SEPTEMBER isn’t for the faint-hearted gardener. This is the time to divide and reset perennials, order and plant bulbs, harvest and preserve veggies, set up a window garden, and prepare the vacationing houseplants for their return to indoor life. Feeling energetic? Good. You’ll reap great rewards later on if you accomplish all of the following now:
Bulbs. Order early, and with purpose. Print out a copy of your order form, and note each bulb’s height, color and location for planting. This way you won’t get caught — like I was, one year — standing in the cold with a bag of hyacinths and not the slightest clue where to plant them. (I always order extra tulips, daffodils, Dutch hyacinths and muscari for advance bloom in the house.) Here are my favorite bulbs for planting indoors and out.
Chrysanthemums. If you don’t already have these in your garden, why not splurge on a few now? They do wonders for the September-to-frost border. Chrysanthemum ‘Helen’ (top photo of this post), comes up year after year in my the Serpentine Garden. If you don’t wish to plant the mums, just tuck pots beneath trees and between other plants for temporary decoration.
Iris. Divide and reset crowded clumps, but remember to keep rhizome tops exposed.
Peony. Divide and transplant any poor-blooming old plants or set out new ones this month. They need sun, good drainage and only two to three inches of soil over the crowns.
Roses. Keep deadheading, but stop feeding. Roses need to prepare their themselves for winter dormancy — not new growth.
Broccoli. If you made an autumn planting in early August, as I did, keep an eye out for developing heads. Harvest each head when large but still green and tight. Cut the head into bite-size florets; peel the tough outer skin from the stem, then chop the stem up. Blanch florets and stem for 3 minutes, chill in ice water, and dry on paper towels. Freeze in zip-lock bags.
Cabbage. Are slugs eating the leaves? Stop this destruction by spreading garden lime or agricultural-gade diatomaceous earth beneath the plants.
Carrots. Harvest what you need; leave the rest in the ground over winter. At the first spring thaw you’ll have some of the sweetest treats in the world. I speak from experience!
Salad Greens. Continue sowing until October 1. If a sudden hard-frost is predicted, and you don’t have a proper row-cover, just throw a sheet over the crop.
Onions. Harvest, cure and store according to these directions.
Potatoes. Although my potato vines have died back, I certainly won’t harvest the crop until really cool weather arrives (usually the end of October). This way my cellar will be cold, too, and thus better suited for potato-storage. Tubers only keep well in quarters which are dark, humid, and chilly (35-40 degrees F.).
Tomatoes. To avoid the ravages of late blight, frost, or a severe storm, pick mature fruits while they are still green, and let them ripen in paper bags indoors. I find that a banana placed in each bag really speeds things up.
Storing Herbs & Veggies Not sure how to freeze or store your garden’s bounty? I handle matters this way.
Design a Window Garden. Houseplants look their best, and are far easier to maintain, when you display them in a real window garden. A window garden is an ordinary window that’s been outfitted with a broad sill and glass shelves. It takes neither money nor skill to create such a horticultural portrait. Here’s proof.
Light Garden. Replace fluorescent tubes. You don’t need special “growth lights” to promote flowering; I have found that standard cool whites, available in any hardware store, perform just as well for a fraction of the cost. You can read all about my simple, but highly functional, fluorescent set-ups here.
Houseplants. Gradually condition these to indoor life before nights get cold. By Labor Day, I move mine to the porch where there is less light than in the open and they stay there for a week or two. Prior to their coming in, pots should be scrubbed, foliage cleansed with a firm blast of water, and both pot and plant sprayed with a good insecticide. This way, plants will be in a clean condition and no pest epidemics will start. (Do not use insecticides on your citrus plants, scented geraniums or other potted edibles.) Indoors, keep windows open day and night to provide plenty of fresh air through the first weeks. Then there should be a minimum of leaf-drop and general discontent with the home environment.
Petunias, Wax Begonias, Impatiens. Take cuttings now, and root them in pots of good soil. Brought indoors before frost, these tender annuals will provide cheerful bloom during the dark winter months.
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How to Propagate Petunias, Wax Begonias & Impatiens for Winter Bloom
The Amazing Meyer Lemon
How to Harvest & Store Winter Squash
Seven Ways to Beautiful Houseplants
How to Set Up a Window Garden