Adventures in gardening: September
The month of September seems to sneak up on us, one minute it’s mid-summer then suddenly fall is around the corner. Many Canadians hope for a continuation of mild and sunny weather spells into September. Farmers need it for the harvest and gardeners want an extended season for their own small harvests, as well as projects like transplanting and dividing, fall pruning, bulb planting and lawn care. It’s also the perfect time to plant a new garden. An established garden that’s been well-maintained in spring and summer is a joy to behold in September with full displays of colour and texture. In other words, fall can be a fairly busy or relaxing time for gardeners, depending on your needs and desires.
Harvest your herbs
“The astounding growth in herb popularity has been propelled by the younger generation’s booming awareness of the connections between cooking and gardening and their huge interest in creating unforgettable “foodie” experiences for friends and family in an inexpensive, sustainable way” says British Columbia gardening expert Wim Vander Zalm in his book “Just Ask Wim!”
You may have noticed a steady increase in the size of the herb section at your local nursery with dozens of varieties now readily available. Great news for gardeners – and food-lovers – as the biggest benefit to growing your own herbs is in the kitchen. Whether for garnish or for cooking there are unlimited uses for a sprig or handful of fresh basil, parsley, chives, mint, oregano, rosemary, dill and so on. Using your own fresh herbs to enhance food dishes is easy and delicious, and gives instant gratification for gardeners all through the growing season! It doesn’t stop there – be sure to pick your herbs to dry and preserve them, so you can use them through the winter. It’s quite simple: pick long stems, remove damaged leaves, wash and dry carefully, create bunches of about 5-10 stems and hang them upside down in a warm, dry area. This picture from Vander Zalm’s book shows bunches of herbs hanging from a wooden rod – beautiful and easy. Check herbs regularly, after a couple of weeks or more they’ll be completely dried out - take them down, remove the leaves and store in labeled jars.
* TIP *
The concept of interplanting or companion planting - mixing in herbs with vegetables or perennial beds - was common in English gardens of the past. It still makes sense today, offering variety and scent and also the benefit that some herbs help repel pests. Alternatively, herbs grown in containers on a patio or balcony offer the convenience of ready access, they’re somewhat protected from garden pests, and the pots can be moved easily if your growing zone allows the herb variety to be overwintered in a more protected area.
You’ll find more about helping herbs survive winter in Wim Vander Zalm’s “Just Ask Wim! Down-to-Earth Gardening Answers.” There’s also useful information about vegetable harvesting and winter crops: “The great benefit of leaving root and cole crops in the ground for as long as possible is that the chilly weather forces each veggie to build up antifreeze within itself as protection from the cold. This antifreeze is basically sugar – so some of the tastiest crops in the garden result when vegetables have endured chilly temperatures.” Helpful advice as we make our way through the fall season.
Check the forecast & watch for frost
Many parts of Canada usually see their first frost in September so keep an eye on the forecast for overnight temperatures. Average first frost dates have varied with climate change but typically for cities like Calgary, Regina, Thunder Bay and Yellowknife they happen in mid-September, Moncton’s first frost is in late September, Kamloops, Toronto and Montreal in early October. These dates are only averages and actual dates in a given year can be much earlier or later, depending on the weather. Here are some reminders:
- Cover up tender perennials, herbs or vegetables if frost is forecast.
- Accumulate garden cloches, they act as a mini-greenhouse or cover during adverse weather conditions. Cloches can be purchased at your local garden centre or simply gather up household items like plastic food containers, buckets, large plastic bottles or jugs that can be reused.
- Old bed sheets or plastic sheeting can be tented over taller or climbing plants.
- Cloches act as a heat trap, so put them in place before sunset to capture the warmth of the day and remove them next morning so plants don’t overheat.
- Consider whether herbs and vegetables should be harvested rather than covered and bring them in if they’re ready.
- Check this link for frost dates of all major Canadian cities: http://www.almanac.com/content/frost-chart-canada.
- The Weather Network’s fall forecast is calling for a generally normal trend in September with more substantial weather changes in October. Find out specifics for your area here.
Like a lot of gardeners I find that fall is the perfect time for dividing and transplanting. I am constantly moving plants around through spring and summer, filling in gaps in the garden and trying to encourage struggling perennials to do better in a new spot. By September I can really take stock and see what worked and what didn’t. Take a good look around your garden and figure out what worked and what didn’t - which perennials are stunted and need a sunnier exposure, which perennials are a bit crispy and need more shade - move things around to inject colour and height if there’s too much greenery and not enough variety, and fill in empty spots. Gardening is one big adventure so don’t be afraid to move things around and chop up your plants to create new ones (just make sure the shovel doesn’t cut through your soaker hoses…) Division means ‘free’ plants – I love this! It’s fun to share them with family and friends too. For more tips on how to divide and transplant read my earlier column on ‘free’ plants.
Fall can be a convenient time to prune as it improves the look of your garden and cuts down on spring chores. However, there are some plants that should NOT be cut in fall. As my green thumb Dad always tells me, “You can’t hurt a plant if you leave it until spring to prune, but you can hurt a plant if it’s the wrong one to prune in fall.” If in doubt, leave it out - see the ‘to do list’ below for a few helpful hints. For more on pruning techniques, see Adventures in gardening: Pruning and good soil.
September ‘to do list’
- Continue to deadhead perennials and annuals to encourage new blooms.
- Remove dead or broken stems and storm debris after active weather.
- Continue watching for signs of insect damage, fungal disease and so on, and treat as needed. You don’t want unwanted guests overwintering in your garden.
- Reshape and tidy up prune spring and early season bloomers, shrubs like Lilac and Weigela for example.
- Wait until spring to prune woody perennials like Lavender, Buddleia and Perovskia. Many ferns, Phlox and Chrysanthemums are also best left until spring.
- Leave plants like ornamental grasses, Sedum, Coreopsis, Heuchera and Echinacea (see picture above) intact for ‘winter interest.’ Interesting plant shapes and seed heads look stunning with a coating of fresh snow.
- Think about which seeds you want to collect for planting or giving away next year, then snip the seed heads off the plant, let them dry out and collect the seeds.
- Harvest your herbs and enjoy them now, dry the extra to use in the months ahead.
- Plant spring bulbs as they become available at your local nursery.
- Visit your local nursery to check for late season deals, fall can be the perfect time to add to the garden or create a new one. Also remember to include the ‘free plants’ from your divisions (see above.) For tips on garden design check out Adventures in gardening: garden design.
- Give some attention to your lawn with an application of fall fertilizer early and late in the season. Aerate and overseed as necessary. Keep seeded areas moist, watch the forecast and time your seeding for a showery period to cut down your watering.
I look forward to hearing your gardening stories and suggestions and will be incorporating them into future columns. So please be sure to add your comments below, upload your photos to our website, or tweet me an update and photo of your garden at @SuzanneTWN. Join me on TV weekday afternoons and early evenings for the latest weather news and forecast so you’ll know the best time to work and play in your garden.
I’ll join you again next month with ideas for an October garden. In the meantime, the outdoors is always beckoning - what are you waiting for? Happy gardening adventures!
“Gardening is ultimately a folly whose goal is to provide delight.”
- Deborah Needleman