It’s hard to believe that it’s back-to-school time. By the end of the month yellow school buses will be rumbling down roads across the country. It’s a not so subtle reminder that summer’s end is just a few weeks away. In my mid-South garden it’s still as hot as blue blazes and will continue to be so until late September. In spite of the heat, it’s time to start preparing for autumn, so this month’s to do list involves plant purchasing, clean up and harvesting.
- After Oriental and Asiatic lilies bloom, cut off the top of the stalk taking no more than one third of the stem. The idea is to leave enough foliage so the plant can build up energy in the bulb for next year’s blooms.
- Stop fertilizing roses.
- Stop deadheading your repeat blooming roses now so they can produce rose hips for fall.
- If your community is under watering restrictions, you may have to let your lawn go thirsty. Most varieties of grass will go dormant, but recover when rain returns. Don’t abruptly stop watering, instead gradually cut down to minimize stress.
- When combating weeds always use the least toxic methods first, but certain pesky plants like poison ivy or other invasive nuisances need to be eliminated with a selective weed killer. To prevent the spray from drifting onto other garden plants, cut the end out of an inexpensive foam cooler. Then turn the cooler upside down to form a hood over the targeted weeds and use a spray bottle inside the cooler. This keeps the spray away from nearby plants.
- Freeze summer berries for winter use. Spread the berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place the cookie sheet in the freezer. Once the berries have frozen, toss them into an air tight bag and store in your freezer. This works for blackberries, blueberries and raspberries.
- Sun dry Roma tomatoes for use this winter. Cut them into thin slices and lay them on a cookie sheet. Salt and pepper the pieces and place the tray in the sun. Once dried, just place them in airtight bags and put them into your freezer.
- An easy way to dry hot peppers is to pull the entire plant from the ground and hang it upside down in a cool, dry location. Remove the peppers when they turn dry and the make a decorative wreath.
- Continue harvesting vegetables from the garden. Some varieties such as okra, snap beans, squash and cucumbers will stop producing if fruits are allowed to over ripen on the plant.
- If ants have invaded your potted plants, place the container in a saucer filled with water. The ants will move on to drier ground.
- Late summer and early fall is the time to treat your lawn for grubs, which mature into Japanese beetles and attract digging animals such as moles and raccoons. A small number of grubs are beneficial, but if you have more than 10 per square foot or have a problem with foraging animals tearing up you lawn, now is the time to take action.
- Fall is now considered a third growing season. Check garden centers for new arrivals that are suited for the cooler temperatures and shorter days of autumn.
- Get your orders placed for spring flowering bulbs. Try my favorite tulip combination: ‘Perestroika’, ‘Menton’ and ‘Temple of Beauty’. It’s a fiery blend of salmon, pink and orange.
- Order peonies for fall planting.
- When selecting mums, go for healthy looking plants with moist soil in the container. Dry soil conditions cause stems to shrivel and cut down on blooms. And for a longer flowering time, select plants that are heavily budded rather than in full bloom.
- On Labor Day move your poinsettia indoors and place it in an area where it can receive at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. Starting in early October, confine the plant to 14 hours of total darkness and 10 hours of light per day. Do this until mid-December. This should force the green bracts to color again.
- Fall is the time to divide summer blooming perennials such as peonies and daylilies.
- As you begin your fall garden clean up, be sure remove and throw away diseased foliage. Don’t put it in the compost pile. This will help prevent fungi like black spot and powdery mildew from carrying over to next year.