A beautiful September day at the Montreal Botanical Gardens.
September Garden Chores
In This Issue
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Pruning the Right Way: Sat, Sept 24, 9:30am - 3:30pm, $59.99 sold out
Sat. Oct 29, 9:30am - 3:30pm, $59.99 few seats left
Lawn Care: Sat, Oct 15, 9:30am - noon, $29.99
Lawn Alternatives: Sat, Oct 15, 1:30 - 4:30pm, $29.99
Getting Ready for Fall:
Sat, Oct 22 2022, 9:30 am - 3:30pm, $59.99
Location: Credo Christian High School 21846 52 Ave Langley
One carrot. That’s my entire crop despite numerous sowings of carrot seeds through spring and early summer. Although some gardens have had success with carrots this year, I am not alone with patchy, slow and no germination of numerous crops.
The less than stellar weather is to blame.
The prolonged spring lingered for the most part until mid-June. There was even a frost in April that really set the plants back and killed some outright. Seed germination was delayed - if they didn’t rot in the ground. Even easy-peasy beans had a tough time. It was only when the heat came in late June that the third sowing was successful.
The cooler temperatures impacted many crops this year from veggie gardens to farmers fields. Crops are 3 weeks late and noticeably smaller. This is the year that the corn is not as high as an elephant’s eye.
Instead of irrigating in June, farmers were protecting crops from the cold. Plants responded accordingly; garlic bulbs were smaller while radishes and beets failed to form. Peppers and basil barely grew, and waited patiently for the heat to come. I managed to grow one zucchini plant, which is finally looking happy, but the cucumbers must have run off to Mexico dragging their chilly tendrils behind them.
On the other hand, the unseasonal cool, prolonged spring weather was a boon and a blessing for lettuce, peas and other cool seasoned crops. I harvested the last of the third crop of peas at the end of August.
After last year’s heat dome, I thought I was doing the right thing planting my tomato plants where they would get some shade in the afternoon, however, I was mistaken. Although they are growing and producing fruit now, the added shade did them no favours. Plants are half the size, not as vigorous with fewer tomatoes that are taking their time ripening.
The chilly weather not only affected the veggie patch. Flowering plants, such as dahlias and lilies were smaller.
Surprisingly, roses flowered madly throughout the city. They loved the conditions, however their blossoms although beautiful and plentiful, were also slightly smaller.
At least summer finally arrived properly in August. It was deliciously hot, and it gave the plants a much-needed kick in the chloroplasts - just in time for autumn! At least the dahlias finally flowered, the rose blossoms were beauteous, the tomatoes are finally ripening and I am the proud owner of one carrot. It better taste good, despite its appearance.
Question: I have 5 dwarf hydrangea trees that are 3 years old. Each fall I prune them back hard. In the spring they come in very nice BUT the branches seem to be too long, and the blooms always lay on the ground. What am I doing wrong? Should I prune mid spring before bloom? Please help. I LOVE these mini trees! Melissa, Parkville, Maryland
Answer: Hello Melissa, thank you for contacting me regarding your sagging hydrangeas. It is a common issue because hydrangea stems are too weak to hold up their humungous flowers. My suggestion is to not cut them back so hard. It encourages long, unbranching stems that results in one huge flower at the very end. The flower heads are so heavy, the weak shoots droop under the weight. To rectify, cut stems back by a quarter to a half. This stimulates multiple branches for a more compact plant. Flowers will be smaller, however, there will be more of them. Subsequently, each time you prune them, don't cut the stems back too severely. Just remove the spent flowers and the stem up to a few nodes (bud, leaves). Over time the remaining stems will mature and become stronger.
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WATERING RESTRICTIONS CONTINUE
For Metro Vancouver, B.C.
Water restrictions continue to October 15. Special permits are given for new plantings, including lawns. For Metro Vancouver click here.
If you don’t live in Metro Vancouver, contact your local municipality.
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September Garden Stars
September PLANT COMBO
In the centre of our potager garden is a four foot square garden filled with flowers and herbs. The blue urn in the middle is the focal point. A tall cordyline in its centre provides the 'thrill' part of the container, as well as the surrounding square garden. The light mauve petunias anchor the tall palm-like cordyline and add colour. Surrounding the planter is a mixture of herbs and flowers for the bees and other pollinators. The bright red flowers are scarlet sage (Salvia splendens). They are an easy to grow annual and don't overpower their neighbours. The scarlet sages are accompanied by their herb cousins: the common sage (Salvia officinalis) and the 'Tricolor' sage (Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor'). The tricolor sage adds splashes of colour with cream, green, purple and pink foliage. The green ruffled foliage at the base of the blue planter is leaf celery (Apium graveolens secalinum) with common basil on its right. These herbs and flowers prefer full sun and good draining soil.
Dogwood trees are coveted for their beautiful, full round canopies and white bracted flowers that turn pink as they age. These popular urban trees look good all year round and are well-behaved, however, they do have a weakness: dogwood anthracnose (Discula destructiva). It’s a prevalent and destructive dogwood tree disease and it can be a killer. For more click on Dogwood Anthracnose.
Cleaning up the Garden
Tired, summer gardens transform this month as plants slow down and prepare for winter. Daylight hours are shorter, temperatures are cooler, especially at night. This signals to all plants that autumn has arrived, and Old Man Winter will soon be on his way. Northern regions may have already had a visit from Jack Frost. When I lived in northern Alberta, a severe frost in late August would decimate my treasured tomato plants. I cannot deny that tears were shed.
Petunias, alyssum, lobelias and other annuals are pretty much done by now. There’s no need to pull them out of the ground. Their roots are full of nutrients, hold the soil together, and they harbour all kinds of microorganisms and beneficial fungi that live on, in and around the decomposing roots. Remove the remaining plant parts and consider saving any seeds to replant next year.
Late flowering perennials such as asters, chrysanthemums and coneflowers are the stars of the garden now, however there are many perennials that have had their day in the sun and need a good tidying. Perennial phlox (usually covered in powdery mildew), bee balm, daylilies, delphiniums are a few of the plants that need to be cut back. Wait for the foliage to yellow so they have the chance to store the food from their green leaves into their roots. Divide overcrowded perennials, but only if they have finished flowering.
Pull weeds, remove rotting infected plants and their debris from the soil so they don’t reinfect. Once the beds are cleaned up consider mixing in some compost, triple mix or SeaSoil. Follow up by planting trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and spring flowering bulbs if you so desire. Follow up with a 3-inch layer of organic mulch and you’re done.
September Lawn Care
It's time: Autumn is an ideal time to renovate and install new lawns; just wait for it to cool down and the rain to return. Here’s a rundown of what to this month to get your lawn fighting ready for winter and healthy for the upcoming year.
Fertilize: Lawns are hungry and tired after months of heat and drought. They need an organic or slow release nitrogen fertilizer (high first number: 10-5-3) before October to stimulate active growth and vigor. Before your first frost date and when the lawn stops growing, apply a winterizer fertilizer high in phosphorus and low in nitrogen: 3-5-10 to promote winter hardiness. Click here for more on ratios and here for Fertilizers 101
Lime: If you didn’t apply lime in spring and have lots of dandelions and moss, it’s a good idea to check the pH of the soil. If it’s under 6.0, then apply dolomite or dolopril lime. Don’t apply fertilizer within 3 weeks of applying lime, as the nitrogen is lost to the air. For more on mossy lawns click here.
Aerate: To relieve compacted soil and to reduce thatch, aerate first before fertilizing and liming. Rent a core aerator or hire someone; it’s hard work.
Topdress: Spreading up to ¾ inch of fine compost on top of the lawn after aerating or raking.
Mow: Cut northern grasses at 2.5 to 3.0 inches – no lower. Mow often, only removing 1/3rd of the leaf blades off at a time. When the lawn stops growing, reduce the mowing height to 1½ to 2 inches.
Kill Weed Seeds: Apply corn gluten to kill seedlings as they germinate. Avoid areas you’ve just seeded as it kills all seeds.
Fix Sparse Lawns: To thicken sparse lawns, topdress with an inch of compost, then sow grass seed on top of the existing lawn. Water the day before, especially if it’s dry and water again after sowing. Water daily until seeds germinate.
Fix Bare Patches: Rake any bare spots, add approximately ½ inch of compost or a garden blend soil mix. Spread the seeds, preferably with a starter fertilizer (high middle number), press them into the soil and gently water. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate.
Frost: Keep off the grass when it is frozen as it breaks off the crowns, killings the plants, and certainly don’t mow.
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
When: As soon as you see tulip bulbs and other spring flowering bulbs appear in the store, grab them before the good ones are gone. Ideally, they do best when planted from late September through October. This also gives them time to form roots before the ground freezes. They will also receive adequate number of chilling months to form their beautiful flowers. Select large bulbs, as the bigger they are the bigger the blossoms. They should be free of disease and rot.
Preventing Critters & Planting: Squirrels are just one of the critters that devour tulips as well as other spring flowering bulbs. Protect vulnerable bulbs by planting them with ones they don’t find as tasty such as daffodils, narcissus, fritillarias, alliums, windflowers (Anemone blanda) and camas. Bulb pans covered with chicken also works. Or plant them in planters, then cover with chicken wire. Keep the area clean from bulb remnants including the papery skins from tulips as it tips off the critters to where the bulbs are. To read more on where to plant, how to plant, design tips and critter protection click here.
Easy does it: It’s a mistake to severely cut back trees and shrubs this time of year. There are numerous reasons why. As winter approaches, plants are making food in their foliage and storing it in their stems and roots. Cutting too much off now deprives them of much needed nutrients and encourages tender lush growth depleting their reserves. However, there is selective pruning to be done as follows:
Spring flowering shrubs & trees: Avoid pruning now as you’ll be removing their flowers. Do remove any broken, dead, diseased branches, suckers and watersprouts.
Autumn flowering shrubs: To encourage bushy growth on rose -of-sharon, butterfly bush and other leggy fall flowering shrubs, wait late winter to early spring.
Vines: Tame wisterias, honeysuckle, Virginia creepers and other vines by cutting back all side shoots to three buds above their base.
Raspberries, blackberries: Remove the old canes that bore fruit and train the remaining stems to their support.
Hydrangeas: If you wish to deadhead, do it now, but wait until winter to tidy up the plant and to promote new stems. Don’t cut stems too far back, just remove flowers just above plump green buds. Severe pruning will prevent flowering. It’s a good time to remove old branches, spindly and dead one at their base. You can also wait until winter up to the end of February to prune if you want to keep the flower heads on throughout winter. For more on pruning click here. To be shown how prune your plants in your garden click here to register.
Shrubs & Roses: Remove spent flowers, weak, spindly, old, broken and dead branches. Cut back overly long stems to prevent them from catching the wind and dislodging roots. For more on pruning roses click on Pruning Roses.
Rejuvenate tired summer planters by removing scraggily and dead petunias and other annuals. Tidy up any remaining plants by deadheading and cutting off any dead stuff. Give the remaining plants a new lease on life by scraping off ¼ to 1 inch from the soil surface. This removes debris, mold, moss, bugs and weeds. Replace with in at least an inch of compost, Seasoil, triple mix, a good potting mix and a handful of bone meal. Mix it in to the existing soil as best you can. A dinner fork works well to get into the nooks and crannies. Add fall and winter colour with pansies, primroses and other fall foliage and/or flowering plants.
Containers: When making up a new planter select one least 12 inches wide and deep. Containers made out of fiberglass and polystyrene help insulate roots from the cold. Good drainage is key, especially during the winter. Select a pot with drainage holes and amend potting soil. Add 1 parts sand or vermiculite to 3 parts potting soil. For more information click on Container Growing or Choosing a Container
Select hardy plants one or two growing zones lower than where you live. For example, if you live in zone 8, select plants hardy from zones 1 to 7. Read plant labels carefully for hardiness zones, height, width and preferred exposure to the sun. The size of plants is obviously important. Select ones that won't overwhelm their neighbours such Sky Pencil Japanese holly. Combine with low growing plants such as winter heather and some spring flowering bulbs.
September Garden Chores
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Winter Protection: If you are living in an area where snow comes early in the season, prepare your plants now. Wrap pyramidal, global and shaped cedars (arborvitaes, Thuja spp.) and other conifers with string to keep their shape when it snows. Note that snow is a great insulator and the only time it causes damage is when plants are crushed under its weight. To protect palms and bananas that are left outside during the winter, click here.
Beds & Borders: Cut back perennials, remove spent annuals and any diseased or buggy plants. Don’t remove fallen leaves and other plant debris on top of the soil unless it’s infected. To top up mulch on beds use fallen leaves as they are beneficial and full of nutrients.
Perennials: Divide ones that are crowded and overgrown. When they yellow, cut back perennials to 2 to 4 inches long, not at ground level. Place the chopped-up debris on top of the soil and around the plant for a free organic mulch. Only do this if the plant isn’t diseased or buggy. This practice is referred to as the ‘chop and drop’ method.
Feed winter birds and add winter interest by leaving the seed heads of coneflowers, sedums & ornamental grasses.
Transplant trees, shrubs and perennials that are in the wrong spot. Move those that are too big and engulfing their neighbours, or move their neighbours where they will have more space. Transplant ones that are weak, straggly and pale with few or no flowers, as they may be receiving too much shade. Ones that look fried, weak, bleached and stunted with few leaves maybe getting too much sun. Take note of where the sun and shade reside in the garden to match plants to the conditions.
Plant: Trees, shrubs, vines, roses, perennials, and fall/winter hardy veggies. For more click on Planting Know-How
Too Many Plants: Maybe the bed is too small. Anything less than 3 feet will soon be overflowing. Plants grow in width as well as height, especially shrubs. If that’s not the case, then instead of removing the large plants, consider relocating the smaller ones. They’ll be much easier to transplant.
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.
Fallen Leaves? Don’t rake the leaves from garden beds. As the foliage decomposes it provides nutrients, protects the soil from erosion, insulates, and prevents weeds. Shake or rake them off shrubs, so they don’t lie there rotting away. Rake them off the lawn or bag them while mowing, then empty the shredded leaves onto the beds. For more on mulch click here. For more on Garden Fall Clean up click on Fall Garden Chores
Mulch: Speaking of mulch, gardens really benefit from a blanket of fall leaves, wood chips or another organic mulch. Cover the soil surface of all the garden beds and reap the benefits of less maintenance. Mulch reduces weeds, increases soil nutrients as it contributes to the soil food web and keeps soil moisture more stable.
Water: Plants in containers, under eaves and trees are prone to winter damage if they don't receive adequate water. Check the soil if in doubt and water if necessary.
Veggie Garden: Keep harvesting and remove any spent crops to reduce the spread of diseases from overwintering. Cover bare beds with at least 2 inches of straw, fallen leaves or sow cover crops (crimson clover etc.). For more on cover crops click here. Read more on Harvesting.
Winter Veggies: Sow seeds or purchase starter plants of kale, broccoli, cabbage, peas, Brussel sprouts and other cool season crops. For more on winter veggies click here.
Cuttings: Take semi-hardwood cuttings from trees, shrubs and vines. For more click here.
Also take cuttings from any tender annuals (coleus, impatiens, fuchsias and geraniums), that you want to grow inside as houseplants or for stock garden plants next spring. For more click on Taking Cuttings
Need fall colour? Visit your local garden centre for a selection of colourful plants that will brighten up your garden such as burning bush (Euonymus alatus), chrysanthemums, ornamental kale, Japanese maples, Virginia and Boston creeper (Parthenocissus), and witch hazel (Hamamelis).
Assess & Make Notes: There will be things you want to change next year as well as those you want to repeat. A garden journal is a handy tool so you don’t forget all the garden and plant stuff rattling around in your brain. Pictures also help immensely. 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.
If frost or fungus haven’t destroyed your tomato crop yet, count your blessings. 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
Quickie Tomato Troubles Table - Tomato Tips - Taming Tomatoes - Speeding up Tomato Harvest - Saving Tomato Seeds
Overwintering fuchsias: There are two methods of saving tender fuchsias: inside and outside depending on how far north you live. If you live in cooler zones from 1 to 6, bring them inside. Store in a cool dry basement, 4-7°C (45-55°F). Slightly moisten the soil every 3 to 4 weeks. To overwinter fuchsias outside, bury them in the garden, pot and all. Cover them with 3 to 4 inches of soil, fallen leaves or another organic mulch. Unbury them in March or April, depending on the weather and climate. The top growth will probably be dead, but the roots should be alive. Replant them with fresh soil, water and keep them away from any lingering frost.
Tuberous begonias: Allow them to die back or be killed by frost before bringing them inside. Overwinter them in the basement or another frost free, dry, cool and dark environment. For more click on Tuberous Begonias
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
September's Floral Arrangement
For a numbered guide to the specific flower names and for other arrangements go to Monthly Flower Arrangements
Plant of the month
Oregon Grape HollY
Common Name: Oregon Grape Holly
Botanical Name: Mahonia aquifolium
Form: upright, broad, spreading
Plant Type: broadleaf evergreen shrubs
Mature Size: 3ft to 10ft x 5’
Origin: North & Central America, Asia, Himalayas
Hardiness Zone: 5 to 9
Foliage: dark green to bronze, turn purple in winter in direct sun, 6x 2.5 cm, pinnately compound, lobed with sharp spine at lobe tips, stiff, leather-like
Flowers: clusters (racemes) of fragrant yellow trumpet shaped flowers with 6 yelllow petals surrounded by 6 yellow sepals.
Fruit: hanging clusters of blue edible berries
Exposure: prefers shade to partial shade, but tolerates sun
Soil: prefers moist, well-draining, acid soil, tolerates most soils, including wet ones
Uses: screen, fillers, shade gardens, mixed borders, privacy hedge, attracts birds and butterflies
Propagation: cuttings in summer into autumn
Pruning: not necessary, but if needed do so in spring once the danger of frost has passed
Problems: rust and powdery mildew but it’s not common
Oregon grape hollies are used extensively by municipalities, landscapers and developers because of their versatility, toughness, winter interest, soil and shade tolerance and low maintenance. However, they are not as popular with maintenance crews because the spines on their holly-like foliage, which makes them painful to touch and to prune. Mahonia grape holly is also indigenous to the Pacific Northwest and is used in native and wildflower gardens.
The popularity of mahonias is shared throughout the world, although they mostly originate from North America. They are easy to grow, and they look good all year long. Their attractive form, leaf colour and flowers stand out when other plants are dormant during the winter. Throughout the autumn through winter, the many clustered spikes of fragrant, bright yellow blossoms are framed by their deep green to purple leathery, holly-like foliage. It’s a lovely display, especially on grey days. The flowers also attract butterflies and birds.
Their dangling clusters of purple berries resemble clusters of grapes, hence their common name. Although they are edible, they are tart therefore are often used to make jam. Please note that their active compound, berberine, is unsafe for pregnant, nursing women and children. The highest level of berberine is in the seeds, so remove them before making jam and consuming the berries. Wait for frost to harvest the berries for the best flavour. The berries attract juncos, towhees, waxwings, robins and other birds.
Dyes are also made from the mahonia. The berries are used to make blue, purple, pink or green dye depending on the pH of the soil and water. The stems and roots also produce a yellow dye often used by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest.
Although mahonias are soil tolerant, they prefer moist, good draining soil and benefit greatly when mulched. Protect them from full sun and exposure to high winds.
Pruning: Remove or cut back wayward stems to reshape plants in spring after the last frost. At the same time, deadhead, and prune out any diseased, damaged and dead stems. Remove old, non-productive as well as spindly branches. For leggy mahonias that just have growth at the top of bare stems, cut some or all of the branches back by ¼. After pruning water well and mulch.
Propagate: Take cuttings in late summer into early autumn from healthy new growth from the current season. For more on semi-hardwood cuttings click on Taking Cuttings.
Cultivars and varieties:
THE GARDEN WEBSITE INDEX
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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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