In general, we start to experience cooler nights by September 15th. Then, as we drift into the best fall month of the year, October, we Southerners can actually enjoy being outside during the day. This is also the time our gardens start to come alive.
I always look for the spider lilies of late summer to signal that it’s time to plant things in the garden again. One of my favorite things to do is plant several pots of fall lettuces from seeds. I will generally plant one in early September, another one in mid-September, and a final pot or two in early October. By doing this, I often have fresh lettuce until Thanksgiving. The key is to keep the soil moist, not wet, until the seeds germinate. I like to mist my pots daily until I see the first true leaves. Then I fertilize the seedlings with a half-strength solution of liquid 20-20-20 fertilizer every two weeks.
My favorite fall annuals are marigolds. If you have trouble finding them, look for petunias, asters, and moss verbena instead since they are more readily available. Remember that because this is a dry time of the year, these plants will need frequent watering.
Of course, pansies are everywhere right now, but I like to wait until mid-October to plant them. Consider violas for your garden as well. While their blooms are small, they can put on quite a show because they are such profuse bloomers. There are two important things to remember when growing pansies or violas. First, do not mulch around the plants until the weather cools so that the soil will cool as well. I usually wait to mulch until we have several nights below 32 degrees. Second, they need to be fertilized throughout the growing season. And don’t forget about including some fall mums in your garden. They are a great choice to replace tired plants in pots.
Finally, if you are wanting to add a new tree this season, evaluate it for fall color before buying. In the Birmingham area, the best fall color is generally the week before Thanksgiving. If you want earlier color, choose Ginkgo, green Japanese maple, and tulip poplar trees. They usually give a taste of fall color in late October if they are not dropping their leaves because of a dry fall.
Floyd’s To-Do List: September/October
Don’t let your turf get dry and go dormant. Keep turf watered and cut on a regular basis. If you fertilized your Bermuda or zoysia grass in mid to late summer, you don’t need to fertilize it again. It is very important to apply a pre-emergent herbicide now to prevent your grass from having a crop of Poa annua in the spring.
Plant fall flowering bulbs but wait on planting your spring bulbs until after Thanksgiving. If you purchase spring bulbs now to get the selections of tulips and daffodils you want, refrigerate them until you are ready to plant. You may have to order bulbs from mail-order sources because few garden centers carry a variety of selections. Brent And Becky’s Bulbs is an excellent source to order bulbs from online.
Don’t add fresh mulch to your planting too early in the fall. Otherwise you will have to either freshen it or replace it once all the leaves have fallen in order to have a good look in your garden for winter.
Add ornamental kale and cabbages as great accents to your fall garden, especially in pots mixed with flowering plants. The only problem you might encounter in growing these plants is that cabbage worms like them too. If the worms show up, treat the leaves with Sevin or Dipel.
Remove fallen leaves from turf by early October. Blowing the leaves into piles and putting them into bags is fine. I like to mow the turf and collect the leaves in the grass bag on my mower. This cuts the leaves and allows more leaves per bag. Also, if you want to add them to your compost pile or use them in your landscape as soil conditioner, they will decompose quicker if cut into pieces.
John Floyd has been gardening in the Birmingham area for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was editor-in-chief of Southern Living. For daily tips and more garden information, visit birminghamgardeningtoday.com