Those who know me well … and not so well … know that I love every aspect of gardening. September is a busy time in the garden. Not only do you have to think about closing out summer crops and keeping up with fall crops, but your mind must also be looking ahead to winter as well as next year. This month looks different for each person depending on which climate you are in, but I will do my best to give everyone a good place to start!
The Family That Gardens Together
But before I dive in, please meditate on the following: I strongly suggest you do these tasks as a family! In this way, children will remember this as a happy time … something that families do together. It will help them take pride, ownership, and responsibility for communal family areas; gardening isn’t “mom and dad’s job,” it’s theirs! Set aside a little time each day to work on these outdoor tasks. If it’s still warm, set aside time in the morning. However, if it’s getting cooler, adjust the time to the late morning or afternoon. Keep it as pleasant and peaceful as possible and you will gain some happy helpers!
Saying Goodbye to Summer
Stay ahead of the first frost by consistently harvesting your summer goodies. If your climate is expecting a light frost, be mindful that you will need to harvest most of your summer crops before or right after the light frost. Always think a few steps ahead!
Once your onion and potato tops begin to turn brown and fall over, it’s time to pull/dig up and cure them. We like to put them all outside on some kind of surface that offers air flow around as much of the onion/potato as possible – like a stretch of fence or screen rigged up to where it’s sitting horizontal, or even wood pallets. Be sure they are in a single layer and not touching each other.
Another job to stay on top of is harvesting herbs. It’s fun to chop and freeze some fresh herbs to add a taste of summer to winter soups and stews.
- Pack the chopped herbs into ice cube trays and fill with water or oil.
- Once frozen, pop the cubes out of the trays and put them all into a freezer storage container.
- The bulk of the herbs may be hung to dry, or dehydrated at a very low heat [95*].
- Once dry, they may be stripped of the stems and put into mason jars with tight-fitting lids. It really helps to have a vacuum sealer attachment for the lids!
- You might also consider digging up and potting some of your herbs for indoor-use over the winter.
Other Garden Goodies
Pumpkins and squashes not harvested yet will benefit from having a nice bed of straw, a piece of wood, or something else under them to protect them from rotting while ripening. Harvested winter squash will need to cure before storing.
The summer strawberry patch will do good to have a nice once-over. Tidy it up by removing the used straw – if left over winter, this might invite pests and disease.
The Beauty and Blessings of Fall
For cooler climates the fall garden will be mid-stream by September, while those in warmer climates are just beginning theirs. Zone 10 … well … I don’t have much to say to you! Go plant your tomatoes and peppers! 😉
- Brassicas are very popular for cooler fall gardens; my best tip for them is to be sure to use row covers right from the start.
- The ‘cabbage worms’ can be relentless! Brassicas include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, watercress, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, collards, and more. However, depending on your climate, there may not be time for a harvest from the brassica family if you are just now getting the seeds started unless you use season extensions like cold frames.
- Other favorite fall crops include beets, carrots, lettuce, and spinach.
- In many places garlic is planted in late-September or October as well. This over-winters and grows the following spring.
Extend Your Growing Season
Here in zone 6b we do not have to think about the first frost in September, however I know many of you do! It’s a good idea to have plenty of thick row covers and other protective coverings on hand to help keep those fall gardens safe for the hit-and-miss light frosts September might bring. Another option is to plant your fall crops in cold frames or other season-extension devices.
Save those green tomatoes! An elderly friend who passed away a few months ago said his mom used to tuck green tomatoes in between bales of straw in the cellar. As the weeks and months went by, they would have ripe tomatoes clear up until late spring the following year! An alternative is to pull the whole plant up and hang it upside down in the cellar or a cool place in your home. Tomatoes will continue to ripen.
Perennials need to be divided every 3 or so years, and those in cooler climates will want to be sure to put this task on September’s to-do list. Fall weather usually brings more rain as well, which is great for the health of the plant after it’s been divided and moved. Have too many? Share the divisions with friends!
Need more trees? How about strawberries, raspberries, blackberries? Oh my! Now is the time to think about ordering and planting!
Winter Is Coming!
Make sure to order spring bulbs! In some regions [Zone 3 and possibly 4 and 5, for example] it’s even time to start planting those bulbs in September. Daffodils, crocus, tulips, and hyacinths are a few that come to mind. I don’t know about you, but I always look forward to the first daffodils; so much beauty in an otherwise drab environment.
Speaking of bulbs – some bulbs and tubers will actually need dug up. Again, depending on where you live, the timing will be a little different. For example, here in Zone 6b we do not dig up and store dahlia tubers until some time in October, however the cooler zones will be a bit earlier. We store our dahlia tubers in vermiculite; each variety is in its own bin(s) and clearly marked in two places: on the outside of the bin on painter’s tape, and also on the inside of the bin on a garden marker. Then we put the bins in our storm shelter, but any cool place will do! Warmer climates may leave tubers in the ground all year long, though they will need to be divided from time to time.
Roses might need attention this month as well – if they have stopped flowering, now is the time to do some pruning.
This month is a great time to prepare, or think about preparing, your unused / finished beds for winter.
- Start by making sure your beds are clear of weeds and leftover garden debris. Now, cover the bed(s).
- This might mean planting a cover crop, working in manure, and/or working in compost.
- Cover crops help protect your soil from the harshness of winter, erosion, and also build it up for the next season.
- Cover crops are turned under in the spring, which adds valuable and vital nutrients to the soil.
- If cover-cropping is new and overwhelming to you, no worries! Just do the best you can and keep it in mind for next year.
If you are growing biennials for seed the following year, be sure they are also protected for winter. In our area that simply means cutting down (not digging up!) and covering with a good bit of straw. In some areas it’s good to have a little cold frame of some sort for extra protection.
Odds and Ends …
- Stalk the big-box stores for deep discounts on perennials for your flower beds. We often find pretty sad-looking plants for only a dollar or two; if taken home and planted immediately, you’ll be greatly rewarded next year!
- Watch for seeds emerging on perennial and annual herbs and flowers.
- Bag or net them if need be; the seeds will drop into the bag or net instead of on to the ground (or instead of being eaten by the birds). Annual seeds may still be harvested this month as well. Currently we are still harvesting seeds for cucumbers, muskmelons, watermelons, bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, annual herbs & flowers, and more.
- Evergreen shrubs and trees usually can use a nice haircut when the weather is consistently cooler.
- Don’t forget your lawns! September and October (depending on where you are) are nice months to broadcast grass seed over bare spots. Cover with a good layer of straw for protection.
This article is definitely not exhaustive, so I would really enjoy hearing from YOU! Please send me an email and tell me:
* What is on YOUR garden to-do list that I did not touch on here?
* In what ways are you sharing these outdoor moments with your children?
* What are you and your children learning while working together in the yard / garden?
* Do you have any questions for me?
Suggested Family Activity
Start a garden journal! It can be as simple or elaborate as you prefer, however if you are new to gardening I strongly encourage you to keep it simple.
You really cannot get any more simple than a spiral notebook or 3-ring binder!
The younger children can decorate the outside as well as ‘here and there’ throughout the book (perhaps a bug they saw that day!).
- Have one page per day, or whatever works for you and your situation.
- Track the weather, write a daily to-do list, what was planted or harvested, and journal tasks that were done, will need done, as well as anything you believe is worthy of noting. For example, I really enjoy watching birds, so I keep note of what they are up to each day! If this sounds fun to you, younger children can narrate what the birds are doing while you record it in the journal, and then, if interested, they can add corresponding art work.
- Older children might enjoy having a nature or bird journal all their own where they can record the daily ins and outs of their observations by writing, drawing, water-coloring, and so on.
A more in-depth garden journal might include a section for tracking the weights of what was harvested.
- Older children might enjoy figuring out how much money is being saved (and added health benefits!) by growing their own food.
- Another fun section idea: RECIPES!! This includes home-canning recipes and instructions.
The sky really is the limit! Happy gardening!
“The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”