Bartlett on Gardening: End Game

A pretty fall container.

The dog days are over. It is time for gardeners to plan for the final phase of the growing season.

You can still plant some cool-season vegetables this month. Greens such as collards, mustard and spinach are good candidates, along with quick-growing radishes and lettuce. Set out plants of cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage by the middle of this month. Abundant rain has leached nutrients from the soil, so restore fertility with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10.

At this time of year, perennial plants (including weeds), shrubs and trees store starches in their root systems before going dormant. In spring, they use this energy source to reproduce their top growth and begin converting sunlight into sugar once again. Resist pruning shrubs because that will promote growth at a time of the year when it may not “harden off” enough to survive frost. Stop feeding roses as we want them to slow flower production and get ready for a winter nap.

Weed control is never off the agenda. This is a great time to spray herbicide on perennial weeds such as dandelions because they take it into the roots and die. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent cool-season weeds like chickweed from sprouting. Remove annual weeds before they set seed.

Divide spring- and early-summer-blooming perennials such as iris and daylilies soon. The divisions need six weeks in their new homes to become sufficiently established to survive through the winter.

This mum has plenty of buds.

Think about renovating the lawn. Core aeration is a best practice because it improves drainage and allows space for root growth. Overseed the lawn at the same time to thicken the turf. Finally, fertilize the lawn for a wonderful green-up come spring. University research has concluded that one can simply mow over autumn leaves on the lawn. There they decompose over the winter, feeding the soil. Wow, never rake again!

It is time to refresh the landscape. Cut back perennials that are past their prime. Remove spent annuals and replace them with cool season selections. Pansies are a great value, and there are increasing options for ornamental kale and cabbages. When choosing mums, look for those with lots of buds so they will flower longer. Finally, think about changes you want to make next spring. I photograph areas needing improvement to aid planning.

Think about where to plant spring-blooming bulbs. Tulips are best considered as annuals while daffodils come back year after year. Both need sun and good drainage. Daffodils can be planted under trees, but need a few weeks of sunlight to recharge after blooming. Let the foliage yellow for best rebloom. Whichever you choose, plant enough of them to make an impact.

By the time the gardener executes the game plan, the holidays will be upon us. We can use the time away from the garden to enjoy them.

Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home.

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