Toronto Star column – published September 21, 2013
It is the summer’s great last heat,
It is the fall’s first chill: They meet.
–Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt
Tomorrow when you wake up be sure to say good morning to the autumn equinox. There are only two days of the year when daylight and night time are more or less equal: tomorrow and during the spring equinox around March 21st. To be precise the sun actually crosses the equator, marking the equinox, at 4:44 p.m. eastern standard time tomorrow. Cheers autumn!
All of this is to say that this benchmark for the fall season provides a convenient marker for a new ‘to do’ list in the garden. Post this one on your fridge and relish your time in the garden. In fact, now would be a good time to MAKE some relish in the kitchen. But that is a different matter.
Mark’s “Things To Do In The Garden” List:
Peonies. September is ‘peony splitting’ month. If you have one that is too big for the space that it is in or if you just want to move it, now is the time. If you divide it, do so with a sharp, serrated kitchen knife. Plant peonies no more than 10 cm (4 inches) below the surface of the soil and choose a bright, sunny place in the garden.
Seed and sod. If your lawn looks amazing right now skip this part. If it has some brown spots, weak areas, or is tired looking, then now is the best time to thicken it by overseeding with fresh lawn seed. First spread 3 to 5 cm of lawn soil over the area to be seeded, rake smooth, broadcast the seed by hand, rake again (lightly) and step on it to firm the soil/seed into contact. Water well and often.
Fertilize with the regular formula (24-0-5) fertilizer now and apply a fall formula (12-0-18) in late October through November to winterize your lawn. As your lawn slows down it stores natural sugars in its roots: the late application of a fall fertilizer helps the lawn to build up winter stores for a better performance come spring. This is the most important application of fertilizer that you will make all year.
Prune. Cut back the flowering shrubs that bloomed in July and August. Remove spent blossoms on butterfly bush, roses, and rose of Sharon to encourage more blossoms later on in the season. Unruly evergreens can also be pruned back this time of year. Junipers and cedars, in particular, will benefit from a late season pruning.
Harvest. My 200 tomato plants are producing like never before. Mind you, they ripened a little late but that was due to the cool evening temperatures mid summer. Now that they are coming along I pick every day. I recommend that you do the same just to keep them from rotting on the vine or splitting after a heavy rain.
Harvest ripening apples and pears.
Plant. As your annual flowers begin to wane, now is a good time to plant fall flowering mums, New England asters, sedum, and ornamental grasses. No reason to put up with mediocre performance in your garden when you can have a show stopper. All winter-hardy nursery stock can also be planted now. I have better luck with fall planted trees, evergreens, and the like than I do come spring.
Reward yourself. If you have kids that have gone back to school, be sure to spend some time in your garden alone over the next few weeks. Take the time to enjoy the quiet and solitude. Take pictures – come mid winter you will be glad that you did! And observe the many birds that visit your garden this time of year. Note that many are ‘new’ as they are passing through right now on their way to their southern winter home. These are the final days of hummingbird visits in the GTA. Enjoy.
Holland Bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and the like are in the stores now. The Dutch harvest was a good one and the selection of these bulbs is best in September. I urge you to buy yours now to get the pick of the crop: by October all of the hard to find and unusual varieties are gone.
Apply dormant nematodes to your lawn to control common grubs. This is as late as you can leave this job without wasting your money. The grubs move deep into the soil over the next weeks, as temperatures drop.
Wisteria. Cut back the ‘whippy’ growth that occurred this summer to encourage flowers next spring.
Raspberries. Prune out the canes on which fruit occurred this summer (July bearing). Allow the new growth room to produce a crop next season. Fall bearing raspberries should be pruned in winter or early spring.
Pick cucumbers and green tomatoes. Make some relish from your garden (I had to say it…). Share your green tomato recipes on my Facebook page (you can find the link on www.markcullen.com).
Take in the parks and open green spaces in your community in September. We are blessed with some fabulous parks, biking/walking paths, and open green spaces both in the city of Toronto and in the surrounding area. There is a reason why this is the favourite month of the year for many Canadians… get out there and breathe deep!
Question of the week:
Q/ Why do leaves change colour and fall each autumn?
A/ According to the Old Farmers Almanac, there is an “abscission layer” between the leaf axle and the stem of the tree or shrub that it is attached to. Eventually this ‘layer’ causes the leaf to drop off in the breeze. As the corky cells multiply, they seal off the vessels that supply the leaf with nutrients and water and also block the exit vessels, trapping simple sugars in the leaves. The combination of reduced light, lack of nutrients, and no water, add up to the death of the pigment chlorophyll, the “green” in leaves. Fallen leaves are inert and have no nutritive value – they are pure carbon. This is perfect for building a compost pile or adding to your compost bin. Just be sure to add green, nitrogenous material at a ratio of about 5 parts leaves to 1 part grass clippings or spent ‘green’ tomato/annual flower plants.