Chloe visits the potager garden.
September Garden Chores
In This Issue
Although I am going to miss the sunshiny days of summer, autumn is looking pretty good right now. I miss the smell of rain and the fresh smell of the earth as it awakens after a hot, dry summer. It’s been four years of lower-than-average rainfall here in British Columbia resulting in one of the highest drought levels on record. This summer was no exception.
We’ve had a pitiful amount of rain, which added fuel to the worst wildfire season in the province’s history.
So, yes, I want the autumn rains to bring life back to our thirsty soils and wash the plants clean of ash and dust. Erm, let me clarify… yes I want it to rain, but not too much – no deluges, no flooding.
With the weather being overly obnoxious and extreme, I should be careful of what I wish for. Somebody may be listening, then it will be all my fault if we all get swept away. Feel free to blame me but know that I don’t have the power to dictate the weather. If I did, what a different world this would be. If only.
September is a transitional time in the garden as the nights lengthen and temperatures cool. Plants know that winter is on its way. It’s time to wrap up the veggie garden, prepare garden beds, plant bulbs, harvest and tend to the lawn. Let’s hope the weather cooperates and don’t blame me if it doesn’t. It’s not my fault.
Question: We purchased a Corkscrew Hazel this year. Leaves are turning brown Can you review and advise. Karen D.A, Rochester, New York
Answer: Hello Karen, your question is a timely one as it is a typical problem for all plants grown in containers during the summer.
The brown foliage is a common symptom of not enough water and too much sun. It is a challenge to keep container grown sun-loving plants healthy when temperatures soar. It’s a good idea to move them to a shadier location when the sun is at its hottest during the afternoon.
Despite the weather, there are few things you can do to help your corkscrew hazel, also known as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta'). I suggest you repot it into a larger container. For example, if the pot is 12 inches wide, go up to a 16-inch pot. Don't replant it into a huge pot as over-potting creates even more problems like root rot.
Select a container with drainage holes, and don't cover them with rocks as that impairs drainage! I know that's not common knowledge, but it’s true. Plant nurseries and stores don’t put them in the bottom their pots, so don’t you. Use fresh potting soil preferably with a slow-release fertilizer and/or moisture control. Gently loosen the roots before planting and finish up with some transplant fertilizer.
To cut down on watering, place a drainage tray under the pot. The tray collects the water and acts like a mini reservoir. Just remember to remove it in fall when the rain returns.
For more information on container growing click on the following links: Container Growing - Choosing a Container
Garden Club Events
Click here to list your garden club events.
South Burnaby Garden Club
Fall Harvest Fair
When: Saturday, Sept. 9, 1:00 to 4:00 pm & Sunday, Sept. 10, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
Where: Bonsor Community Centre
6550 Bonsor Ave., Burnaby
Refreshments, baking, fruits, veggies, plants, flowers, containers & crafts & prizes. Click here for more.
The BC Fuchsia and Begonia Society promotes fuchsias, begonias, Pelargoniums (geraniums), African violets, streptocarpus, gloxinias, coleus, ferns and other shade-loving plants. The society meets at 7pm, 2nd Wednesday each month at St. Timothy's Church Hall, 4550 Kitchener Street. We offer knowledgeable speakers, plant displays, plant sales, refreshments and friendship.Join our plant growing enthusiasts. Click on Fuchsias & Begonias to learn more. Email rm.g(at)shaw.ca to attend a meeting.
September Garden Stars
September Garden Chores
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There's lots to do in the garden during the autumn from harvesting, taking care of the lawn, cleaning up garden beds, planting bulbs, just to name a few of the chores. Save yourself time, money and your back by learning some techniques that helps the garden get through the winter while helping plants get off to a good start in spring. For click on Fall Garden Chores.
Plant and Transplant: Autumn is the perfect time to get plants in the ground. The soil is still warm from the summer sun and rain is on its way. As soon as the weather cools and the rain returns, plant new plants and do any transplanting that needs to be done. dig up and transplant existing plants into new places in the new ones. To learn the secrets of successful planting and transplanting, click on Planting Know-How.
Plant Spring Flowering Bulbs: Purchase tulips and other spring flowering bulbs asap for best selection and fresh, healthy bulbs. There’s no need to plant lots of them for a nice display (although it does help…). Make the most of a few bulbs by planting them in odd numbered groups of no less than 5. Keep it simple by using the same type in each group like 5 red tulips instead of different coloured ones. To learn more about how to plant bulbs, design tips and techniques to keep the critters from eating them, click here.
Lawns: Mow often and mow high at 2.5 to 3 inches, apply Dolopril lime, corn gluten to control germinating seeds (don’t use if seeding lawn), repair patchy lawns, and plant new lawns with sod or seed. Apply a winterizer fertilizer, high in potash. There’s more on lawns below, and for more details go to Lawn Reno, Seed & Sod.
Too much of a good thing? Deadhead: Remove spent flowers from borage, cosmos, marigolds, lobelia, alyssum, columbine, calendulas, foxgloves and other self-seeders if you don’t want them popping up everywhere. As an added benefit, deadheading may reward you with another flush of flowers.
Perennials Chop & Drop: Wait until their foliage turn yellow to cut back daylilies, daisies and other perennials. Instead of tossing out the cut stems and leaves, place them on top of the soil around the plant. It’s a free organic, nutrient-rich mulch. Only do this if the plant isn’t diseased or buggy. This low maintenance and organic gardening practice is referred to as the ‘chop and drop’ method.
Divide Overgrown Perennials: When the centre of Siberian iris, daisies and other perennials are no longer producing flowers and foliage, it’s time to dig them up and divide them. Discard the non-productive centre but keep all the remaining healthy pieces. Some perennials are easy to dig up and pull apart like bearded iris, but for plants with extensive roots such as daylilies be prepared for battle. Cut through their tightly bound roots is a bread knife, drywall knife or a pruning saw. When dividing a plant, don’t be afraid to cut into their roots. It is better the sever them with a clean, sharp tool rather than brutalizing them.
Hydrangeas: Don’t prune back mophead and lacecap hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) now as their flower buds have already developed in the stem. If you want to remove their dead flowers, cut off them off directly above plump green buds located at the top of the stem. Don’t cut any further, but feel free to remove any dead, old, spindly and unproductive stems as their removal does not affect flowering. To learn all about mophead including pruning and how to alter the colour of their flowers, click on Hydrangeas.
Compost: Turn at least weekly and water when needed. Avoid adding plants that have gone to seed, are infested with bugs and/or diseases. Refrain from dumping large plants that haven’t been cut up as it slows the decomposition process. Take advantage of fall leaves by adding them to your compost for the carbon/brown layer.
Houseplants, Orchids & Tropical Plants: If you placed your frost-tender plants outside for the summer, bring them inside before they start to decline. This includes fuchsias, bougainvilleas, coleus, mandevilla, citrus, orchids, bromeliads, oleanders. For more on bringing plants in for the winter click on Overwintering Tropical Plants Indoors
Cuttings: Take semi-hardwood cuttings from trees, shrubs and vines. Save money on bedding plants next year by taking herbaceous cuttings now from any tender annuals (coleus, impatiens, fuchsias and geraniums). Grow them on as houseplants during the winter then plant them outside in spring. For more click on Taking Cuttings.
Dahlias: Keep dead-heading until frost kills their tops, then dig them up and store in a frost free place. For more information click on Dahlias.
Weeds: Pull them out, roots and all for instant gratification. It’s better than watching them wither from herbicides, which must be reapplied and may injure neighbouring plants. Moisten the soil first as it makes it easier to get all their roots and runners. Discard all seed heads so they don’t propagate themselves. Horsetail and bindweed are easily spread by digging them up, instead pull them up out of the ground. It works, but you must be consistent. Read more here.
Seed Collecting: To help local bees and to garner some free seeds, allow your veggies, such as lettuce, kale and carrots, to flower. As bees and other pollinators flit from flower to flower, seeds are produced. Wait for the seed heads to turn brown, then place them upside down in a paper bag. The resulting plants will not be fancy hybrids, just part of nature’s genetic crap shoot. To learn more click on Collecting Seeds. To save tomato seeds click on Saving Tomato Seeds.
Brighten up Your Fall Garden: There’s no need to covet other people’s beautiful fall plants when you can have some of your own. Even if you don’t have much room, surely there’s space for dwarf fall asters, winter pansies, or ornamental kale. Visit your local garden centre as they have lots of goodies to brighten up your garden and those sad looking planters.
Greenhouses & Pots: Once you have finished with the greenhouse and potting bench, clean and disinfect all flat surfaces, especially if diseases and insects were present. Use bleach, soap & water to sterilize pots, starter trays, cell packs, flats and drainage trays so they’re ready for spring. It’s one less thing to deal with next year.
Fallen Leaves: Save yourself the time and effort of removing all those darn leaves from garden beds. After all, there’s no one raking the forest floors. A thick layer of foliage protects the naked ground from drought, erosion and insulates the soil from temperature fluctuations. However, it is a good idea to shake or rake them off evergreen shrubs, hedges and ground covers to prevent rotting. For more on mulch click here. For more on Garden Fall Clean up click on Fall Garden Chores.
Assess & Make Notes: While the summer flowers make way for autumn harvests, it’s a good idea to make notes and take pictures of what worked in the garden and what didn’t. Map out where each type of veggie was grown so you don’t plant the same crop in the same place next year. Save the pics on your computer according to the year, and if you are an avid garden photographer, divide them into months. It’s a nice way to see how the garden changes and matures over time.
Fall is the ideal time to start a new lawn and to make amends to an existing lawn after a long hot and dry summer.
Fertilize: Here in British Columbia and in many parts of North America, lawns start to grow as temperatures fall and the rain returns. Give lawns some nitrogen, but not too much as winter is just around the corner. Instead of 28-0-0 or 32-0-4, select a fertilizer with all three elements (N-P-K) like 8-3-5. It contains all 3 elements and it’s not too high in nitrogen.
Winterize: From early October to late November, apply a high potash fertilizer such as, 5-3-8, 12-3-18 to increase winter hardiness. Look for fertilizers with a higher last number.
Lime: If you didn’t apply lime in spring and have lots of dandelions and moss, apply dolopril lime. Avoid using quick lime as it’s easy to burn the lawn is very dusty. Don’t apply fertilizer within 3 weeks of applying lime to prevent any nitrogen from being lost to the air.
Mow: Cut northern grasses at 2 to 3 inches until the last mow then cut it a bit shorter from 1 1/2” to 2 inches. Don’t go lower as reduces root growth and exposes their crowns to the elements. Mow often and leave the clippings on the lawn if they are small and don’t clump.
Kill Weed Seeds: Apply corn gluten to kill emerging seedlings. Don’t apply after sowing any grass seed as they will die too.
Frost: Keep off the grass when it is frozen as it breaks off the crowns, killings the plants.
Overseed: To fill in bare patches and to thicken sparse lawns sow more grass seed on top of the existing grass.
Click on the following links for more info: Lawn Care Basics - Lawn Maintenance Schedule - Mossy Lawns - Lawn Reno Seed & Sod - Lawn Grub Control - Lawn Alternatives
In The Veggie Garden
If the veggie garden is still pumping out edible goodies, don’t forget to check on them and harvest daily. Remove any diseased fruit, leaves, and entire plants, if need be, to reduce the spread of infection.
Remove all fruit as soon as plants start to decline. Tomato plants are prone to blights, whilst cucumbers, zucchinis and other members of the cucurbit family succumb to powdery mildew. Use organic fungicides to fight back or allow plants to decline as they surrender to autumn.
To prevent diseases and insects overwintering, remove all infected and infested parts of the garden. Next year avoid planting the same crop in the same place to reduce reinfection. Rotating crops is an essential tool to prevent diseases, insects and to have healthy, nutrient rich veggies. For more information on the best stage to harvest specific crops, click here.
Peas & Beans: Instead of pulling up your peas and beans at the end of the season, leave the roots in the soil. As members of the legume family, these miracles of nature possess the ability to absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it in their roots in tiny nodules. This is referred to as nitrogen fixation. To keep the nitrogen nodules in the soil, just cut off the above ground portion of the plant instead of pulling them up.
Cool Crops: Clean up your kale, chard, broccoli and other cool crops by removing anything that’s not healthy. Lay a few inches of straw or torn strips of newspapers on top of the soil to keep plants a little warmer and to prevent erosion.
Potatoes: Harvest potatoes, but let them dry in a cool, dark area for a couple of days before storing. For more click here.
Protect the Soil
After Harvesting: It’s not a good idea to leave vegetable gardens bare after harvesting. In doing so, fallow beds are left to the harsh elements of winter. Erosion and loss of nutrients are serious issues caused by rain, wind and snow. Weeds will soon take over as nature doesn’t like naked soil.
To protect the soil, either place a thick layer of straw, newspapers, cardboard on top of the ground or plant a cover crop. These cool season crops grow throughout the fall– albeit slowly then grow with gusto come spring. Some like winter peas will produce food, while others like crimson clover build the soil, add nitrogen and the bees love their pretty pink clover flowers in spring. To learn all about cover crops click here. An excellent source of seeds and info West Coast Seeds.
Tomatoes usually start to decline this month as cool nights and warm days create heavy morning dew. Fog is also an issue in autumn as it also contributes to diseases.
At the first sign of blight, powdery mildew or any other ailment, harvest all the unblemished fruit – even the green ones, preferably with their stem ends on. To ripen the green ones place them in a paper bag with an apple inside.
To hasten fruit ripening while on the plant, remove all remaining flowers and small, immature green fruit. To learn more on how to hasten ripening, diseases and other tomato issues click on Tomato Troubles - Tomato Tips - Taming Tomatoes - Speeding up Tomato Harvest - Saving Tomato Seeds
Winter Veggie Gardening: If you don’t want to put your garden to bed, keep on growing with cool season crops. If you like peas and carrots, sow their seeds in the ground now. For kale, cabbage and other cool crops get thee to your local plant nursery and purchase their cool season starter plants. For more on winter veggies click on Winter Veggie Gardening.
Don't Prune These Plants NOw
Timing is everything when it comes to pruning. It’s too late to cut back conifers (cedars, arborvitae, spruce etc.). Pruning them now encourages tender new growth that won’t harden-up before frost arrives resulting in damaged and dead leaves.
Another no-no this time of year is pruning rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, winter jasmine, bodnant viburnum and other spring and winter flowering plants as you will be removing their flowers. Prune them right after flowering.
Wait for the leaves to turn yellow before cutting back deciduous trees and shrubs. Cutting them back while their foliage is still green, reduces their food for next year. Prune fruit trees when they are dormant in the winter. Click on Pruning Basics 101 for more.
What to Prune NOw
For all plants, remove overly long stems that are in the way of walking by and all dead, diseased and broken branches.
Roses: Don't cut them back to hard, just remove spent flowers, weak, spindly, old, broken and dead branches. Cut back or secure overly long canes on climbing and rambling roses so they don't catch the wind (windrock), dislodging roots. For more click on Pruning Roses.
Raspberries, blackberries: Remove the old canes that bore fruit and train the remaining stems to their support.
September frosts are not uncommon in the Maritimes, parts of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yellowknife and the northern parts of BC. In the USA, gird your loins for September frosts in Bismarck, ND, Caribou, ME, Cheyenne, WY.
It’s a good idea to at least wrap string around cedars and other conifers to preserve their shape under the weight of heavy snow. Protect shrubs, small trees and broadleaf evergreens from winter winds, prolonged cold and temperature fluctuations with fabric. Use frost blankets (available at dollar and garden stores), burlap or other breathable fabric. Avoid using plastic as it doesn’t insulate against the freezing temperatures, and it promotes rotting because air can’t circulate. Don’t get upset when snow covers the ground as it is a great insulator.
Palms and bananas that are left outside during the winter need some special care. To learn how to protect them, click here. For tips of preparing the garden for winter click on Winterize Your Garden.
Planters: Remove petunias and other summertime annuals if their time has come and gone. Clean up any remaining plants and any debris from the soil. Revive planters with cold hardy plants such as winter pansies and heather. Add structure and seasonal interest with evergreens or plants with funky bark or twisted stems. Select hardy plants: Know your growing zone and select plants one or two growing zones lower than where you live. So, if you live in USDA zone 8, select ones from zones 1 to 7. Read plant labels carefully for hardiness zones, height, width and preferred exposure to the sun. Oh, and don’t forget to throw in some daffodils, scilla and other spring flowering bulbs. Once finished, give them a good watering and add a layer of fallen leaves between plants to insulate against the cold.
This unique bouquet consists of leeks, asparagus, grapes vines and other edible plants. For a numbered guide to the specific flower names and for other arrangements go to Monthly Flower Arrangements
Common Name: mophead, bigleaf hydrangea, lacecap hydrangea
Botanical Name: Hydrangea macrophylla
Form: broad spreading, rounded
Plant Type: deciduous shrub
Mature Size: 3 to 4 ft tall to 3 to 6 ft wide
Origin: Europe, Asia, Mexico, North, Central & South America
Hardiness Zone: 6 to 9
Foliage: 4-8” long, simple, serrated, shiny, dark green
Flowers: July to August, pink or blue depending on soil pH, clusters (corymbs) of showy florets surrounded by pink or blue, four petals,
Fruit: a capsule containing several seeds
Stems: two leaves are opposite each other on woody stems
Exposure: part shade, avoid hot afternoon sun
Soil: moist well drained, does not like dry soil, organic rich loam,
Uses: mixed shrub border, woodland gardens, accent, foundation, informal hedge, cottage gardens, cut and dried flowers
Invasive Tendencies: none
Tolerates: shady locations with moist soils
Pruning: needs little pruning
Problems: powdery mildew, hydrangea rust
Bigleaf hydrangeas are loved and admired for their gorgeous clusters of their long-lasting pink or blue flowers. These bold shrubs bring dull gardens to life with their coarse texture, round form and persistent flowers. Even without their flowers, they have multiple uses in the garden. Their large, deep green, shiny serrated leaves provide the perfect backdrop for smaller shrubs, perennials and annuals. Hydrangeas also add some sassy bulk to mixed borders, provide a multistory transition from trees to smaller plants and they make an impressive jaw-dropping hedge.
Mopheads & Lacecaps
There are two types of bigleaf hydrangeas: mopheads (hortensia) and lacecaps. The only difference between the two are their flowers. Mopheads have round flower clusters (corymbs), comprised of colourful sepals – not petals. In the centre of the sepals is the true flower, a tiny star shaped blossom. Lacecaps are more delicate as their name implies. Their corymbs are flat with a couple of rows of pink or blue sterile sepals surrounding a mass of small fertile flowers. The actual flowers only blossom for a few weeks in the summer, but the colourful sepals remain throughout the winter.
Flower Colour & Soil pH
The acidity of the soil is responsible for flower colour, except for white varieties are not affected by soil pH. Flowers turn shades of blue and purple in acidic soils and become pink where the soil is alkaline. Note that to maintain the colour you have chosen, it is an ongoing and annual process as the soil converts back to its natural pH.
Hydrangeas are considered an easy, low maintenance plant – but only if they are in the correct location. Avoid placing them where they receive hot afternoon summer sun, especially combined with dry soil, as they will quickly wilt and decline.
Hydrangeas get a bad rap for getting too large, too fast, and as a result they suffer the indignities of being chopped down to nothing with no flowers to boot. Bigleaf hydrangeas’ girth is about 6 feet, so give them room to grow. No matter how often they are cut back, these plucky hydrangeas revert to their natural size. Note that severely pruned hydrangeas fail to have a good show of flowers, if any at all. If you have one that’s too big for its space, consider transplanting it to another location in the garden. For a replacement, there are many smaller and exciting new cultivars and hybrids available.
Dry soil is another no-no. Their name says it all. The word ‘hydrangea’ is derived from hyros, the Greek word for water. Without adequate soil moisture, they wilt - then collapse. They aren’t good in sandy soil as the water drains too quickly, however an organic rich soil is ideal as it retains the moisture. A 3-inch layer of mulch placed around the plant and on top of the soil is essential to prevent soil moisture from evaporating.
Pruning Mophead & Lacecap Hydrangeas
It is recommended to prune mophead and lacecap hydrangeas right after they finish flowering. That advice is confusing since the ‘flower heads’ remain on the plant throughout the winter. But those flower heads are not the ‘flowers’, they are sepals. The actual flowers sit in the centre of four coloured sepals. Cut the plant back once those wee flowers fade no later than the end of July. Don’t cut back hydrangea stems too far back as they won’t flower the following year. Cut the stems back to the first to third set of fat healthy buds – no more. Cutting stems back any later will remove future flowers.
In fall to early spring, it’s fine to remove just their flowers. Just cut off the blossom to the closest set of two healthy buds, no lower. Also remove dead, diseased, spindly, broken and old stems that no longer flower. To rejuvenate old, neglected hydrangeas, cut back all the stems to their base. They won’t flower the following year, but they should the next.
Reason why hydrangeas fail to flower:
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for the tropical Gardener
While working in Florida as horticultural consultant, it became apparent that there was a need for a book on tropical shrubs. There are so many wonderful shrubs to choose from, so I wrote a reference book to make the selections easier. Ornamental Tropical Shrubs includes pictures in full colour and information about the plants in point form. So if you live in the tropics and subtropics and need a reference book on tropical shrubs, or you just want to have a look-see click here.
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