October Sustainable Garden Maintenance Practices for the Southeast



I can’t believe it’s October already; but don’t we say that about every month from August on!

Our first hurricane of the season; Dorian. On the 5th of September, I buttoned down the Flower & Garden Show at the fair grounds and in the Bee Better Beaching Garden. As best I could, I removed all projectiles.

Gulf Fritillary at JoCo

Gulf Fritillary at JoCo

The JoCo symposium was a great success!!! Abby from our Forum volunteered with me at the booth. There were about 166 attending, and the vast majority were Master Gardeners. I understand they represented 30 of our 100 counties. That’s amazing!!! Sorry, no pics

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BugFest was a blast. LaJuana volunteering and she brought along a new Forum member, Tracycee and Lily was also in town, helping me throughout the day. During the day, I also gave a talk on raising monarch butterflies.


My daughter, Lily, was so inspired at BugFest, she wrote this piece for Odyssey, Growing up on a Dying Planet. Her observations from the children’s reaction (BugFest is a great event for children!) were spot on!

The schedule for the 2020 Forum is out! I hope you will consider joining, even from afar. The hand out will be mailed following the meeting if you live out of town. It would be a great way to make a donation to our worthy cause.

The Bee Better Naturally consultations have gotten very busy.. To schedule a consultation, click HERE.

The Raleigh Garden Club will be hosting a fundraiser for Bee Better Naturally in our teaching garden. They also held an event in the spring. The fall topic will be on pollinators. I’m working to make thing look nice. The summer and early fall has been crazy busy.

I recently completed a piece for Garden Gate Magazine on Little Known Pollinators. I believe it will be out in the January/February issue.

Leaf & Limb Tree Service & Care, one of Bee Better Naturally’s partners, will be filming me later in October for their newsletter. We have partnered with Leaf & Limb because we are like-minded thinkers when it comes to bettering our environment. To sign up for their Treecology newsletter, click HERE.

Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest entered a competition garden at the NC State Fair. The theme for our space is a Historic Garden. We choose The Elizabeth Lawerence Garden. In addition to that, Helen will be speaking during the fair at the Flower and Garden show about pollinator gardens. And if that wasn’t enough, Bee Better Naturally has a demonstration booth again this year. The theme for 2019 is Attracting Bluebirds.


How-To Harvest and Dry Herbs


OCTOBER The air of October is filled with fragrance. Off in a distance and next to the deck, designing with fall fragrance completes a fine design.  The fall finds us in the garden more; relaxing, playing, dining. What better way to enhance these moments than with fragrance?

Fall for me brings the beginning of the new gardening year, and October is fall’s most festive month. October gardening in North Carolina is the reward for all your hard work throughout the year. Now is the time to appreciate your landscape, but do some preparedness as well.

We continue to see blooms until the first frost–asters, coneflowers, helianthus, helenium, lantana, milkweeds, phlox, ruella, salvias, solidago, sedums, but summer annuals are starting to fade. I actually pulled my front petunia out in mid-September even though the pansies won’t be ready until the first of October. Sometimes you just have to do certain chores when the time is right.

Th Symphyotrichum ericoides, Heath Aster, started blooming in September and is in their full glory.

Deadhead: Deadhead flowers. Keep your flowers blooming longer by removing faded blossoms from your cannas, roses, daisies, and more. As for the seed plants, such as black-eyed Susans, phlox, and coneflower, leave the flower heads for the birds. Once the birds have picked them through, it’s time to deadhead, and you may see another flush of fresh flowers.

August through October, the goldfinch are enjoying all the seed of garden phlox. This is one of my favorite enjoyments in the garden where the plants bridge the birds. It brings me a tremendous source of entertainment. Deadheading really makes a difference for return blooms, particularly the phlox. They may have powdery mildew, but the fresh blooms keep your eyes where they should be!

Add a pre-emergent if you didn’t last month to keep the Poa annua germination in early spring.

Deadleaf: Many of my daylilies and iris have dying leaves. Feel free to trim back the dead foliage. The garden phlox can benefit from this, if you are so inclined.

Lawns: The first two weeks in September are the best times to re-seed cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, turf-type fescue. Also our southern gardens will benefit from a core aeration. I have Emerald Zoysia, a warm-season grass, so not much needs to be done now, if at all!

Pruning: Resist the urge to prune shrubs that seem overgrown after a long summer showing. It’s best to wait until late winter to prune, just before the next growing season begins. Punning now could stimulate new growth that would be too tender to survive an early deep freeze. You may also be cutting off next spring’s blooms, such as azalea and camellias.

As long as the ground isn’t frozen, it’s not too late to plant and transplant trees and shrubs.  It’s best to root-prune this month and transplant thirty days (or more) later. This gives woody ornamentals a chance to recuperate before being transported to their new location. Root pruning stimulates the growth of small feeder roots along the drip line where running occurred. These new roots will be dug as part of the transplant, allowing the tree or shrub to better adapt.

  • Water the soil well the day before root pruning.

  • Prune out from the trunk 10-12 inch diameter root ball for ever inch of trunk diameter. Thus, a 2-inch diameter root ball will be root pruned about 2 feet from the trunk.

  • Using a flat spade, begin cutting a trench about 24 inches deep. If you run into large roots, cut with loppers.

  • Continue cutting a circular trench around the tree trunk and water thoroughly.

There is still time to order your spring-blooming bulbs. I need to get mine in. I’ll likely order from Brent & Becky’s.

White rain lilies, Zephyranthes candida are in bloom! I have thousands! The BEE BETTER teaching garden looks like a winter wonderland. The ones in our garden are extra special. I bought an order of ten about 15 years ago from Scott Knutz, then owner of Old House Gardens, selling heirloom bulbs. That particular patch came from the gravesite of Elizabeth LawrenceNCSU’s first graduating female landscape architect and later garden writer.


Plant cool-season vegetables. The cooler fall temperatures bring back cool-season crops. It’s time to plant or seed spinach, radish, arugula, and collards. Also, cilantro and lettuce will once again thrive in your garden.

Consider trying some new varieties this year, or vary your usual choices. Why not add some red-leaf lettuce? Loose-leaf red lettuce packs a high nutritional value, including being an excellent source of beta carotene.

I only ever want to speak from experience; these are the fruits I grow in the Bee Better Teaching Garden.

Persimmon —  Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’

Pomegranate — Punica granatum ‘Nana’

Pomegranate — Punica granatum — Unknown variety, with medium height. Ready for picking.


As the berries in our area ripen, the birds are having a feast. Keep your birdbaths filled with fresh water, changing out at least ever four days to break the mosquito larvae cycle.

Don’t be so quick to tidy up.  The remains of the summer and fall garden give shelter, food, and cover for the wildlife while also adding winter interest to the garden beds Wait until spring before you put your garden to bed for the winter.

Did you know Our native mason and leafcutter bees use your hollowed stems as nesting sites? Feel free to tidy up, but don’t take everything away. This is your opportunity to re-define beautiful.

Waterwise:  With a waterwise design, watering in the absence of rain is a breeze.  My garden at home, the Bee Better Teaching Garden was designed with waterwise principles. I have minimual watering to do, and what I do have, is a choice. My boxwood collection is contained and the watering is smart. These containers are near a watering source, so moving around a hose isn’t a big deal.

Mulch: Compost those leaves. Use your mower equipped with a mulching blade to chop fallen leaves on the grass. These leaves make a wonderful addition to the garden beds or compost pile.

Also, did you know, those leaves are a great source of insect food for ground-feeding birds such as towhees?

Water well before winter. If October and November are dry, give perennials a deep final soaking, so they go dormant in good conditions. They’ll be less subject to winter death with a drink before they sleep.

Pest control:   Watch out for canna leaf roller. Cannas are a great accent plant and attract hummingbirds to the garden. Plus, most canna cultivars are hardy in the Southeast and can overwinter in the ground. If you found your canna foliage riffled with holes, you probably have leaf roller. Canna leaf rollers are major pest in the Southeast, causing the beautiful foliage to be unsightly. 

I recently had a chat with Dough Tallamy about mosquito control. His advice was to have a bucket of water with a handful of hay. As the hay breaks down it ferments, producing CO2, thus attracting the adult female to lay her eggs. Keep the bucket fresh with Bt granular or a donut and these will all die.


Cut flowers. Remember those zinnias you seeded in August and September? Now you can enjoy in October, and be sure to cut some to enjoy inside!


Until soon,