We have had a pretty good growing season and plenty of time to spend in our gardens this year.
September is a transition month in the garden. Plenty of summer vegetables and annuals are going strong, and it’s time to plant fall vegetables and fall and winter annuals.
September may be the start of fall, but it is usually the last month of heat for us in Arkansas, and we hope we can get a little rain. Don’t ignore the garden now. Spring flowering plants are setting or have set flowers for next spring; fruit crops are setting their flower and fruit buds for next year; and we want our plants to go into their dormancy as healthy as possible.
Watering and weeding
Watering is the most important thing to do for gardens this late in the season. Container gardens need daily watering. Plants in the ground should not need daily water, but do need weekly applications. Each yard is different. It is hard to give an exact formula for every landscape, since there are so many variables. Types of plants, soil composition, amount of sunlight and slope are all factors that impact watering needs. Learn your landscape’s needs and try to meet them. If possible, water early in the day to prevent water loss to evaporation
and to allow time for penetration before the heat hits.
Don’t be alarmed if you see trees shedding leaves. Trees use vast quantities of water to thrive, and when the weather gets dry, they start shutting down. Large, established trees will usually not suffer as much harm as shallow-rooted ornamental trees. Dogwoods are not particularly drought-tolerant, nor are Japanese maples.
Keep in mind that all plants that bloom in the spring started setting flower buds for next spring’s blooms in August and continue this month. I have seen a lot of flower buds on camellias, tulip magnolias and dogwoods already. Don’t prune any spring bloomers now or you will be removing flower buds for next year. If the plants get too stressed, or shut down early, you may not see as many blooms next year either.
Mulching can really make a difference in conserving soil moisture and moderating soil temperature. Mulching
can also help with weeds. Weeds have been a major topic this gardening season. From mulberry weed and chamberbitter to poison ivy, Virginia creeper and nutsedge, the weeds are everywhere. It almost seems they double in size overnight. Try to weed often, hopefully getting to them before they set seeds, which can make problems even worse next year. If woody types of weeds are present — poison ivy, honeysuckle, briars, and the like — now is a good time to kill them with herbicides. Use caution around desirable vegetation, and always read and follow the label directions.
September lawn care involves mainly watering and mowing. Raise the height of the lawn mower now to start preparing the lawn for winter. If you have not fertilized, there is still time to put down one last application, but make sure you have ample moisture both before and after. Trying to time a final application with our spotty rainfalls can be tricky, so use caution with this approach. It is best to have a nice, slow, steady rain versus a gully washer. If it pours, all your efforts may benefit your neighbor.
Planting and planning
Vegetable gardens are still producing if they have been cared for. Many tomato varieties will slow down in production when temperatures soar, but should bounce back once the weather cools. There is still time to plant fall crops, but water will be critical to get plants established. Many garden centers are selling transplants of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower now. You can also seed lettuce, spinach and greens. We can garden year-round in Arkansas with just occasional winter protection.
Summer annuals have done extremely well this year and should last for another month or two. Many nurseries still have seasonal color for sale. These heat-lovers will get established quickly and provide at least two more months of color. Don’t try to plant pansies or violas this early or they will get leggy before you know it.
You can actually start planting fall ornamental greens — flowering kale, Swiss chard and beets. Establishing these plants in September should give a stronger root system and some early color. Watch for leaf-eating insects; ornamental greens are edible to them!
As we near the end of the warm-season garden, take stock and write down what worked and what didn’t to be ahead of the game next season. What were some new plants that did well in your garden? Which varieties of vegetables produced the best and were the easiest to grow? Which ones did you not like? What flowers bloomed the longest, and which played out early? Learn from your successes and failures for a better garden next year.