We've had a breather the last few weeks as growth in the garden slows. Yet come September, the gardening pace picks up once again.
Gone are the long, lazy days of summer. Gone, too, are the pesky bugs, the fiery August heat and the uncomfortable humidity.
In many ways, September's cooler weather and lengthening shadows are welcome changes. Garden watchers realize that plants are nearing the end of their active growing cycles.
Thus, it comes as no surprise to find gardeners stirring about in the garden finishing the current season and, at the same time, planning the next one.
Lawns need attention during September. Lower lawn mower blades to a height of 2 inches to 2.5 inches before mowing.
Thatch the accumulation of dead roots and stem tissue at the surface level is normally not problematic. However, if the thatch is thick (more than 0.5 inch) remove it with a power lawn rake. Thatching too late in the fall leaves the turf vulnerable to winter injury.
Lawns that have been subjected to a lot of foot or machine traffic may have become compacted, which hampers healthy turf.
Reduce soil compaction by renting core aeration equipment. Just be sure to get the kind that pulls plugs of soil from the ground, not one that merely spikes the ground. The plugs should be left on the surface of the lawn to help break down thatch.
To refurbish the lawn, overseed it with fescue or Kentucky bluegrass after aeration.
September is a good time to apply fertilizer to turfgrass. Feeding lawns now improves the root system and thickens the lawn. Fertilizer applied at this time also gives turf time to accumulate nutrients critical to winter survival.
If rainfall is insufficient, irrigate the lawn every other week.
September is an ideal time to start a new lawn from seed. Typically, seeds germinate in one week.
With a September start, young grass gets off to a healthy start without the struggle to survive in the face of summer heat.
In addition, newly emerging grasses face less competition from weeds in the fall than they do in the spring.
For gardeners not wanting to start a lawn from seed, sod is another option. Depending on the size of the yard, it can be installed in one day.
Stretching the harvest
Vegetable harvests abound. Ripening tomatoes, beans, okra, peppers and melons are gathered and dished up for nutritious meals. September is also a great time to plant snap beans, eggplant, peppers, spinach and winter squash.
Flower beds need tending. Continue to remove dead flowers from annuals to keep them blooming as long as possible. Clean dying foliage from perennials. Mix this rich organic matter into the compost pile.
If you haven't already done so, divide perennials such as irises and daylilies. Trim back the foliage of both to give roots a healthy start in their new garden spots.
Add a touch of fall color to the garden. Plant some mums to brighten things up.
The houseplants that were brought onto the patio or porch earlier in the summer must now be weaned back into the house. Bring houseplants indoors when nighttime temperatures drop to 50 degrees.
Get plants accustomed to lower light levels by placing them in a space with plenty of light, then gradually moving them to their regular indoor location. Acclimatization prevents leaf drop, but it may take as long as eight weeks.
To avoid bringing problems indoors, be sure the plants and containers are free of bugs like ants and other pests before carting them into the house.
Tackle some of the garden projects you put off during the heat of summer. Sand and paint benches, trellises, fences and gates. Build the new berm. Fix the brick path. Rebuild the rock wall. Move plants that are not thriving to better locations.
Plan for next spring's garden. Order spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses so they're on hand when it comes time to plant them next month.
Consider trees and shrubs for planting. Watch for spectacular fall color and be sure to put those specimens on the gardening list.
OK break time is over. It's time to plunge into September's flurry of gardening activity.
Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and garden writer for the Journal-World.