Preparing for next year
September is a very busy time in the garden. Even though the garden season is beginning to wind down, there is still a lot you can do to finish up this year’s garden and lay the ground work for next year. You can plant grass seed, harvest herbs, prepare the soil in the vegetable garden and add a few perennials that give your fall garden plenty of blooms.
The lawn – September is a wonderful time to solve many of the problems you had with your lawn this year. First, get a soil test done. You can contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga or your county. Give them a small soil sample and they will tell you if you need to add lime to bring the soil pH to neutral. Grass grows best in a soil with a pH of at or near 6.5.
Next, plant more grass seed. The cooler weather and more abundant rain fall will help your grass seeds get going. Good grass planted this fall will yield a better lawn next year. If you have a partly shady lawn, make sure the seeds in your blend are primarily perennial rye grass and fine fescue. If your lawn is sunny, again look for perennial rye and some Kentucky blue. Over-seeding is a good way to plant grass this time of year. Simply sprinkle the seeds over the turf and keep it watered. You should see grass sprouting in a week or two.
Herbs – Be sure to harvest and dry your herbs. If you have basil, make cuttings about a foot long. Form a bundle and tie the stems together with a rubber band. Hang the bundle in a dry shady place for a few days. Once they are dry to the touch, remove the leaves and place your basil in a glass jar. You can do the same with tarragon, oregano, thyme and rosemary.
Food garden –Lettuce, peas, kale, Swiss chard and most of the other food plants you grew this year can be added to the compost pile or returned to the soil as a type of "green manure". Just break up or chop up the plant remains and dig them into your garden soil. Some gardeners like to dig a trench for the plant remains, toss them in and cover with soil. This is a good way to fertilize the soil and add valuable organic matter. If your tomatoes and zucchini were covered with disease this year, remove the entire plant from the garden and throw it away. Do not place the plants in the compost bin which would perpetuate the spread of the disease.
As September and October take over the calendar, many gardeners turn to chrysanthemums for color. Mums are good, and an important member of the fall garden, but there are a few other perennials you might want to add to your beds:
Aster novi-belgii (Michaelmas Daisy) – In shades of pink, purple, blue and white, these delicate daisy-like blossoms start popping open in late August and continue on until frost. Pinching in the early summer turns these Asters into mounds with dozens of flower buds. Asters tend to creep throughout your garden, but their airiness allows them to blend particularly well with other flowers.
Caryopteris (Blue Mist Shrub) – Caryopteris is a sub-shrub that is often grown in the perennial garden. Caryopteris slowly blossoms in August with dazzling blue flower clusters. Just try and keep the butterflies and bees away. Caryopteris is cut back in early spring, like a Buddleia, and the gray-green foliage is attractive all season.
Chelone (Turtlehead) – Nick-named for their blossoms shaped like turtles heads, Chelone is a carefree fall blooming perennial whose only real dislike is excessive dry heat. Chelone behaves itself, growing in a dense clump with attractive foliage and red, pink or white blooms.
Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed) – Joe Pye is one of those natives we take for granted because we see it by the side of the road, but it makes a wonderful backdrop to a garden border. The newer Eupatoriums have been bred shorter and less weedy, but the dense mop heads of mauve flowers still blend in beautifully in the fall garden.
Helenium (Sneezeweed) – Helenium is making a resurgence in gardens. They look like small russet-toned coneflowers, in reds, yellows and oranges. Many helenium can grow quite tall and will need to be staked or pinched. Like clematis, they like cool feet and hot heads. Helenium is also a good choice for poorly drained areas.
Larry Sombke is a garden designer and consultant, the garden blogger for the Times Union and the author of Beautiful Easy Flower Gardens and Beautiful Easy Herbs. Contact him with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.