September is a swing month in the garden, since summer has not completely left us yet, but the milder days of fall are around the corner. You could almost say this is a time of preparation because many consider fall to be the best time to be planting both cool season vegetable crops and trees and shrubs for our landscapes.
September also has a couple of local gardening educational opportunities. The First Tuesday in the Garden series presented by Smith County Master Gardeners in their IDEA Garden starts up again this month. On Tuesday, Master Gardener Patsy Besch will discuss growing herbs for the cooler times of the year. This program is free, open to the public and about an hour long. The IDEA Garden is in the southeast corner of the Rose Garden with ample parking available outside the southeast gate. In case of inclement weather, the lecture will be moved inside the Rose Center.
The East Texas Gardening Lecture Series also resumes next month. On Sept. 13, Master Gardener David Gary will present an inspiring program on creating a home landscape to fit your lifestyle and physical abilities. He has learned to continue gardening despite muscular dystrophy restricting him to a wheelchair. His garden, which has been featured twice on the annual Smith County Master Gardener Home Garden Tour, was designed by Gary, enabling him to enjoy his hobby. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m. at the Tyler Rose Garden Center, and and the program begins at 9 a.m. Cost is $15.
The 2014 Texas Fruit Conference (Oct. 6 and 7) and the Texas High Tunnel Conference (Oct. 8) will be conducted concurrently at the Hilton Garden Inn & Conference Center in College Station. The fruit conference provides timely topics and practical fruit-growing and marketing information for both new and experienced fruit growers. The Texas High Tunnel Conference explores growing strawberries and other high value horticultural crops in season-extending technology. Growers considering new or alternative crops and marketing seasons will be exposed to the opportunities and challenges that high tunnels can offer. Register for one or both conferences online at: http://agrilifer egister.tamu.edu where you can also view the agendas for both programs.
For a fall and winter harvest of delicious vegetables, the following crops can be sown or transplanted this month: beets, broccoli (plants), Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower (plants), Swiss chard, collards, kale, garlic, lettuce, mustard, parsley, English peas, radish, spinach and turnips.
If you had a spring garden, just add nitrogen to the garden soil before planting to provide an initial supply of nutrients. If you’re making a new garden, add a complete fertilizer. Always add compost prior to planting.
Since it has been so dry lately, better seed germination and emergence can be obtained by soaking the seed furrows with water before sowing seed, and then mulch lightly. Don’t let the seed bed dry out. Water as needed, especially once germination begins. Young transplants might need a little temporary western shade the first few days until they get established.
Keep your current summer vegetables, like squash, okra, tomatoes and peppers, productive by harvesting frequently, and side dress with a little nitrogen to give them one last productive push for a fall harvest.
Did most of your vegetable plants seem to languish this summer? Have you ever had your soil tested? Many soils in East Texas are strongly acidic and most vegetable plants do not grow or produce well in acidic soil.
Acidic soils can be adjusted into a range better for plant growth with applications of agricultural limestone. But the only way to know whether your soil needs lime and how much to add is by having your soil tested by a soil testing laboratory. Texas A&M and Stephen F. Austin State University both have soil-testing labs where you can have your soil analyzed for a small fee. Contact your local county Extension office for information on how to go about testing your soil. It is well worth the small investment in time and money.
Pay attention to lawn care this month. Hot, dry weather can encourage chinch bugs, which can turn St. Augustine into what looks like a drought-stricken lawn. Check your sprinklers carefully to make sure they are applying all that you expect in an even, uniform pattern.
Later in September is the time to apply lawn fertilizer to keep the grass healthy and growing right up to first frost. Fall fertilized lawns are better equipped to make it through the winter and resume growth next spring than lawns that receive no fertilizer.
Fall also is an ideal time to apply lime to correct acidic soil conditions. Lime adjusts the pH over a period of several months, so when growth resumes next spring, the pH will be more conducive for plant growth. Again, don’t guess but have your soil tested to know for sure what, if anything, is required.
Did you have a lot of weeds last spring before the grass started growing? Annual bluegrass (Poa annua), chickweed and henbit are the most common weeds of the winter and early spring season. These are cool-season weeds that germinate during the fall and winter months as soon as the soil cools. A pre-emergence herbicide applied this month will help reduce the recurrence of the same weeds next spring (unless they are perennials like dandelions).
Avoid herbicide applications on weakened grass (from pests or drought) or in dense shade. Carefully follow label rates of application, since applying more than the label rate can damage your lawn. Also keep in mind that you cannot overseed a lawn with ryegrass or tall fescue if you use a pre-emergence herbicide to control grassy weeds.
There are many attractive perennial plants that bloom in the fall, including chrysanthemums, Mexican mint marigold, ornamental grasses, rain lilies, fall asters, Mexican bush salvia (Salvia leucantha), firespike (Odontonema strictum) and sedums, just to name a few.
Many spring blooming plants can be either started from seed or divided this fall. Most wildflowers should be started from seed this month. They will germinate and grow as low, unnoticed rosettes during fall and winter, but will quickly expand in spring to put on their show. The later you wait to sow, the smaller the plants and blooming display next spring.
Seed calendula, delphinium, hollyhock in containers for later transplanting. You can seed directly in the ground many types of flowers, right where there are to grow, including larkspur, poppies, bluebonnets, Drummond phlox, coneflowers and coreopsis. Lightly cultivate and rake the area to be planted, scatter the seeds and lightly cover. Keep the soil moist until they sprout.
Nothing says spring is coming like daffodils, jonquils and other early bloomers. Fall is the time to plant these spring-blooming bulbs. You can get some of the most hardy, attractive and reliable bulbs and other choice plants at the annual Fall Conference and Plant Sale sponsored by Smith County Master Gardeners, scheduled this year for Oct. 11 at the Harvey Convention Center in Tyler. Mark your calendars and be watching for more details.
Keith Hansen is Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is http://EastTexasGarden ing.tamu.edu. His blog is http://agrilife.org/ etg. And find him on Facebook at facebook.com/easttexasgardening.