School is starting, September is here, and fall is right around the corner. But the growing season is not yet over. Tomatoes are often just starting to mature in a quantity sufficient for canning. Peppers are ripening as well. To keep the harvest developing, be sure to maintain good soil moisture, keep the garden weeded and be sure to harvest the mature crops. Produce left on the vine will hamper the development of additional vegetables.
If you haven’t yet sown seeds of quick-growing spinach and lettuce, do so now! Even radishes may ripen yet. These crops prefer cooler weather and might well produce a crop yet this year.
Later this month, set out cloves of garlic for next year’s mid-summer harvest. Separate cloves and plant with the pointed end up. Space them 6 inches apart and plant 4 to 6 inches deep. The colder your climate, the deeper you should plant them. Cover with a thick layer of loose mulch and that job is done.
Eventually, frost is inevitable. Any houseplants or tropical plants that have spent the summer outdoors will need to come inside for the winter. Start now to acclimate them to the lower humidity and temperature conditions of your home’s interior. Be sure to check the leaves carefully for insects.
Be ready when frost threatens and have a supply of old sheets, row covers, big buckets and the like so that you can cover tender plants when needed. The goal is to keep the ground heat contained and covering the plants should provide that few extra degrees to keep them from serious damage. For additional insurance against damage, water the garden well as the moisture will retain heat or even generate it as it evaporates. In fact, water generates a bit of heat as it freezes, so you could place shallow pans of water alongside your plants in hopes of gaining a degree or two of additional warmth.
If a hard frost threatens, pick those green tomatoes; they should ripen just fine indoors. Most leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach and kale prefer cooler conditions. Carrots, potatoes, and peas will survive a light frost with no damage. The flavor of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.) actually improves after a cold snap.
September is preservation month. Be sure to save as much of your garden produce as possible. Can or freeze tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and even squash. Potatoes, cabbages and carrots store beautifully.
September is also clean up month. To guard against overwintering insects and disease, be sure to clean up any spent plants in the garden and be especially sure to clean up any dropped fruit from apple and pear trees. Weeds are heading up and full of seed so be sure to cut them back regularly. Weeds are persistent at this time of the year, and newly sprouted weeds are quick to produce seed.
Although it may seem that fall is a good time for pruning trees and shrubs, don’t do it! Pruning before the plants have gone dormant will stimulate new growth at a time when the plants are beginning to shut down for the season. Instead, wait until the leaves have fallen or the plant is dormant.
In the perennial bed, some plants prefer to be pruned after frost has stopped their growth while others do better with spring pruning. For lists of both types, see http://gardening.about.com/od/maintenance/a/Spring_Pruning.htm and http://gardening.about.com/od/maintenance/a/Fall_Pruning.htm.
Above all, take notes. What will you do differently next year? What worked this year and what did not work so well? By spring, you will have forgotten so write this stuff down!
Beverly Carney can be reached at email@example.com.