Robert Bell, Liberty County agricultural extension agent, and master gardener Dot Moss recommend using the first half of autumn to prepare lawns and gardens for winter.
Autumn months in Georgia are mild, with the first killing frost not arriving until mid-November, Bell said.
“Continue to cut lawns as needed,” he said. “Try not to remove more than one-third of the leaf blade at a given time, and do not apply fertilizers containing nitrogen (as) this can possibly prevent the grass from going dormant, making it susceptible to winter injury.”
Bell warned against using any fertilizer without first having the soil tested. Finding out the pH of the soil is one of the best benefits of soil testing, he said.
He recommends using “pre-emergent” herbicides in October to prevent, or at least reduce, winter annuals from germinating. He explained that “pre-emergent” herbicides prevent weeds from coming up, while “post-emergent” herbicides are applied after the weed already has emerged from the soil.
Bell also explained the difference between selective and non-selective herbicides. Selective herbicides kill only certain plants, he said, while non-selective herbicides essentially kill everything that’s green.
Homeowners whose lawns have been heavily diseased may want to apply potassium to build up the cell walls in the plants to help resist diseases, he said.
He does not recommend seeding a lawn in the fall, saying it’s too late.
“You may have germination problems, or worse, the new, tender grass will not survive winter,” Bell said. “Generally, seeding dates are May-July. You should treat for insects as needed to reduce the adult population from overwintering. Mole crickets would be the main target.”
Bell and Moss agreed that planting native plants like Southern wax myrtles, trumpet honeysuckles and oakleaf hydrangeas are the best options, and that fall is the best time to do it.
“This is a wild plum tree I found in a ditch near Jones Creek Park,” said Moss as she stepped behind the young plant to check the blossoms on a wild morning glory vine that she also transplanted in her yard. “The plum tree probably won’t produce any plums for five or six more years, but that’s OK. All the stuff that I plant is stuff I don’t have to take care of. Native plants do best when left alone.”
Moss said non-native, potted plants should be brought indoors before the first frost but placed where they can get plenty of sunshine. Some potted plants will mature enough over winter to be transplanted on their own in the spring, she said.
“Trees and plants like mulberry, elderberry, chestnut and grape vines have to be pruned,” she said, pointing out you want to wait until the plant or tree has finished blooming. “Pruning encourages plants to grow buds. If you prune them too soon, they may have time to produce buds that will be damaged by the cold.
“If your fig trees have gotten too tall, they can be cut back now. But if you have mulberry trees, you’d better wait until late November to prune them.”
Moss is emphatic about mulching flower gardens with fallen leaves and shredded newspapers, noting that most flowers will reseed themselves for the following spring.
To prepare a fall vegetable garden, she suggested first cleaning up what’s left of the summer garden. Put away tomato cages and store them until spring, she said.
Moss said she used to plant collard greens and a variety of other greens in her fall garden, but this year she’s settling for a few grape tomatoes and white currant tomatoes. Bell added that fall is the best time for planting greens — collards, mustard, turnip and kale — as well as cabbage, beets and carrots.