This has been a year unlike any other, at least in the almost 50 years that I’ve been gardening in the Metroplex. When I started jotting down things that I might want to share for early October responsibilities it was hard to know when to stop. I’ll break it down by different parts of your landscape and garden.
If you have bare ground where you’re needing permanent turf (a new home, for example), you can still plant bermuda from sod if you do so immediately. It’s too late for St. Augustine because it won’t have time to develop good roots before it turns cold. Buy fresh sod and get it planted onto freshly tilled soil no later than the next few days. Water it thoroughly after planting.
Ryegrass as a temporary cover might be a better idea. Annual rye costs less, but it’s also coarser-textured and requires more frequent mowing come spring. “Perennial” rye isn’t any more perennial than annual rye. Both die out with the hot days of May. Perennial rye makes a better overseeding grass if you’re trying to get green turf in the winter.
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Keep mowing your lawn at the same height right up to first freeze. Letting grass grow taller does not improve its winter hardiness. It actually weakens the turf, and that allows weeds to invade.
Speaking of weeds, it’s six weeks too late to apply pre-emergent weedkillers to stop winter weeds. You’re going to have to cope with any grassy weeds such as annual bluegrass and rescuegrass now since we have no post-emergent herbicide available. However, you do get a second chance at the non-grassy (broadleafed) weeds. You can apply herbicides containing 2,4-D to them according to label directions to kill the likes of dandelions, clover, henbit and chickweed. You’ll probably get better control if you wait a couple more weeks to do that.
Brown patch is starting to show up in St. Augustine. It’s a fungal leaf disease that attacks the blades where they attach to the runners. You’ll first notice yellowing blades in small areas, but within days they’ll form into defined circles of browning blades. Pull on them and they’ll easily come loose from the runners. Within a week you’ll see round blotches 18 to 24 inches across sprinkled over your lawn. This disease requires cool weather and high humidity. Water only in the morning. Do not allow your lawn to stay wet overnight. Apply a labeled turf fungicide to stop it.
We are still seeing washes of yellowish-green St. Augustine mixed in with healthy grass. You’ll also be able to see angular brown or grayish-brown fungal spots on the blades. This is a hot weather disease that somehow has hung around clear into October. Gray leaf spot weakens the grass badly. The same fungicide you apply for brown patch should help with it.
Trees and shrubs
If you’re seeing sticky residue on the leaves of your taller plants, and if that residue is also falling to surfaces below, that’s honeydew. It’s the excretion of insects following feeding, and the list includes aphids on trees such as pecans, oaks and crape myrtles, lace bugs on oaks, elms and others, and scale on crape myrtles. You’re likely to see black sooty mold develop in the honeydew substrate, but the mold is not the real problem. To eliminate the sooty mold you must eliminate the source of the honeydew. Contact insecticides may work. Systemic insecticides applied in late spring often are the best preventives.
The past few weeks may have seen twigs and small branches falling from your shade trees. That’s the work of the female twig girdler beetle. She lays eggs in the far end of the twig, then uses her sharp mouthparts to sever the twig. It falls to the ground, and as the twig decays the eggs hatch and feed within the twig. The female beetle is present for only a short while, so sprays won’t work. Your best bet is to gather the twigs and send them off with the trash. The good news is that this insect is rarely harmful to shade trees.
Check your trees closely for evidence of dead or damaged branches. It’s much easier to identify them while there still are leaves present than it will be come winter. If you have need of professional pruning, call a certified arborist.
Annuals and perennials
Tidy up your color plantings by removing spent flower stalks and seed stubble. Allow perennials to die back at their own pace – don’t remove green growth in your haste “to put the plants to bed for the winter.”
This is the ideal time to dig and divide spring-flowering perennials, including sweet violets, candytuft, oxalis, thrift, Louisiana phlox, iris, daylilies, Shasta daises and purple coneflowers, among many others. Lift the plants out and rework their planting soil entirely. Incorporate new organic matter generously and rototill to 10 to 12 inches deep. Space the plants at recommended distances. Give extras to friends or put them on the compost – do not overcrowd your new plantings. Water immediately.
Buy your spring-flowering bulbs now. Daffodils, narcissus and jonquils, also grape hyacinths can be planted immediately, but tulips and Dutch hyacinths need to go into the refrigerator for at least 45 days at 45 degrees to give them the “pre-chilling” they require to bloom normally.
If you’re going to be including cool-season annuals, this is the time to start planting them. Plant them into well-prepared garden soil and in raised beds that drain perfectly. Pansies, violas and pinks are the most winter-hardy. Dwarf snapdragons and ornamental cabbage and kale are two other good options.