Last updated on December 8th, 2014
SEPTEMBER is my “get ready for winter” month. It’s time to divide and reset certain perennials, to order and plant bulbs, and to acclimate vacationing houseplants for their return to indoor life. Feeling energetic? Good. Because one of us can sip a martini…while one of us goes to work!
What’s that you say?
You’d like three olives in your cocktail?
Here’s what I’m doing for my house and garden this month:
Order Bulbs. You can never have too many of these. To obtain the best varieties at the best prices, I order directly from online bulb-specialists like this one.
Iris. Divide and reset the crowded clumps, but remember to keep rhizome tops exposed to sunlight and air. In other words, plant them half-in, half-out of the soil.
Lilies. Remove faded flowers, but don’t clip foliage until it yellows. Please tell me that your lilies haven’t been invaded by this dreadful insect.
Peony. Divide and transplant any poor-blooming old plants, or set out new ones. They need sun, good drainage and only two to three inches of soil over the crowns. If they are buried too deeply, or if sun isn’t sufficient, they will not bloom.
Roses. Continue to deadhead, but stop feeding. Roses need to prepare themselves for winter dormancy — not new growth.
And by the way, the picture above is from June, 2013. The roses took quite a hit in January 2014, when temperatures stayed in the minus digits for weeks. Most of the roses — those I didn’t pull out — are still in recovery-mode.
Salad Greens. Where I live, lettuce and spinach can be sown outdoors through October 1. If a hard frost is predicted, I simply cover the plants with floating row covers or bed sheets.
Onions. I harvest, cure, and store the bulbs this way.
Potatoes. Although my potato vines have already died back, I won’t harvest the crop until really cool weather arrives (usually mid- or late-October). This way my cellar will be cold, too, and better suited for potato-storage. Tubers will keep well only in dark, humid, chilly (35-40 degrees F.) quarters. How I plant, grow, harvest, and store potatoes.
Tomatoes. To avoid the ravages of frost, it pays to pick mature fruits while they are still green, and let them ripen in paper bags indoors. I’ve found that a banana placed in each bag really speeds things up.
Herbs. Not sure how to freeze or store your garden’s bounty? Be sure to read this post o’ mine.
Vacationing Houseplants. Condition these to indoor life before nights get cold. In early September, I move mine to the covered porch where there is less light than in the open and they stay there for two weeks. Prior to their coming in, I first scrub the pots with steel wool, and then dislodge pests, if any, with a firm blast of water. An organic pesticide provides further insurance against creepy-crawlies.
Once indoors, provide plentiful fresh air and humidity via open windows until the weather turns cold. This way there will be a minimum of leaf drop and discontent with the home environment.
Make a Window Garden! For the decorative display and easy maintenance of houseplants, you can’t beat a window garden. It took me less than 30 minutes to outfit the window in my upstairs bath (pictured above) for the happy containment of my flowering friends. Story and pictures.
Geraniums (Pelargoniums). I prepare mine for winter-bloom this way.
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. The how-to.
“Christmas” Amaryllis. Induce dormancy the first week in September. To do this, lay the pot on its side and let the soil dry out. Remove the foliage after it turns yellow and becomes loose, and then bring the plant indoors to a dark, cool place. (Dormancy is not necessary for evergreen varieties.) For more details, see my Amaryllis Growing Guide.
Clean Chimneys. If you rely on fireplaces for supplemental winter warmth — I certainly do — better have your chimneys inspected and cleaned in September. I learned the hard way that all chimney sweeps in my area are booked up by October. I also learned that none of them can sing like Dick Van Dyke.
Furnace. Have this inspected and serviced at once. Otherwise you might have an unpleasant surprise the first time you crank up the thermostat.
Clean Windows — Inside & Out. If, in winter, you’d like sunlight to enter your home unhindered by grime (I certainly do, and so do my houseplants), you’ll have to perform this odious job. I clean my 57 (ancient) windows this way.
Bake something! I can highly recommend these Autumn Spice Cookies. I fell in love with them from the very first bite. The easy recipe.
And here’s a question for you: Has autumn arrived early to your neck of the woods? You can let me know by leaving a comment.
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Wendy A says
It’s going to be about 90 degrees in Connecticut today but the leaves are beginning to turn and the sumac is turning red. I love autumn but I have to say, I’m dreading winter this year! it seems like winter ended only two months ago! Your garden always looks beautiful, Kevin. One of my fall projects is to build some new raised beds for my potager. Hopefully within the next few weeks, it will become reality!
Kevin this is a little off topic but I have a question. I have 6 hydrangeas and only one blooms. The one that blooms is an old one that has snow ball type flowers. Three of them are mostly shaded and two are partially shaded. I have a lace cap, a re-blooming one, one variegated, and two of the blue/pink snow ball shaped flowers. They are also located on three different pieces of real estate. Any suggestions?
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Tressa – Most hydreangeas will bloom in part sun. My pee-gee variety blooms in fairly dense shade. Is it possible you are pruning the shrubs incorrectly? Some bloom on old wood, others on new. This article from Fine Gardening Magazine will show you how and when to prune: http://www.finegardening.com/pruning-hydrangeas
Cory F. says
It is suppose to continue to be hot this week in Ohio, however we can not complain as this summer has been very mild indeed. I am looking forward to a nice, long, snow covered winter as I am a Minnesota girl and miss “real” snow! I will say that although is has been in the upper 80’s/low 90’s the past week, I have seen a noticeable amount of leaves already starting to change and drop! I just found your website this morning and I am already in love! Especially with your bath window! I have an upstairs east facing window that I may just have to do this project with for my African violets! Thank you for all the great information! I look forward to reading through all of it!
Still hot and dry in California. My plants have suffered and I have lost many of them. Using my water to save my fruit trees, lawn is totally brown. Hate this awful drought.
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Cory F – Welcome!
Barbara – I’m praying that rain will come to your area. Lots of it. And soon.
Thanks for your posts 🙂 Wonderful peony! As all your flowers always. My little ones (first year I have them) are having a horrible time, I don’t know what’s wrong with them but they have stopped growing and the edges of their leaves are a bit yellow.
Very dry and hot in the center of Spain, and no it’s not normal, Septembers are not that hot, they begin to chill temperaturas, but this year we had a very strange summer, quite cool. Now we are having real summer 🙁 my gardening schedule is going mad, I cannot even think in begining to plant bulbs now.
badger gardener says
As summer starts to fade what is most notable about this season is the amount of critter damage in the garden. Even perennials I’ve had for years that were never bothered before have been stripped to standing stems. I don’t know if populations are up, or if the animals sense another doozy of a winter coming and are therefore eating everything in sight.
Rhonda Strahler says
We usually don’t have fall “fall” on us here in southeast Ohio until the end of September. Sometimes we even get a lovely “Indian Summer” into October. I love that – I am a summer person!! My main chore today will be to can several quarts of tomatoes. I still have several plants that have green tomatoes on them , and probably enough time to let them ripen on the vine…This year I ordered heirloom tomato seeds from WinterSown.org- several varieties to see what I liked. SO – I have several great varieties I have saved seed from to start next year!
A small point about the hydrangeas – most of the ones that Teresa mentioned are Hydrangea macrophylla varieties – they bloom on OLD wood and most died down to the ground in last year’s too cold winter. Most that I have seen have come up from the roots and will likely bloom next year if the winter is normal. The pee gee blooms on NEW wood so they did very well.
Sorry Tressa – old eyes.
60 this morning in Chicago, brisk and cool. I’m waiting for the last 30-40 tomatoes to ripen on the vines and then they come down. The tropicals I optimistically planted in the spring will have to be dug up and brought inside soonish. We’re planning the spring veggie garden already …going to double the size next year. My 30′ fence line of nasturtiums and four o’clocks are blooming their hearts out (grown from seed as easy as falling off a log — my first attempt).
Make mine 4 olives …. 🙂
The one thing I hate about California is that we don’t have true seasons, at least where we live. It’s just hot and then you blink and it’s winter. But I love that my vegetable garden thrives all year when I have one. Last spring I was too ill to plant so it’s been a bare summer for us, but once it cools off, I’m starting the next round. Can’t wait!
Naomi Shelton says
The weather here in Mid-Michigan is changing slowly and the clouds are looking more like Fall. The coming week is supposed to be cooler–in the 70’s instead of ’80’s–which is fine with me. It has been a relatively cool summer for this area with lots of rain and a few hot, humid days which are my least favorites. And, with the rain, we’ve had a bumper crop of mosquitos. Couldn’t be on my back porch nearly as much as I’d like they were so thick. It seems they are dwindling now that it’s cooler at night. Hooray! SO, now that I don’t have the heat or rain for an excuse, I must get busy working outside again!
Naomi Shelton says
P.S. I like the new photo. Now I can see what you really look like! A good-looking guy!
Elaine ransom says
“Normal” fall weather for here….had more than two inches of rain last week,nothing to speak of during July and August. Due to excessive heat in July the large tomatoes set quite late and most of us had a dearth of slicers which are now beginning to ripen. However chance of light frost next week. The ginella maples have turned red,about normal for them but most of my potatoes have not ripened down yet. I fact, some are blooming! The extraordinary July heat have my squash vines up in the raspberry bushes on one side and outside the garden fence on the other. Luckily neither the deer nor grasshoppers like them. Some plants are beginning to have full blossoms now that the cooler weather has slowed the grasshoppers down.
Chris Vanderlinde says
I Love your site!!!! I have several of those beautiful old lantern/plant hangers. Been thinking of selling them in a garage sale but NOW I’ll be finding just the right spot to showcase them and the plants. Thanks! PS Love your sense of humor! Got to get busy now taking care of all the things you mentioned that need doing this time of year, AND make those great sounding cookies.
Bev Nolan says
It is going to be another 90+ degree day here in southern Oregon with the smoke hanging in the air from a 66,000 acre fire that is way south of us. It has been a dry and hot summer with the wild animals scrambling to survive. Deer literally broke through our enclosed garden and wiped out all the tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers the last couple of weeks. We have a squirrel chattering at the cats in the morning. I think he is scoping out the walnut tree. I think all of God’s creatures, human and animal, are hoping for some rain to clean the air and revitalize our habitats.
Lori G. says
It’s cooler than it has been here in Nebraska for a long time. The last few mornings have been in the 50s and it’s a little early for that around here. We even have a low of 37 forecast later this week. Yikes. I’m not ready for that yet. It seems like I was just covering my tomato seedlings to protect them from a late frost just a few weeks ago! But I must say I think this summer has been a garden success for the most part. Even if I did have to buy my tomatoes from a friend. It is most certainly coming on to autumn.
Love your site. Get so many good ideas. Mid 70’s this week in PA. Just got two cords of wood last week as they are calling for a VERY cold winter and lots of snow. They are saying worse than last winter. Out to control some over grown weeds.
cynthia shultz says
yes, it’s starting to get chilly here in Schenectady. not ready for that. Cynthia
Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says
We had 93 sultry degrees a few days ago but tonight has a chilly breeze and is going down into the 50’s. I’m ready for cool work days for garden clean up.
paula k says
lots of weed cleanup ahead in the veg garden, loved the harvesting and slacked off on the weeding…now we pay the price. green peppers suddenly producing lots of little peppers, still have Mtn Magic, honey delight and sun gold tomatoes, the larger varieties are done. Dreading winter in SE PA,think we still have some post winter stress going on….miss our 18 white pines that had to be cut down after the ice storm. Does anyone use those indoor “happy” lights to compensate for the short days? (you sit by them each day to ward off seasonal blues)
My organic garden was doing so great in Eastern
Montana until it was 25 degrees and even covered it froze. So you never know here how the garden will fare.
The colder weather pattern seems to be following suit since last winter, at least here, of the coast of Maine. Summer never really did arrive, perhpas a few warm days, but we never had too many days over 80,mosly in the 70s and many days only in the 60s. When I went to the farmers market on saturday morning, it was only 46 degrees and everyone had on their heavy fall jackets and its only mid September. Yup, autumn has arrived early. And I suspect all us gardenres would be wise to anticipate an early winter and put the gardens to bed perhaps a little earlier than ususl. I ususally love working in the garden in October and November. I usually try to have the yard all prepared for winter by Thanksgiving. I am thinking this year, with how cold it might get so soon, I am thinking I want it all done by time I plant the garlic by mid October. I am not looking forward to winter this year. I haven;t gotten over last winter yet!
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Blake – Around here, people are still talking about last year’s brutal winter. I’ll probably plant my garlic in early October, instead of mid-month. The bulbs’ need time to root before the ground freezes!
Great post Kevin!