October is one of the great months for gardening in the Piedmont. So many delightful tasks await that it is hard to know what to do first. And, thanks to a drop in the temperature and humidity, it is actually pleasant to be outdoors these days. Alas, darkness falls earlier each day.
A number of key tasks await the gardener. Lawn renewal is already underway by homeowners and landscape companies. Bulbs, chrysanthemums, pansies and snapdragons are in stores, ready for selection and planting in coming weeks. Those tasks are really fun because you can anticipate great results. Pretty soon young grass sprouts and pansies brighten steps, porches and flower beds.
Other tasks for autumn can also be productive after a long summer hiatus caused by extreme heat that lasted almost through September.
Perhaps you have not looked at your shrubs and trees lately to see how they fared this year. A close look could reveal dead wood that should be removed now. It is easier to see dead limbs before the leaves fall and every limb looks bare.
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Pruning of evergreen shrubs such as Japanese hollies should wait until late winter, just ahead of the appearance of new growth. And most flowering shrubs should not be pruned until after their bloom ends next spring. If you look closely at some camellias, you will see nice buds of this winter’s or next spring’s flowers. Preserve and protect them.
This does not mean you shouldn’t plan to take cuttings of hollies, boxwoods, cedar, magnolia and other evergreens in December for wreaths and other decorations. That is a good way to do some winter pruning.
Transplanting is another job that was made for the dormant season. This includes newly purchased shrubs and trees as well as ones in your landscape you prefer to move.
While this is a chancy job for late spring into summer, it was made for October and November. That is because, with cooler air and soil, plants go dormant or semi-dormant and thus reduce their urge to grow stems and leaves. But the roots can keep growing in their new place and be well-adjusted when the growing season takes off in spring. No matter how carefully you dig up a shrub for transplanting, it will still lose a good percentage of its roots that must regrow, which they will do through the winter and into spring.
It is also time to think about expanding your collection of perennials in flowerbeds, but more about that next week.
Nancy Brachey: firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. I can’t get it clear about pruning hydrangeas. What should I do with mine? They bloomed in early summer and the flowers are greenish now.
A. These are the popular mop-head or garden hydrangeas, often sold as gift plants for Mother’s Day. As the blooms begin to wither and you get tired of seeing them, cut off the blooms and the little stems that attached them to the main stem. Do not cut back the main stems as this will reduce flowering next year.