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Thanks to scorching temps, your new fall plants are dead or dying. Can they be saved?

Chrysanthemums (mums) and pansies, such as these at Logan’s One Stop Garden Shop in Raleigh, are popular plants for fall.
Chrysanthemums (mums) and pansies, such as these at Logan’s One Stop Garden Shop in Raleigh, are popular plants for fall. The News & Observer

If you believe the vicious lie that fall actually arrived on Sept. 23, you may have also already taken the plunge into the autumnal planting season.

If so, you have likely been rewarded by watching all of those beautiful mums and pansies wither — nay, fry — in our recent 100-degree October temps.

Is it too late to salvage your plants? Should you just start over?

CuriousNC, a News & Observer project that seeks to answer questions from the community, talked to some local plant experts to find out what kind of extra help our fall plants need right now.

Water, water, water

Bridget Zazzara, the annuals and greenhouse buyer for Logan’s One Stop Garden Shop at Seaboard Station in Raleigh, said that it may not be too late to save the stuff you’ve already planted, especially if you’ve been diligent about watering.

“One of my fears about planting while it’s still hot is most people don’t realize that you still have to keep up with the watering,” Zazzara said. “We’re now going through this dry spell and the high temperatures, so every other day when you freshly plant something in, you’ve gotta keep up with that watering.”

Now that it is finally getting cooler (please Lord), Zazzara said if it stays in the 70s with 50s and 60s at night, a good soaking once a week will probably be sufficient. If we don’t get rain, you’ll need to be more attentive about watering.

Even if your fall plants look dead, Zazzara said, it may not be too late.

“If your fall plants have already withered away to nothing,” Zazzara said, “still keep up with the watering because there’s a good chance if the roots are still intact and alive that it will flush new growth. And then keep it going with a good dose of watering.

“There is a point of no return,” she said, “but it depends on how far you’ve let it get.”

Christopher Glenn, the education director at J.C. Raulston Arboretum at N.C. State University, echoes the need for lots of water right now.

“We are exceedingly parched right now,” Glenn said. “Trees are dropping leaves, and everything is passing out.”

Glenn said many plants are just going dormant earlier or more thoroughly now, but if leaves are turning brown while still on the plant or tree, it’s a more serious problem.

It’s a combination of the hot temperatures and the lack of rain, he said.

“It’s a double whammy because the ground is drying out faster as well,” Glenn said. “Plants need more moisture because it’s hotter and drier, and there’s nothing left there to pull out of the ground.”


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Best plants for fall

If you haven’t started planting yet but you’re of a mind to start, Zazzara suggests mums, which she said will bloom for six weeks or so.

“Seasonal plants that will go all winter are pansies and violas,” Zazzara said. “They will keep blooms going all winter long. But still, on the hotter, dryer days, you’ve got to keep up with watering, even in the winter unless it’s super super cold — we’re talking 20s and 30s.”

If you’re more interested in perennials, Zazzara said there are some good shrubs such as conifers and evergreens that can be planted now, and they will do well — as long as you keep up with the watering.

She also suggested one last dose of fertilizing while it’s still warm.

“For the next month or so, putting down a Plant-tone would be OK for the year-round stuff,” Zazzara said. “For the mums and pansies, I would do a bloom booster every other week until it gets cold or until the frost. Once we’re in the dormant season it’s not necessary to keep fertilizing.”

To learn more about CuriousNC or to submit a question, visit: bit.ly/2OlRtZg.

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Brooke Cain is a North Carolina native who has worked at The News & Observer for more than 20 years. She writes about TV and local media for the Happiness is a Warm TV blog, and answers CuriousNC questions for readers.