Published in the Toronto Star September 17, 2016
The kids are safely ensconced in school. The yard and garden is looking a bit neglected. It is early September and you have a wonderful opportunity to bring new life to the late summer garden.
I am here to help, with one of my now-famous ‘to-do’ lists for the garden. Post it on your fridge or flag it in your electronic ‘save’ file.
For your best garden ever, here goes:
1. Plant. I have planted most of my permanent gardens in the early fall. If you were a plant, you would understand: evening temperatures are dropping and there will be one last push of growth on most evergreens and shrubs. Roses will put on one more show of colour before they go dormant. When you plant in September and early October, you introduce roots to soil at the ideal time of year. Trees, shrubs, evergreens and perennials put down new roots before the hard frosts of late autumn. The pay-off is two fold. New growth surges come spring and many garden retailers offer great deals on their plants now as they have no interest in overwintering them.
- Prune. This is the perfect time of year to prune a cedar hedge (one of the most-asked questions on my web site). It is easy to do with a sharp pair of garden shears. A ‘haircut’ this time of year will encourage one last spurt of new growth that will fill the plants in nicely. September is an excellent month to prune junipers, yews [taxus] and boxwood as well.
- Thicken and green up your lawn. After a long, dry summer your lawn may look tired and full of brown patches.
- Now is the best time of the year to thicken your lawn and green it up. Again, the cooler temperatures and shorter days help a lot. Apply a quality slow release nitrogen product with iron for best results now. Later in the fall, late October or November, apply a quality fall lawn food to strengthen your lawn for the winter season ahead.
- Over seed bare patches. Rake out dead grass, spread lawn soil or triple mix over the area about 5 to 7 cm thick. Spread quality grass seed over the area by hand, rake smooth with a fan rake and step on it with flat soled shoes to put the soil and seed in firm contact. Water thoroughly until germinated. In about 4 to 6 weeks you should have a consistently thick, green lawn.
- Dig and divide. Have a hosta that has outgrown its space? A monarda/bee balm that has moved where it is not wanted? The Shasta daisies that are pushing up where they don’t belong? Now is the time to dig them up, divide into smaller portions and replant around the yard. Or give them away to neighbours and friends. On the other hand, there are many ‘perennial plant exchanges’ in every community: why not take part? Trade in your unwanted perennials for some new, better behaved ones. Check out community events at your local library or horticultural club. Note: when replanting divisions be sure to prepare the soil well with plenty of compost and water in well.
- Compost. Speaking of compost, this is compost season. If you don’t have a composting unit, consider buying or building one. If you do have one, now is a great time to empty it onto existing soil in your garden where earthworms will make a meal of it and leave behind nitrogen rich castings (poop). Or you can turn it under with a shovel, if you are feeling ambitious. When you place raw material like kitchen scraps and soft tissue yard waste into your composting unit be sure to mix them up and add some composted cattle manure to introduce beneficial bacteria and microbes. Compost starter is a great way to kick-start a composting unit.
- Reflect. While our gardens peeked about a month ago, there is still a lot of colour out there to enjoy. Walk around your neighbourhood, local parks and public gardens and observe what is going on there. Are there some plants that appeal to you? Garden design concepts? Unusual trees or shrubs? If you want to take this further, I encourage you to call a garden designer this time of year. They are generally not as busy now as they were in the spring and have more time to focus on your ideas and questions about your garden. Go to https://landscapeontario.com/find-a-company for a comprehensive list of garden designers in your area.
I enjoy September gardening more than any other time of year. Well, except for planting time in May.