September is Classical Music Month, officially proclaimed by President (and tenor saxophonist) Clinton in 1994.
This presents us gardeners with a challenge: To broaden our selection of what we hum while digging and weeding. Can we add a little Mozart or Monteverdi, or tune in to WDAV for our earbuds, as counterpoint to “Whistle While You Work” and “Home Grown Tomatoes?”
September has other virtues, including some beautiful days, but much of its value to gardeners comes in preparing for the months ahead. You are far ahead of the game if you order bulbs and garlic now, while selections are still good, so you’ll be ready to plant in October and November after soil temperatures drop.
Keep your bulbs in a cool spot, but do not store them with ethylene gas-producing vegetables or apples in the refrigerator. This is also a good time to order floating row cover fabric, such as Reemay, to extend your food producing season later in the year.
The most important task of all is to prepare soil for bulbs and for landscape shrubs. This year, Mother Nature patiently taught us a lesson, again – shrubs often do best here if planted in the fall. Our impulse buy Costco azaleas last spring was, well, nice while it lasted.
If you prepare soil now with compost (Mecklenburg County’s municipal product is excellent, reasonably priced and contains no sewage sludge,) you will be able to quickly plant in place your purchases from the upcoming October plant sales. When preparing, think area, like a garden bed, not hole.
In the fall vegetable garden, there is still an opportunity to sow quick, cold-tolerant crops before mid-month, especially spinach, lettuce, radishes (including the giant diakon, great for stir-frying), turnips and mustard greens.
I direct-seed all of these, though sometimes high soil temperatures can limit germination with lettuce and spinach, so I sometimes start a few of these in pots as well as insurance, to transplant if needed.
Meanwhile, such summer crops as peppers and okra should do fine through September, but tomatoes and summer squash may become so diseased and insipid tasting that you are best off sending them, with thanks, to the compost.
Peppers may need staking. Watch sweet potatoes, and harvest them when you are happy with the size of the roots (bigger is not always better.)
Mulching, covering the soil with a couple of inches of leaves, straw or other materials, is a good idea this time of year. An organic mulch keeps soil cool and moist and discourages weed. Jeff Gillman, the new director of UNC Charlotte’s Botanical Garden, agrees, but warns to not overdo it, and especially to avoid building “volcanos” around tree trunks.
A couple of September reminders: Hide your pruners. There’s no need to prune anything this month. You can resume feeding your fescue lawn, following recommendations from N.C. State. Make a point of getting rid of summer weeds before they set seed.
A single pigweed can generate thousands of seeds. If you use glyphosate (Roundup) for controlling Bermuda grass, take action now while it is actively growing. Organic growers, who avoid Roundup, can look forward to Bermuda grass dying back as temperatures drop but should keep attacking it now by digging it out.
Do not put it in your compost pile. Make a note of where Bermuda grass is growing, so you can dig it out and let cold kill it this winter.
The fall equinox takes place Sept. 23, and there will be full eclipse of the moon Sept. 27. The days keep getting shorter throughout the month, with day length at 12 hours on the equinox. At mid-month, sunrise will be at about 7:05 a.m. and sundown about 7:30 p.m.
Highs this month average in the lower 80s, and lows around 60 degrees. Rainfall averages about 31/4 inches, with higher likelihood early in the month. The moon is new on the 13th and full on the 27th. It can get quite dry by the end of September and into October.
El Nino conditions continue in the Pacific, September temperatures in Charlotte are projected to be somewhat above average, but rainfall normal.
Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org