Rain through August has been extremely sparse, that said, our gardens need rain as do our reservoirs.
In the meantime, if you are planting evergreens, this month of September is the best time to plant evergreens in our zone. Evergreens planted now can begin to establish strong roots before winter and giving them adequate water is essential.
I suggest making a hole in the soil with an iron stake or other piercing instrument and feeding the hose into the hole and allowing water to reach the roots in a slow manner for at least a half hour on planting and a few times a week until the ground freezes in November. Cover the earth around the plants with a light layer of composted manure and mulch, but do not mulch right up to the bark of the plants as this encourages rodents to nest and gnaw on the bark of the plants.
I often get questions on pruning of Hydrangeas, with fellow gardeners asking me ‘Maureen, why did my Hydrangeas not bloom this year’? The reason that Hydrangeas do not bloom is that gardeners prune them at the wrong time. If you feel that your Hydrangea macrophylla has become too large and require pruning;
- Prune them by the first two weeks of September. The reason being is that Hydrangeas set their buds for next season by late September; pruning any later will cut off those buds, which will negate any chance of bloom for next season or even the following season.
- Prune any old woody stems that have not bloomed well and any weak new shoots.
- After pruning, apply a few inches of composted manure, and some peat, followed by a top dressing of natural brown bark mulch. The peat aids acidity in the soil, which is necessary as Hydrangeas may become chlorotic if the soil is too alkaline. By the way, chlorotic means abnormal reduction or loss of normal green coloration of the leaves of plants.
On another note, Hydrangeas do not like to be transplanted; transplanting them can result in little to no bloom for many seasons. For that reason, I suggest when planting new Hydrangeas, make sure they are at least 5 ft. apart, so they have room to grow, receive adequate ventilation and will never need to be transplanted.
This fall, as you contemplate your landscape, think on the past season as to what worked for you and what you will never try again.
Unfortunately, mint has taken over the border beneath my Franklinia tree. Many years ago, my friend Roz, was kindly lending a hand in the garden and planted mint in the garden instead of a large container that I placed for that very purpose. I was busy with other garden chores at that moment, so by the time I noticed the error six months later, the mint was running rampant among the blue myrtle edging the borders. So folks, please take note that mint is extremely invasive and should only be planted in containers where its wayward habits can be controlled.
‘It is said that ‘a gardener’s work is never done’, but now with the season’s hard labor behind you, take a break. Sit outside and inhale the late garden fragrances and allow Mother Nature to anchor and relax you.
In the early morning I enjoy sitting on my patio near the herb garden, inhaling the fragrance of the sage, which I will snip later to take indoors for drying and use in my recipes. I will also gather extra sage and lavender, which I will tie with string into small bunches to hang in my closets, which is a natural moth repellent. Some of the Lavender bunches I tuck into my drawers to keep moths from devouring my woolens; this works so well as insects do not like fragrance.
In your vegetable garden, sow spinach for spring harvest and sow a cover crop like winter rye, which can be dug in next spring together with composted manure as green manure. Green manure produces a rich growing environment for next year’s vegetables.
Now is the time to get your fall compost pile cooking with the last of the grass clippings, spent perennials, leaves and small woody twigs.
Now is also the time to dig up, divide and replant overgrown perennials. Follow this method every three to four years to ensure vibrant bloom from these plants. Never plant or transplant any division deeper in the soil than it is now or any deeper than the plant sits in the pot.
In the less hectic pace of fall, early autumn is the time to re-think your gardens. The garden’s pre-winter grooming will wait for a few weeks. Or you may feel that you would like to have a professional design as you have noticed that your borders are not up to your expectations.
If that is so, then contact someone that you trust to create a plan in the fall and winter, which can be phased in beginning next spring. Engage someone who will listen to your thoughts and stay within your budget. I am giving you a suggestion for a plantsman, who is my son Ian whose company and website is LandscapesbyIan.com. I know you would enjoy speaking with him and the saying goes ’the apple does not fall far from the tree’ and I feel that Ian’s creative talents are well worth checking out.
September is the month to plant and transplant Peonies. Do not plant them deeply or they will not bloom, that means have just enough soil to hold them erect with the ‘pink eyes’ on the roots barely covered. Plant them with a light application of composted manure around the plant. Then in November, following the first hard frost, cut down the Peony foliage to about four inches from the ground.
In a few weeks, the bright vibrancy of autumn color will appear on the maples. Fall’s brilliant autumn finery is the last hurrah, before winter sets in. Climbing up the red milk shed near the barn, the buds on the autumn clematis are beginning to unfurl and in the herb garden, autumn crocus, asters and sedum will take their curtain calls.
For your soil to remain healthy, add a light layer of composted manure to all the borders now or in early October, together with a two-inch layer of fine bark mulch around to all newly-planted and transplanted perennials and shrubs. With the application of the manure and mulch, you are continuing to build the humus component, which will ensure a rich growing environment for spring and protect the plants from winter’s harsh conditions.
I do not cut down my spent perennials but leave them up for the birds; the ripened seed heads are a delicious treat for them to peck at. Following the vibrancy of summer bloom, I enjoy the softer, subtle colors of gray, brown and yellow of spent perennials and ornamental grasses blending naturally with the muted winter landscape, which to me offer a resting of the senses.
Early to mid-October is a great time to be planting. The benefits of fall planting for trees, shrubs and perennials gives them a head start with root development over those planted in the spring. This is especially so when we experience a late spring when planting cannot begin until late April. In New England’s fall, the cooler temperatures and still warm soil encourages the plants to direct their energy into producing strong roots.
The following trees are not good candidates for fall planting:
- Birches, Larches, Gingko, Oaks, Magnolia, and all flowering fruit and flowering trees as well as the Eastern Red Cedar.
These trees have fleshy roots and their feeder roots are not large when young and take time to establish and are susceptible to frost heave.
Some perennials that do not like to be planted in fall are Artemisia, Lambs Ears, Foxglove, Penstemon, Anemone, Campanula, Kniphofia, Lupines, Scabiosa, Ferns and Grasses.
Plant garlic this month for harvest next June – garlic is the antibiotic of the garden. Plant it under fruit trees to avoid scab and root disease, near to ponds or standing water to control mosquito larvae or pour garlic water into ponds, bird baths and fountains to deter adult mosquitoes.
This is a good time to pick up end-of-season plant bargains. Most nurseries and garden centers have lowered their prices so they do not have to winter plants over in the nursery. However, with the low reservoirs you may decide to hold off until spring. But if you do purchase a few plants, keep your eyes open for the following problems:
- POTBOUND PLANTS – check the bottom of the pot to see if the roots are growing through the holes. If not, gently tap the plant out of the container to see if it has a network of overlapping roots that wrap around the root ball. It is possible to salvage a root bound plant, which is suffering from water and nutrient deficiencies over the summer, but it will be slow to root. Before you plant this one in your garden, cut the encircling roots – the roots will now be shorter but will take root easier.
- DISEASED PLANTS – plants that have been in containers all summer and have been fed high nitrogen fertilizers are easy targets for pests and diseases. Check for spots on the foliage, wilted or curling leaves and discolored roots. As well as visible signs of pest damage and infestation such as webbing or sticky residue on foliage. Not only would these plants do poorly in the garden but could infect your other plants and the soil. Soil-borne diseases are the most difficult to deal with.
- BADLY-SHAPED PLANTS – Badly shaped plants are the ‘Charlie Brown’ Christmas trees of the plant world, the unwanted orphans that have been passed over year after year; these are the runts of the litter! Do not set yourself up for disappointment looking at an ugly tree or shrub just to save a few dollars.
- MISLABLED PLANTS – At the end of the season many plant tags have been lost or mixed up, which means you are likely to get a perennial with flowers that are not the color you expected. Or you may buy a deciduous tree or shrub when you were looking for an evergreen variety. Stick to the plants that are part of large displays of identically-labeled plants or with labels so firmly attached that look like they have been there for a while.
With all the above-mentioned plants – always add composted manure around the plant and do not plant any deeper than it is in its pot or burlap wrapping. Always wear gloves when working with manure; there is bacteria in the manure – great for the soil but not healthy for you.
Above all, note that the bargain you get is often not worth the discount price.
NEW LAWN OR PATCH SEEDING
September is an excellent time to plant new grass, the young grass plants will have the advantage over weeds. Do not buy cheap seed, you reap what you sow …
Gently de-thatch the areas that you wish to overseed or patch. Do not use the large thatching machines, which can damage existing grass. Add some composted manure to the area, broadcast the seed and cover the newly-seeded grass area with salt hay (free from weed seed). Do not allow the soil surface to dry out, keep it moist. Water gently, and do not saturate the area or the seed will wash away.
When the grass appears, stay off it, do not mow and leave the salt hay to rot. Next spring, a healthy lawn will emerge and if there are a few bare patches in April, you can fill in the bare spots.
I hope your spring bulb orders are in by now. Be adventurous this year and go for masses of a single color for the greatest impact. No matter how small your planting area, it is the intensity that counts, with two or three dozen red Tulips or a hundred Daffodils planted on your woodland edge.
Buying daffodils in large numbers is less expensive, the bulbs are usually smaller – this is not a problem as daffodil bulbs grow larger each year. Even though many say the spacing between these larger bulbs should be six inches, there is no reason they cannot touch.
Put some composted manure or bulb food on the soil where the bulbs are planted. Make sure you plant the Daffodils eight inches below the frost line, with the pointed end up. Wear gloves when you plant bulbs as they have a skin irritant, which may cause a rash.
If you cannot plant your bulbs when you receive them, store them in a cool, dry place in paper bags. The best time to plant spring bulbs in the Northeast is the end of October to the middle of November.
Lily of the Valley can be transplanted this month but wear gloves because there is toxicity in this plant.
Dig up your gladioli corms, Calla bulbs, Elephant ear bulbs and Dahlia tubers when the foliage turns yellow. Lay them in the sun to “cure” and store them in a cool, dry dark place. When you dig the Dahlia tubers, do not pull them, pulling can break the tubers.
In early September after their summer sojourn outdoors, take your houseplants indoors and wash the foliage gently and repot with new potting soil into a clean container. Repot those plants that have outgrown their pots to a clean container that is only one size larger.
Fall and early winter is a great time to do stonework – dry-laid paths, walls and patios. As well as repairing fences, arbors and pergolas and build decks. Paint wooden outdoor furniture with eco conscious paint before putting them undercover for winter.
September is a gardener’s paradise; the air is cooler, the soil easy to work and you will not overheat with the effort. Stay awhile in your garden; enjoy the comforting fragrance of fall.
I’ll see you in your garden next time.
Email me with gardening questions at [email protected].
About the author: Maureen Haseley-Jones is a member of a family of renowned horticultural artisans, whose landscaping heritage dates back to the 17th century. She is one of the founders, together with her son Ian, of, The English Lady Landscape and Home Company. Maureen and Ian are landscape designers and garden experts, who believe that everyone deserves to live in an eco-conscious environment and enjoy the pleasure that it brings. Maureen learned her design skills from both her mother and grandmother, and honed her horticultural and construction skills while working in the family nursery and landscape business in the U.K. Her formal horticultural training was undertaken at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Surrey.