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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


Sept. 2013 To-Do List: Mid-Atlantic

Susan Wells

grass seedIn this region, the moderating air temperatures and increased rainfall make the autumn months a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Unlike in spring, the soil in late summer and early fall is warm, encouraging good root growth. Even as the soil temperature cools and the top growth of trees and shrubs slows or stops, the roots of most woody plants will continue to put out new growth. The thin bark of young trees is susceptible to winter injury from sun scald and frost cracking, so enclose the trunk with tree wrap tape or spiral plastic protectors for the first few winters after planting. Put the protection in place in late fall, then remove it in the spring. To keep voles and rabbits from snacking on the tender bark, enclose the trunks in cylindrical cages made of wire hardware cloth.


  • After blooming, perennials may be divided and/or moved. The roots will have time to reestablish before frost.
  • Pull out or prune off dead flower stalks from hostas, daylilies and other plants.
  • Don’t deadhead perennials, biennials and annuals if you want to collect seeds (non-hybrids only), or plan to let some self-sow.
  • Peonies are best divided and transplanted in late August through September. Remember that the “eyes” must not be buried more than an inch or two beneath the soil surface.
  • Container gardens, hanging baskets and window boxes dry out quickly and need frequent watering and fertilizing.


  • Start spinach and kale under row covers or in a cold frame for tasty winter salads or cooked greens.
  • Plant a variety of garlic cloves and shallot bulbs now to overwinter and develop into spring. Mulch the sprouting seedlings to protect them through winter’s cold.
  • Extend the season for beets, carrots, leeks, onions, radishes, and parsnips by mulching. Light frost makes root vegetables sweeter, so leave them in the ground to harvest before the ground freezes.
  • Clip off flowers on basil, oregano, mint, and marjoram. All herbs are best used fresh, especially basil and marjoram. Oregano and mint hold their flavor when dried and stored in airtight containers.
  • Do you have more potatoes, beets, tomatoes, peppers, beans, okra, cauliflower, or corn than you and your family can eat now? Consider investing in a dehydrator to preserve them for winter snacks.
  • “Green manures” are legumes or small grain crops plowed under while still in the green stage. Winter green manure crops include rye, wheat, barley and winter vetch. When you turn them under, the foliage and roots decompose into nutrients for the upcoming seasons’ crops.


  • Stake, move or attach rose canes to a trellis or fence to tidy them. Don’t prune or fertilize now since pruning stimulates growth and they need to store food to prepare for winter.
  • Erect tall structures — with stakes and wire cloth or wire cages — to protect young trees from deer rubbing their antlers on the tender bark and eating the foliage. Leave the cage in place until the plant is well established and able to withstand some browsing, or until it has grown above the browsing height (5-7′).
  • Clean up and remove fallen fruit from fruit trees; decaying fruit harbors pests and disease.
  • Pruning in late summer and fall can make plants more vulnerable to injury during an early freeze. Prune dead or broken branches now, but wait to do major pruning until late winter or early spring.


  • Don’t bag or rake grass clippings. Let them lie on the lawn to return nitrogen to the soil.
  • Now is a good time to seed a new lawn or patch up bare areas in existing lawns. The new grass will grow until late fall, when the ground freezes, but frost will eliminate any annual weeds that have sprouted.
  • Core aeration is the best way to revive a lawn that’s developed a thick layer of thatch or to improve areas where the soil has become compacted.
  • For a better lawn next year, remove the weeds in early fall since they’re storing food energy for winter. Hand-pull individual weeds or use least-toxic herbicides.
  • For hard-to-mow areas, spots too shady for lawn grass, or hard-to-water places, plant suitable groundcovers. Consider planting them over spring bulbs to camouflage the fading foliage after the bulbs have bloomed.

 Image: Shutterstock/tab62


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