Here are a few gardening tasks and projects that you can do this month to help keep your garden looking its best for the rest of this season, and prepare for the long cold winter and upcoming spring.
Perennials, annuals, and bulbs
• During the fall months of September, October and November, after soil temperature drops below 60°F., the bulbs of spring flowering tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, Siberian squill, dwarf irises, Anemone, and crocus should be planted. Select healthy, disease free bulbs. Add bone meal or bulb fertilizer into the planting hole, as you prepare the soil.
• Winter pansies, flowering Kale, flowering Cabbage, and fall mums may be planted now, to give a little color to the garden when summers flowers have faded away.
• Scatter the seeds of perennials in a row or in open beds this month so that the young seedlings will be ready to be transplanted into their permanent spot next spring.
• As the weather cools, perennials which have overgrown their space or become crowded should be dug and divided, or moved to a new area of the garden. New or replacement perennials can also be planted this month.
• Tender bulbs should be dug up and stored in a cool, dark area after first frost.
Shrubs and trees
• Fall is a good time to select and plant trees and shrubs. Fall planting encourages good root development, allowing the plants to get established before spring. If weather is dry, provide water up until the ground freezes.
• Stop fertilizing your trees and flowering shrubs to allow this years growth to harden off before winter.
Fruits and veggies
• Harvesting fruits and vegetables is the best part of growing them. As is often the case, you may have produced much more of certain type than your family can consume. Share the abundance of squash and tomatoes with friends and neighbors, and don't forget about your local food bank or second harvest organization! Although most fruits and vegetables are best when eaten fresh on the day they're picked, you can extend the season by freezing, drying, storing, or canning.
• Fruits and vegetables should be checked regularly for ripeness. A little practice and experience will tell you when your produce is at its peak of flavor, and that is when it should be harvested.
• Plum trees should be pruned right after harvest, to insure a bountiful crop next year.
• Once the tops of onions have withered, the bulbs should be lifted and dried in a warm, dry, sunny location for about 10 days. Then they should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place.
• Some root crops, such as carrots, onions, and parsnips can be left in the ground in cold climates and dug up as needed. Apply enough mulch to keep the ground from freezing, and the crop will be kept fresh until it is needed.
• After you have finished harvesting your summer vegetables, plant a cover crop of clovers, cow peas, soybeans, or vetches for the purpose of plowing under next spring. These nitrogen producing plants will provide good organic matter and food for your garden crops next year, as well as helping to control weeds over the winter.
• When the fall rains arrive, fertilize your lawn with a slow-release 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer.
• September is one of the best months of the entire year for seeding or sodding new lawns.
• If the lawn needs thatching, it can be done during the early fall.
• Over seed old lawns with fresh seed to help fill in the bare spots and crowd out weeds and mosses.
• Pot up some spring flowering bulbs for indoor color during the winter. Store the pots in a cool, dark place, until new growth emerges from the soil, and then move them to a bright window.
• Begin conditioning your Poinsettias and Christmas cactus to get them ready for the upcoming holiday season. Both of these plants are short day plants. Although they will eventually bloom, if you want the plants in bloom in time for the holidays they must be kept at about 65 to 70 degrees, and subjected to at least six weeks of 14 hours of total darkness per day (mid to late September). This may be accomplished by placing the potted plant in a closet or unlighted room, or by covering the plant with black cloth, black plastic over a frame or a cardboard box.The plant must then be returned to the light each day and given a minimum of 4 hours of direct sun, or 10 hours of bright light. The application of a 0-10-10 fertilizer this month and again next should help encourage the development of flower buds, then feed your plant every 2 weeks with a high nitrogen fertilizer once color has begun to show.
• Christmas cactus needs the same general care, with the exception that they require cooler temperatures of about 50 to 60 degrees. Continue to watch for insect or disease damage and take the necessary steps to control the problem.
Odds and ends
• Mark your perennials with permanent tags, or create a map showing their locations so you'll know where and what they are when they die back at the end of the season. This will help you to avoid digging up something you intended to keep when you plant bulbs and plants this fall and next spring.
• One last effort at weeding will help to improve the appearance of your garden throughout the winter.
• The birds will soon begin their winter migrations. Give them a helping hand by providing them with some food for their long journey. No one likes to travel on an empty stomach, and you may even persuade a few of them to stick around for the winter, if they know they have a reliable food source!
• Continue to watch for insect, slug and snail, or disease damage throughout the garden, and take the necessary steps to control the problem.