September brings warm soil to garden, ideal for planting success

Also, prices are right for landscaping — and perennials tend to take hold

Bill Warren

September is one of the best months of the year for working in one’s garden. Why is that? It is because in September the soil is warm, the days are still long, the sun is still high in the sky, the insects of spring and summer are dying and the caterpillars (larvae of butterflies) have matured into their final stage. What September is is a terrific time in the gardener’s life to accomplish all those activities that he did not do in the spring and summer in preparation for next year’s garden.

Warm soil in September means that almost anything that one puts in the ground has wonderful chances to succeed. In the spring when most people are planting vegetables, flowers, trees, shrubs or bushes, one of the biggest obstacles to getting a terrific garden is that the soil is cold. It may be still frozen in some shady locations. Plants, seeds, trees, etc., need 50-degree (F) ambient soil to allow for maximum germination and growth. Cold, wet springs (such as we had this year) make it very difficult for nature to succeed without a lot of help from technology.

Garden ready to be harvested and replanted. (Judy Palm photo)

What the warm soil means is that most of the things we grow in our summer gardens can still be planted in the fall. Low to the ground plants such as lettuce, carrots, turnips, broccoli and so forth can be planted, and a fall harvest can succeed. What vegetable gardeners need to do to help their second (or perhaps even third) crops to come in is to make wire hoop, clear sheet plastic greenhouse tubes to cover the plants in early October before the first frost.

Wire hoops need to allow 15+/- inches of space between ground and the inside of the hoop. The edges of the plastic can be held on the ground by putting some of the dirt over the plastic sheeting. The only other need is to make sure that there is space enough to put a “dribble” or “watering type” of rubber hose running beneath the plastic and lying on the ground. If the gardener makes plans for water, the plastic will permit sun to get to the plants, and at the same time the area beneath the sheeting will remain damp. Such growing arrangements will mean that most late fall gardens will continue to be productive into November or early December.

There is nothing like brushing off the snow (of late fall) from the outer plastic tubes to pick fresh broccoli or cabbage or whatever else one likes to eat. Fresh natural produce from one’s own garden is so superior to vegetables that one buys in the grocery store, because grocery store vegetables have been picked many, many days before putting them on display. They have to be picked early to make them look fresh and appealing, because the failure to do so will mean that those vegetables would rot in the trucks that deliver them. Blame not the stores that sell vegetables; blame the distance from the store (that winter vegetables are grown) and the time it takes to get them to our cold climate.

(Bill Warren photo)

For gardeners who are working toward getting more landscaping done in the fall, the biggest benefits for late planting of trees, shrubs and bushes are that the garden centers are trying to clear out their plants before winter sets in. The costs of all nursery items are usually much cheaper in the fall than they are in the spring. If during the summer you have planned well for next spring activities, go to your nearest nursery seller and buy that which is being sold. Plant sellers will not guarantee that plants sown in the fall will make it through the winter, but I have done such planting for many years with perennials and the positive values of the many successful plants living through the winter far outweigh the few that did not survive.

Clearance sales make fall planting easier. (Bill Warren photo)

For those of you who have grass that is well cared for, lush and green, the fall in New Hampshire is one of two periods where lime needs to be spread. Our evergreen trees and shrubs leach sour ingredients into the soil. But grass and numerous other flowers and trees need sweetness in the ground to grow well. Granulated lime needs to be spread across the lawns in broadcast spreaders. After putting down the lime, the spreaders need to be cleaned, because once the cold and wet arrives, the garden spreaders can be used to spread some rock salt and sand on driveways and sidewalks.

A final thought for September gardening is about trying to trick some of the flowering vines (like wisteria) into blooming next spring. The way one tricks those plants is to root prune them. Root pruning means that a gardener will dig down to find one of the tap roots (biggest roots) and cut it off about 4 inches below the soil level. The plants react (positively most gardeners find) to the cutting of tap roots. The trick is often just enough to force a vine to set its flower buds to bloom when they ought to bloom. There are lots of reasons that some vines do not have flowers, so, if one can find a way to make them bloom, it is well worth the effort.

September, 2009