Who doesn’t love September? Okay, maybe not the back-to-school set. For everyone else, it’s one of their favorite months. The start of the school year feels like a new beginning, no matter how many years since you’ve sat in a classroom. The days still belong to summer, warm and clear, but the earlier twilight and cooler nights are autumn’s unmistakable calling card. It’s a great time to be in the garden.
There’s plenty to do, and overall the chores are pleasant, less laborious than spring’s pruning and digging and without the vigilance of summer’s watering and pest control. There are fall crops to plant, and harvests still to look forward to.
Your inclination might be to start cleaning out dead plants and detritus, however, some flowers leave seed heads that are important food for birds, insects, and other wildlife. Other past-their-prime plants – raspberry, elderberry, or bamboo, for example – have hollow stems that pollinators overwinter in. A garden that looks neat and clean might be a wasteland for wildlife. Consider tidying up a bit less, and leave some dried stems and leaves, and fallen branches and logs for insects and animals to hide in. Besides, it’s less work for you.
September is when those of us in colder areas start methodically winding down both the garden and ourselves, preparing for a few months of either a slower pace, or a garden hiatus altogether. Before you put things to bed, go out and take a few photos of your beautiful garden to remember it by.
Use up your remaining compost
Get ready for leaves by building a leaf bin out of chicken wire
Start a new compost pile
Stop pruning – you don’t want to encourage new growth at this point
Stop fertilizing – ditto (except for lawns, below)
Harvest, especially if there’s a frost warning
Keep sheets and covers handy to put over plants in case of frost
Pull spent vegetable crops; compost what’s healthy, trash anything that looks pest or disease-ridden
Plant quick-growing vegetables: lettuce, spinach, carrots, beans, kale
If frost threatens, pull green tomatoes – the entire plant, roots and all- and hang indoors to ripen
Don’t forget to harvest herbs
Save seeds of heirloom and open-pollinated varieties
Start planting garlic at the end of the month
Plant cover crops such as winter rye, hairy vetch, or clover, in open plots
Plant vegetable transplants in warmer climates
In colder areas, start planting spring-blooming bulbs: tulips, daffodils, and crocus
Plant or transplant perennials, trees and shrubs now—and keep them watered until the ground freezes
Dig up frost sensitive dahlias and other summer bulbs and store somewhere cool and dry
Save seeds of open-pollinated annuals
Plant fall flowers: pansies, mums, and snapdragons
Leave goldenrod standing for the insects
Leave seed heads of flowers such as coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and sunflowers for the birds
In cool climates, fill in bare patches with a seed/mulch/fertilizer mix
In warm climates, overseed with ryegrass for a green lawn all winter
Fertilize one last time, at least six weeks before your first expected frost