Central Mississippi Garden Calendar
What do Gardener's do in September?
It's a little late in the year to plant summer annuals and still too hot for winter annuals. The best way to spend your time is to observe and write notes on how your plants performed this year. Take the time to jot down your observations. How much sunlight are the flowerbeds getting? Did the plants seem happy and bloom well in their present location? Were the flower colors complimentary to the house or did they create visual chaos? Keeping a journal, even if you only write in it weekly, will help guide your plant choices next year. The placement of colorful, annual flowerbeds will change as your permanent landscape plants mature.
It may be too hot to actually transplant or even buy winter annuals, but September is the month to start germinating seed of plants that love cool weather. Starting the seed in trays containing a soil-less, "seed starter" potting mix (fine textured sphagnum moss and vermiculite) gives the best results. Begin by moistening the potting mix. Then, scatter the seeds. Top with the potting mix, covering the seeds to the recommended planting depth. Mist the top with water from a spray bottle. Cover the tray with plastic wrap to help retain moisture and finally, place it in a shaded area outside. Most seeds will germinate at 65° to 70° F. Once you see little green tops, gradually remove the plastic cover over the next few days and move the tray to a partial sunny location.
The most popular cool season annuals are pansies, snapdragons and ornamental cabbage. There are more choices, but you may have to grow your own from seed. Dig out your seed catalogs, do searches on the Internet or scavenge through the seed sections at your local garden centers. If you want different cool season transplants, then please request them now from the places you do business. It's easy to fall into what I call the old "Plant Trap." Let me explain. Garden centers and nurseries stock flat after flat of the same old plants because customers tend to buy what they are used to seeing, i.e. pansies, snapdragons, kale and cabbage. Be a little adventurous this fall! Next month buy an entire flat of something new and become a garden trendsetter.
Some winter annuals do best if they are seeded in place. Sow the seed of Cheiranthus cheiri in the cracks of your rock walks or at the edge of paths. It produces clusters of fragrant 1-inch wide yellow, red, white or orange flowers. Our cool, damp winter weather will actually prolong the blooms. Another annual that really needs cool, humid days and nights is Godetia amoena. The 4-inch cup-shaped blossoms can be pink, red, peach or bicolor. Godetia stems are very stiff, which makes it perfect for bouquets. Would you be interested in a winter annual that resembles balsam or 'Touch-Me-Not' in growth habit and flowering? Clarkia elegans or 'Farewell-To-Spring" is the answer. Clarkia seed should be broadcast in clumps for stem support. The 2-inch blooms come in red, pink, purple, white or yellow. Most cultivars are double flowered. Other cool season annuals to be on the lookout for are Lobelia, Diascia, Dianthus, Matthiola, Iberis and Nemesia. Some of these plants may end up surprising gardeners and be perennial during mild summers.
Cleanup under your fruit trees. Pickup or mow over the bad and overripe fruit that has dropped and is unusable. Cut off any branches that were broken due to over loading with fruit. The pruning cut should be smooth and flush with an adjoining limb. Pick up dead limbs and mow more often under your pecan trees. This will make picking up the nuts much easier. If you have a bumper crop, you might consider shaking the trees for one easy weekend of picking.
Refresh your flowerbeds by reapplying mulch in washed out areas. Cut and save the seed from your favorite flowers. My personal experience is that after 4 years of glorious blooming, perennial plants start to decline. The most satisfying experience I can think of in "long-term gardening" is to buy a plant once and then keep it alive year after year. Saving seed is probably the easiest way to do this.
Trees and Shrubs
Fall is slowing approaching. The sumac seed heads have turned a bright crimson color. The leaves of black gum trees are speckled with orange and the dogwood leaves are a mottled red. This hint at the changing season means it's time to decide which plants stay, which get divided or maybe rearranged and lastly what area needs to be totally redesigned.
Fall is the absolute best time of year to do landscape renovation. You should plan and budget for this, just like you would for any major house renovation. Soil modification is a must. Get quotes on hauling in soil conditioner, topsoil or mulch and establish a firm date to have it delivered. The next step is to plan to take off at least 3 days from work. September is also a good month to book a landscape design or installation company, if you're unable to do the work yourself. Do not wait any longer. Generally, you need to get on any business' work calendar, which means the actual dirt work won't get started until October (the best month for new plant installation).
It is time to prepare for the fall garden. The first freeze in Central Mississippi usually occurs between October 20 and November 14. Young vegetable plants grow better and produce more, if they've been growing in the garden for at least one month before the first hard freeze. The beginning of September is when you start cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, rutabaga and cauliflower seeds in flats. It takes about 6 weeks to get a nice sized transplant from seed and October 15 (planting date) is only six weeks away. Some fall vegetables such as beets, carrots, mustard, lettuce, radishes and greens do not transplant well.
Fall vegetable gardening is generally more productive than spring gardening. I guess I should add, if you like root and leafy type vegetables. The first order of business is to pull up and discard any played out summer vegetables. It is best not to till in the old summer vegetable plants because you may end up spreading a soil borne disease. If you haven't had your soil tested to determine the pH and nutrient levels within the past three years, then do it TODAY. Take a pint of soil and a $6.00 check to your county Extension office. You will have the written results in 1 to 2 weeks. The exact amount of lime and fertilizer that should be tilled into the garden will come from these test results. In general, no more than 50 pounds of pelletized lime per 1,000 sq. feet should ever be broadcast in a single application. If more lime is needed, then another 50 pounds can be applied 1 1/2 months later. The fertilizer will be applied in 2 or 3 applications. The first is a pre-plant fertilizer application that is incorporated into the soil. The second fertilizer application is called side dressing and is put out 3-4 weeks later. A third application on the leafy vegetable crops may be necessary to promote new growth, if you're a heavy grazer.
Donna Hamlin Beliech is the writer of Central Mississippi Garden Calendar monthly. She's a self described "dirty-handed gardener" and avid seed saver. She lives in Brandon and is the Area Extension Horticulturist for six counties in Central Mississippi.