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Mecklenburg County.

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Reasons we love fall...

Spring may be special, but fall is prime for planting trees, shrubs and perennials. Take advantage of cooler temperatures in October-December to work on landscaping projects.

✳️ Cooler temperatures place less stress on newly transplanted trees, shrubs and perennials, while mild winters allow root growth to continue well after the top growth has stopped. By spring, fall-planted trees, shrubs and perennials will have larger and more established root systems, resulting in better spring flushing and flowering. Those deeper roots will also help the plant survive the heat and drought that's sure to come next summer.

✳️ There are fewer weeds to compete for nutrients and moisture, allowing more of the water and nutrients you add to be absorbed by plants instead of weeds. There are also fewer insects and disease problems that can damage new plantings. You don’t need fertilizer, either. Fertilizer promotes new, tender growth that can be nipped by winter weather.

✳️ Fall usually brings gentle, soaking rainfall, which means less watering required on your part. Whether it's rainwater or hand watering, make sure your plants get an inch of water a week. 

As you’re making out your list of projects, take advantage of fall plant sales happening in late September and early October, including at Wing Haven and UNCC-Botanical Gardens.


Photo: NCSU

Let's do the fall flip!

Although it’s still hot, now is the time to start thinking about flipping those spring and summer flowers out for fall ones. Who said you only have to use mums in your fall seasonal gardens?

There are a number of fall bloomers that would love a place in your garden:

✳️ Rudbeckia: These beauties love the sun, stand upright and come in a rang of colors from deep yellow, light peach, and even cherry red.

✳️ Aster: Another sun lover, these too come in more than one color. Look for shades of purple, wine and white.

✳️ Chelone: Also know as turtleheads, they grow tall in the fall so consider pinching back the stems in spring to avoid plant supports later in the year.

✳️ Helenium: Also known as blanket flowers, these come in shades of red, orange and yellow. They are deer resistant and come back year after year.

✳️ Pansies: Most pansies will last well into the winter and come in every color in the rainbow.


Pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii). Photo: NCSU

September garden tasks

With cooler temperatures headed our way, September typically brings relief to gardens and signals the start of a new season. Tasks to consider for your home garden:

Perennials & annuals
✳️ Fertilize annuals: give them one last feeding to keep their blooms coming as long as possible.
✳️ Divide spring- and summer-blooming perennials and keep them well-watered.
✳️ Order bulbs and garlic while the selection is good. Keep them cool until time to plant in October or November, once soil temperatures drop.

✳️ Continue to monitor your garden for pests, including whiteflies and tomato hornworms.

Trees & shrubs
✳️ Do NOT prune shrubs or trees in late summer or early autumn (September-October). Pruning stimulates new growth that may not have time to harden off before frost. Prune only diseased or dead limbs.
✳️ Water your trees to ensure they don't experience drought issues.

See our complete list of September garden tasks on our website.


Hope this makes you smile! It's a reblooming iris at our Independence Park Demonstration Garden.

Bring on the veggies

A great thing about living in central North Carolina (us locals call it the Piedmont) is you can grow vegetables almost 12 months out of the year! NCSU has a GREAT vegetable planning calendar (scroll down to see the chart)! We also like this high-level version from the good folks at Renfrow Farms:

✳️ Early August: slower-growing root crops like beets, carrots, rutabaga, storage-type turnips; first round of multiplier scallion onions; Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli transplants; annual and perennial herbs of various types, from seed or plant; garden pea seeds, which tend to have higher yields in the fall than in the spring around here; spinach by plant (our soil is too warm for consistent spinach seed germination in August) 

✳️ Late August: salad turnips (Japanese types), radishes, Asian greens like bok choy or tatsoi; and all of the early August items above

✳️Early September: second or third planting of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc, cole crops; last chance to set out Brussels sprouts transplants for harvest in late 2021 (anything later might not be ready till 2022); cilantro; spinach, lettuce, collards, and other greens by seeds or plants; fast-growing root crops

✳️Late September: more spinach, lettuce, other greens, and radish seeds; late round of broccoli, cabbage, etc., seedlings

✳️October: garlic, elephant garlic, shallots, scallion onion sets, bulbing onion plants; perennial fruit plants

Our first frost typically hits around early November and this sweetens up fall greens and root veggies by turning their stored energy reserves from starches into sugars, which keeps them from freezing and improves their flavor.


Photo: NCSU

Plant the right way

Most plants that die within a few months of being planted do so because they were not planted properly or because they were not watered correctly. In fact, it is rare for a tree or shrub to die from insect or disease problems within the first year of planting.

Planting too deep is a common mistake. Trees and shrubs that are planted too deep may die quickly or may linger for several seasons, but never really thrive.

Trees and shrubs should never be planted any deeper than they were growing in their container. When digging a hole to plant any type of woody plant, make sure to dig no deeper than the depth of the root ball. Dig the hole wide enough to place the plant in and still have plenty of room to fill the soil back in around the root ball. Gently settle the soil around new plants instead of packing it in.

Thoroughly water newly planted trees and shrubs and mulch the root zone. Check new plantings every few days by feeling the root ball and surrounding soil. Water plants when the root ball feels dry. Apply water slowly to allow it time to soak in and moisten the root ball and surrounding soil.


Dig the planting hole twice the diameter of the root ball with gently sloping sides, and no deeper than the root ball.

How to deal with powdery mildew

The name says it all: a gray-white coating on leaves, stems and petals that spoils the looks and health of plants. 

Powdery mildew is a fungus that survives the winter in living plant tissue.  Spores germinate in the spring and spread in the wind. Spring rain and warming temperatures promote the growth of the fungus in turf, vegetable gardens and ornamental trees, like dogwoods in our area.  

We cannot control the rain and humidity, but there are some best practices.  Sunlight is the best prevention.  

When growing turf in shade, choose shade-tolerant grass varieties and ones that use less nitrogen. Mow high and water deeply and infrequently to reduce leaf wetness.

In the garden, fungus prefers moderate spring temperatures (68-80 degrees F), dense foliage, and low light conditions. Trim old leaves and excess leaves from plants to prevent shading and to allow more air flow. Remove all debris from under and around plants. Don’t over-fertilize.

Choose resistant varieties of dogwood and ornamentals. Prune dogwoods and ornamentals to allow good circulation so leaves can dry off after spring rains.  Prune infected parts as you see them. Spray with a fungicide in early spring just before blooming, after blooming, in late July, and in fall just before leaves drop.

If infected leaves drop near the end of summer, rake them up and dispose of them so that fewer spores overwinter. Note severely infected plants in late summer and fall so you can treat them in spring.

When all else fails, prune off affected leaves or flowers with as little disturbance as possible so spores don’t spread. Spray with a fungicide according to directions.


Photo: NCSU

Do you need a road trip?

Plant Delights Nursery is an award-winning online nursery near Raleigh. Its 28-acre Juniper Level Botanical Garden has over 25,000 outdoor plants. They periodically open up the nursery to the public, and there are several greenhouses to explore. The next open days are Sept. 17-19 and Sept. 25-26. It's well worth seeing! More info...


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The Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener Volunteer (EMGV) program operates under the Mecklenburg Center of the NC Cooperative Extension Service (NCCES), a part of NC State University and NC A&T State University. 

NCCES is a part of Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation.

NC State University and N.C. A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity and prohibit discrimination and harassment regardless of age, color, disability, family and marital status, gender identify, genetic information, national origin, political beliefs, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation and veteran status. NC State, N.C. A&T, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.