Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Almanac: September–October 2019

by cathym on September 4, 2019

First please take the time to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of autumn. This is a special time not to be missed. Now to work!

Don’t cut back grasses until spring.
Don’t cut back grasses until spring.

GARDEN MAINTENANCE
Fall is an ideal time to weed. This prevents both perennial and annual weeds from getting a head start in the spring. No time to weed? Cut off and discard the seed heads.

Watering trees and shrubs is as important as watering perennials, especially anything planted this season. They need to be well hydrated going into the winter. Keep all plants watered if it doesn’t rain at least an inch per week.

Allow annuals such as nicotiana, annual poppies, cleome, and Verbena bonariensis to drop seeds in the garden, unless you don’t like them!

Prevent mouse and rabbit damage to thin-barked trees and shrubs by installing a hardware cloth barrier that extends at least two feet above the anticipated snow depth. Cut any grass around the base of trees short to discourage nesting by these critters.

Add compost to your beds to improve soil texture and promote beneficial microbes to prepare the garden for next spring. If you have a compost pile, turn it. 

Late winter is the better time to prune trees and shrubs. Fall pruning cuts may not heal as they enter dormancy.

PERENNIALS
Move, divide, and share your oversized perennials so you can have one less thing to do next spring. Do this in early fall so the plants can establish roots. This is a good time as energy can go into root production rather than flower production. 

Remove and discard all diseased plant material. Do not place in a compost pile as some fungal spores can winter-over in ground litter and may re-infect plants. Disinfect your pruners after each cut when pruning diseased plants. Spray pruner blades with Lysol, dip in a 10 percent bleach solution, or use alcohol wipes.

Remove and destroy iris foliage to eliminate the eggs of the iris borer.

Mound soil around your roses when the temperature drops. Bring in fresh soil to avoid disturbing roots. 

Leave the seedheads of astilbe, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, daisy, etc. intact to provide food and shelter for wildlife as well as giving winter interest.

Don’t cut back grasses and plants such as red osier dogwood; they add to the beauty of the winter garden. 

BULBS, TUBERS, AND CORMS
Purchase spring bulbs that are unblemished and large for their species. The presence of blue-green mold is not a problem unless it penetrates into the bulb itself.

Choose bulbs like daffodils that perennialize to save both time and money.

Begin planting spring bulbs. You will get better results if you plant when there is a month of 40 degree or above soil temperature (mid-September to mid-October in our area). This allows the bulbs to set strong roots and will give you better blooming.

With some bulbs it’s difficult to tell the top from the bottom. The skin is loose at the top and attached at the bottom. If you can’t tell, plant them sideways

To deter moles, voles and squirrels, put a layer of pea gravel or small-gauge chicken wire between the bulbs and soil surface.

Plant bulbs two to three times as deep as their height and a little deeper for naturalizing varieties.

Dig and store summer blooming tubers such as caladium and elephant ears before frost and tuberous begonias, cannas, and dahlias after foliage is blackened by frost. 

LAWN
September is the best time to fertilize your lawn and seed a new one. A top dressing of good compost is an ideal natural fertilizer. Overseeding bare spots helps prevent weeds in those areas the following year.

Remember to water the grass seeds regularly to keep the soil moist and choose high quality seed appropriate for your site.

In early September check your lawn for grubs by lifting up about a square foot of sod. If there are more than 10 to12 grubs per square foot you may want to treat for grubs. First identify what type of grub you have so you know the proper treatment. Complete your grub control program by the middle of September. Contact your Cooperative Extension for help in identification and treatment options.

Keep mowing the lawn. Make the last cutting one inch lower than usual to prevent matting and to discourage snow mold.

If the leaves aren’t too thick on your lawn leave them there when you mow; those mulched leaves feed your lawn naturally.

FRUITS, VEGETABLES, AND HERBS
Any time after the first frost through late October is a good time to plant garlic.

Pot up some parsley, chives, oregano, or mints to use indoors. You can also freeze or dry herbs for winter use. Be sure to wash off the plants. 

Pick off the tomato blossoms that won’t have time to develop so the nutrients go into the tomatoes already growing on the vine.

Plant cover crops such as peas or clover as you harvest your vegetables. This will reduce the need for weeding and will add nitrogen to the soil. Another option is to sow a cover crop such as rye or winter wheat in the vegetable garden. Turn it over in the spring.

Dig mature onions on a dry day. Store in well ventilated mesh bags or panty hose.
Plant radish, kale, spinach, and lettuce seeds in early September as your last crops. Extend the season with floating row covers or cold frames.
Pull up hot pepper plants and hang them until the peppers are dry. 

If you had any vegetables with fungal problems, make sure that area is cleaned of all plant debris and avoid planting the same variety in the same spot next year.

Mulch asparagus and strawberries.

MISCELLANEOUS
Bring in tender perennials such as scented geraniums and rosemary and any annuals you want to overwinter before you turn on the furnace. This cuts down on the shock of moving inside. 

To start annuals for next season, take cuttings from scented geraniums, begonias, strobilanthes, and coleus in early September while the plants are in their prime.

Collect seeds from open pollinated plants such as kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, Big Max pumpkin, and Brandywine tomatoes. If collecting seeds, be sure to keep them dry and chilled at 35 to 45 degrees.

Plant trees and shrubs now. They will have time to develop roots before winter sets in.

Fallen leaves are one of the most wasted natural resources the home gardener has. They can be chopped and used as a mulch to improve soil texture and to add nutrients. (Get some from your neighbors as well.) 

Small leaves like linden or birch trees can be spread on gardens directly. Larger leaves can be shredded or run over with your lawn mower before spreading. Avoid using black walnut or butternut as they can be toxic to many plants. Excess leaves can be composted for use next spring. They decompose faster if shredded first.

Begin bringing in houseplants that lived outdoors all summer. Wash off with a good spray of soapy water. Check for diseases and insects before bringing inside.

Lay out thick layers of cardboard or newspaper over areas that will become new beds in the spring and cover with mulch or compost. This will kill grasses and/or weeds as they break down making spring efforts easier. This is also a good method of controlling large masses of weeds.

Take pictures of your gardens. Make notes for next year’s gardens now. What worked, what didn’t, what to add, remove, or move etc. (You may think you will remember next year but you probably won’t.)

—Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Erie County Master Gardeners

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