Yikes! It’s the middle of September already! Where did the month go? For that matter, where did the summer go?
For me the first signs of fall are not the shortened daylight hours, but the increase in activity in the garden spiders. There are new webs every morning, each more intricate than the last. I will admit to allowing a certain spider to build her web each day outside of a living room window where I can watch her progress. It is fascinating to see how precise she can be.
But September also brings the beginning of the end of the garden. I actually like the end of the season when I can tidy things up and get ready for some respite from garden chores.
This is a great time of year to plant some new winter vegetables like chives, some types of cabbage (‘Jersey Wakefield’ is best), radishes and even some lettuce, Swiss chard or spinach. They all thrive on cooler temps and don’t mind the rains that will soon be coming. Well-drained soil is preferable, though, and try to get them seeded before the end of the month.
If you don’t want to bother with fall veggies, now is the time to plant a cover crop over those vegetable and flower beds. Cover crops like crimson clover or vetch will keep soil from eroding in the winter rains and winds as well as lock in nitrogen. They also help keep weeds at bay and conserve other nutrients. Choose a cover crop that matures early so they can reach maturity before the first frost sets in. Just remember to turn the crop over about two weeks before planting your beds next spring. Most of the information on cover crops found on the Internet is aimed at larger farms, but you can still glean some good info from the Washington State University and Oregon State University sites. Google: Oregon State Cover Crops for more information.
Mid-September is also a good time to inspect any houseplants you had outside for the summer before you bring them back inside. Clean the leaves and pots of debris. Closely look for tiny insects (like those little red spiders) and disease damage. For added protection, spray with insecticidal soap and let the leaves dry thoroughly before moving them inside.
But the very best thing to be doing in September is planting new trees and shrubs. If you are looking for some new plants, this is a good time to go shopping. Oregon nurseries usually offer great sales this month because they don’t want a large stock to have to nurture over the winter. The Fall Season is actually a better time than Spring to plant shrubs, trees and herbaceous perennials for a couple of reasons. First, the ground is still warm from the summer sun and will allow the roots of a new plant to expand faster than if it was planted in the cooler soils of spring. Secondly, Mother Nature will take over watering that new plant for the rest of the year. (At least I hope she will!) The autumn rains will soak the soil and you won’t have to water the plant as much as if you planted it in May or June.
For those same reasons, Fall is a good time to do some garden rearranging of perennials or shrubs. Or, for that matter, trees if you have one you can manage to dig out. Make sure you dig a wide span around the root base of whatever you are moving, using the drip line of the plant as a rough indication of how far out the roots will be. You don’t want to damage the roots system, especially the fine feeder roots most plants have. Then, dig a hole about twice the size of the root ball you will be moving and put a little transplant fertilizer mixed into the bottom of the hole. A slow-release, balanced, granular transplant fertilizer of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 works best. It will give those roots a little boost before winter. By mixing the fertilizer in with the soil at the bottom of the hole, you will also be breaking the soil up so the roots can take hold. Firm the soil around the base of the plant with your boot, and give it a good soaking. If it doesn’t rain within about 4 days of transplanting, you will want to water again.
While you are walking about your garden, watch for signs of stress in your plants of all kinds. It has been a tough year, and by that, I mean very dry and windy, so plants that were established may be showing signs of stress: leaf curl, premature dropping of leaves, or even browned tips of needles and leaves. Depending on the plant, you may want to research what is happening so you know how to treat it, or if indeed, it needs attention. Some problems resolve themselves.
One more thing to perhaps do this month is to fertilize your evergreen trees and shrubs with a slow-release fertilizer made for evergreens. Most of these plants do not need to be fertilized, but once in a while you may notice the needles are losing color or dying back at the tips. A light fertilizing now will give evergreen roots a little jump-start going into winter so they will stay green in the colder months.