Working in the garden this month, I sometimes find myself humming “September Song,” that wistful Kurt Weill standard made famous by Frank Sinatra.
There is indeed precious little time left, as the song says, before the end is nigh. Then again, knowing what’s coming gives us a chance to prepare, at least in the garden.
Early September can be hot, humid and no fun for garden work, but a little extra time spent on fall preparation now can really pay off.
This is the time to decide where you are going to put those cool new plants you will be buying at plant sales next month. Prepare their areas by loosening the soil and adding a helping of good compost. Check compost piles from last fall and this past spring. You’ll need the space anyway for new piles, when the leaves start falling in November.
This is also the time to shop for garlic and flower bulbs to put in next month. There are lots of good online places to shop, as well as catalogs and local retailers. But supplies of the best varieties run out quickly, especially for organic garlic.
Music is a very successful garlic variety here; the large elephant garlic (a leek, botanically) also grows well.
In September, pride of place in the edible garden goes to spinach, mustard greens, turnips, leaf lettuce, radishes and arugula, all planted directly in the garden from seed. Check on the seed packet for varieties that mature in about 50 days or less.
Some spectacular mustard greens, such as Red Giant and Ruby Streaks, are available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Johnny’s Seed has a nice selection, too.
Though they won’t make bulbs, some gardeners like to grow green onions from sets. It is getting late for other fall vegetables such as broccoli (and even lettuce), which may need frost protection at maturity if transplanted now. Group them so it will be easy to cover them with a piece of row cover fabric.
Adventuresome gardeners may also want to explore the vast universe of Asian vegetables suitable for the cool season, many of which thrive in Charlotte. My favorite turnip is Hakouri, the small, sweet Japanese variety.
After the middle of the month, when things cool down a bit (hopefully), is a good time to plant cool-season flowers, especially pansies, and ground covers such as ajuga. Pansies do better when they have a chance to establish a strong root system before conditions get really chilly.
For those who fancy chrysanthemums, annual mum frenzy is about to hit local malls. You don’t have to go there, but they do provide instant color.
September is not a good time to prune, so hide your shears and saws. Pruning stimulates growth, and that new growth can make plants vulnerable to cold-weather damage or death. Wait until plants are dormant later in the year.
However, you can dig down around the outsides of shrubs you intend to move over the winter.
Water during dry spells and hot periods, especially newly seeded crops and transplants and plants in containers. If you can nurse plants such as broccoli and lettuce through hot spells this month, they can perform beautifully here later in the fall.
After direct seeding and transplanting, be ready to give the area a light sprinkle to keep things moist daily (on real scorchers, twice) until the crop is up and growing well.
Pests, diseases and weeds are in something of a frenzy, somehow also seeming to know the last weeks of summer will soon rapidly cool into fall. Stay vigilant. Make a note of what varieties show best resistance on their own, and move them up on your list of things to plant next year.
Even if you can’t get rid of all weeds, try to cut back any large ones before they can set seed and come back to plague you in the future (a single spiny pigweed produces thousands of seeds).
If you, like most of us, have a fescue lawn, now is the time to begin fertilizing, following N.C. State University guidelines ( www.lawncare.ncsu.edu, or call your friendly local Cooperative Extension office). It is also a good time to establish a new fescue lawn.
September is the month of the fall equinox, on Sept 23. By the end of the month, sunrise will be a little after 7 a.m. and sundown a little after 7 p.m.
It’s been hot for the past couple of weeks, but normally highs this month average in the low 80s, and average lows around 60.
Monthly rainfall averages a little over 3 inches, with the highest likelihood early in the month. It can get quite dry by the end of September and into October. The moon is full Sept. 9 and new Sept. 24.