The Garden Season’s Last Hurrah
The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. Our garden writer, Madaline Sparks, is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.
I cannot believe we are well into September! What happened? My container plants are lush and robust and some areas of the garden are in their glory. The dahlias are flower covered with dozens more buds waiting to come. The cherry tomatoes are profusely producing candy-like orbs every day. I know it’s the end and all is slowing down but I’m never quite ready to say goodbye.
I think of this time in the garden as “The Awkward Stage.” Many perennials and annuals are done for, especially with the drought our region has experienced this season. To prolong the show, my policy is to cut down the ugly stuff: the brown stems, the spent flowers, and any mildewed or black-spotted foliage. Cutting back daisies, bee balm, coneflowers and similar plants to basal foliage (the healthy green leaves at the base of the crown) is good housekeeping. It also allows the plants to put their energy into growing healthier and deeper roots from now until frost. Getting these eyesores out of your sightline does wonders for the parts of the garden that are still working and allows them to shine.
It’s a great time to see where you could introduce some plants that will provide late season color that carry the garden through the “The Awkward Stage.” Take note of plants in your neighbors’ gardens that are blooming now and appeal to you. Write them down so you can add them to your shopping list in the spring.
Now is also the perfect time to assess your garden with a critical eye. There’s plenty to enjoy until that first frost does everything in, but only if you planted the right things earlier in the season. In my garden, Japanese anemone, aster varieties, chelone or turtlehead, hydrangea varieties, Herbstonne rudbekia, sedum varieties, ornamental grasses, helenium, Russian sage, caryopteris, veronicastrum and butterfly bush are all still in bloom and prolonging my enjoyment of the garden.
In containers, annuals will keep pumping out blooms until the weather gets much colder if you keep deadheading and fertilizing weekly with a foliar feed. If they have gotten leggy, prune them back to green foliage, which will cause them to push new growth and buds. I find I can “buy” quite a few weeks of continued flowering unless we get an early frost. Don’t fertilize perennials, shrubs, and trees now. They need to settle down and have an opportunity to harden off existing foliage for winter as they prepare to enter their dormant period.
“September Charm” Japanese anemone
If you’re not ready to pack it in and hang up your garden gloves there’s lots to do. Fall planting isn’t just for trees and shrubs. It’s an excellent time to buy perennials (most nurseries have them on sale) as long as you know you can get them in the ground them by mid-October, at the latest. Make sure they are well watered until the ground freezes, which doesn’t usually happen for several more months. Of course it’s also spring blooming bulb planting season. You cannot have tulips and daffodils and all the other delightful flowers that come from bulbs if they are not installed now.
None of us wants to hear this next tip — but another very important chore in September and October is to continue weeding. Letting weeds and grass flourish in the garden beds means big trouble. They, or their offspring, will be waiting for you in the spring and will be stronger and more prolific given the opportunity to develop extensive roots if they are a perennial variety, or to drop seed, if they are annuals.
Before we know it, this garden season will be history and, optimistically, we’ll all have another chance to achieve our horticultural dreams next year.