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Talkin' Dirt - September 2016

by Mary Beth Riggs

Past President Joanne Sandell had an ooh la la moment this summer while in her garden with her 10 year old grandson. He said “I really like your garden Grandma, it has so many pretty flowers in it and it makes me feel good”.  Can’t get any better than that! 

Ah, September – the days turn golden and the harvest is plentiful! We’re also turning our minds to fall to plant a few mums to see us through the fall and decorate with pumpkins!

Get Ready for Birds 
Dig out bird feeders. Clean, fill, and hang them now, when birds are starting to establish winter feeding grounds. Now is ideal for taking down birdhouses and giving them a good cleaning. Rubber gloves provide effective protection for removing nesting material. Ensure parasites and diseases aren't overwintering in houses by rinsing them with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. The birds will soon begin their winter migrations.  Give them a helping hand by providing them with some food and water 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!

Fall Cleanup
Autumn is the right time to do some serious cleaning in the garden. Every moment you spend cleaning now translates into time saved next spring. You'll save time because cleaning will eliminate weeds and overwintering diseases and pests.
Tackle these three general cleanup tasks every year:
1. Pull annuals when they're finished, whether they're planted in beds or pots.
2. Start cutting perennials during fall. Start the pruning after our first killing frost. Try to get this job done before rains begin. Leave 3-inch stubs in place to catch leaves for winter insulation. Don't cut down perennials that dress the garden with winter interest, such as ornamental grass, 'Autumn Joy' sedum, yarrow, and coneflower.
3. Prune dead or storm-damaged branches on shrubs or trees.

Cover paths between raised beds with leaves, mulch, or cardboard topped with mulch to deter weeds next spring.
Eliminate spring weeds by blanketing empty vegetable beds with chopped leaves, mulch, or newspaper topped with either of those materials. Or plant a winter cover crop.

Pests and Diseases
Deal with slugs this fall as new eggs begin to hatch in the cooler weather. Clean up areas slugs hide: weed piles, boards, or stacked pots. If beds are edged with timbers -- a natural hiding place for slugs -- continuously sprinkle slug bait beside the wood.
Gather fallen fruit from beneath trees and dispose of it, in case it's harboring disease organisms or pests.
Do not add leaves of diseased plants to a compost pile that doesn't get hot. Things to avoid include hollyhock with rust, rose with black spot, and vegetables with fungus or blight problems. Destroy these leaves or dispose of them through a municipal yard waste program.
Planting, Yes Planting in September
It's safe to plant deciduous trees and shrubs all winter long if soil remains workable. Otherwise, try to wrap up planting chores, especially with evergreen trees and shrubs, this month. 
Dig and divide perennials that are overcrowded. This is also a great time to add new perennials to the landscape.
Consider planting garlic now through October that will grow through the winter and be ready to harvest next spring tucking cloves 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart in full sun and well-drained soil.


September can be the driest month of the year. Remember the basics: Water in the early morning. Water the soil, not the leaves. Remember to water deeply and occasionally rather than shallow and often.

If you water annuals from overhead, do so early enough in the day that the foliage dries before nightfall. A watering-hose attachment provides a gentle spray.

Drip-irrigation tubing and soaker hoses use water more efficiently than overhead sprinklers, and are very handy if flowers are planted in rows or blocks.

You're not alone in the disliking cold showers or cold bathwater; plants hate cold water, too. This is especially true when they are seedlings or growing in pots where there isn't enough soil to absorb the shock. Always water your young plants with cool or tepid water, never icy cold.

Check your new transplants every day, especially if the sun is hot, the air is warm, and there is a noticeable breeze or wind. The warm air moving over the open ground will quickly absorb water, sometimes leaving the plant roots in dire straits. New transplants need soil that is evenly, constantly moist, but not soggy.

If you water the new plants with a watering can, turn the rose at the tip so that the holes point upward to the sky instead of down toward the earth. This minimizes soil disturbance. Finally, remember that a little bit of water is frequently worse than no water at all. When you water, do so thoroughly, letting the moisture soak into the ground where the roots need it -- don't merely wet the surface.

Digging in the Garden

Once frost strikes tender bulb crops such as dahlia, tuberous begonia, or gladiolus, dig the bulbs. Dry them in the sun for a few days before packing them in dry sawdust or peat moss. Store your  bulbs in a cool, dry place for winter.

Dig herbs to bring indoors for winter use.


Remove all old blossoms on butterfly bushes and other plants that self-sow excessively (black-eyed Susan, hollyhock, cosmos, South American verbena) to eliminate massive self-sowing. Even a beauty like butterfly bush can quickly become a problem plant if left to seed freely.


Plant Spring Bulbs

You can plant spring bulbs until the ground freezes or rains begin. Choose from favorites, like tulip, daffodil, or hyacinth, or try some unusual beauties, like species tulips, fritillaria, or allium.

Make the most of bulb plantings with these tips:

  1. Toss a handful of bulb fertilizer into planting holes, mixing with soil at the base of the hole.

  2. Use a bulb auger attachment to turn a power drill into a bulb planting machine.

  3. Deter burrowing animals from devouring your bulbs by planting in wire cages.

  4. Overplant bulbs with pretty companions, such as pansy or flowering kale for winter color, or spring-blooming perennials, like forget-me-not, sweet woodruff, creeping basket of gold, candytuft, and English primrose.


Odds and ends

Mark your perennials with permanent tags or stakes, 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 accidentally digging up something you intended to keep when you work in the garden this fall and next spring.

One last effort at weeding will help to improve the appearance of your garden throughout the winter.

Enjoy it!

Now it's time to sit back and relax, enjoying the last of the summer sunshine before switching flip-flops for boots.



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