A GROWING CONCERN: Now’s not the time to shirk your yard duties

Repeat after me: “Summer is not over.”

I KNOW TOMORROW is Labor Day and school has started, but hold your horses — or at least the hand trowels, hoses and spreaders.

Repeat after me: “Summer is not over.”

That’s right, we still have more than two weeks of summer left.

The autumnal equinox does not occur until Sept. 22 (at 7:21 a.m. PDT).

Now is not the time to pack away your garden thoughts or tools.

In fact, this time of year is crucial to your garden success next year.

A few simple tasks done now will keep your yard looking great until November and beyond.

Take this list, get on some new garden gloves and let’s get busy before the rains of fall begin.

1. Water

Now more than ever, you need to keep your plants soaked.

Your trees and plants sense the days are getting shorter and are readying their march to death or dormancy.

Being dry will only speed up the process.

Deep-water your trees and bushes, especially newly planted ones.

Soak your fruit trees so they won’t drop fruit, and now is the time to water the lawn with three-quarters of an inch of moisture.

2. Bone meal (phosphorus)

All of your bulb-type plants — corns, tubers and fleshy root items — set their buds and roots this fall for next year.

Bone meal phosphorus is the key to flower and root production.

Its absence is the reason many perennials do not flower, and daffodils don’t have blooms in years to come.

It takes four to six weeks for bone meal to break up into the soil, so do this job this week.

While you’re at it, throw down some lime, too. All your flowers will love you.

3. Plant fall flowers

This is the key to a very successful and colorful fall. Go out this week and next to purchase fall plants.

They are in the stores, and selection and quantity are great. Items bought and planted now will be able to grow and root very well in the coming weeks.

Get ornamental kales and cabbages, and mix them up with viola and pansy borders.

Get these brightly colored mums (pick ones with tight buds, not flowers, so they last at least a month or more) and find some gorgeous fall perennials like rudbeckia or the fall sedums to plant with them.

Plant the ornamental grasses now so the tassels will delight you in the winter, and don’t overlook the heathers, hollies, dusty millers, artemisia or even snapdragons and dianthus.

4. Plant a tree

Fall weather here is perfect for autumn foliage with our cool days and nights.

Every year, get at least one super-duper dazzling fall-colored tree to add to your collection.

Maples are fantastic, but so are oaks, sycamores, birches and smoke trees. Even the edible cherry gives spectacular fall color.

5. Deadhead, pinch, cut back

All your summer flowers are ready to give up on you, but you can use nature’s will against them.

They live to reproduce, so cut away those old blooms, take out the top-growing tip, strip down the old big yellow leaves and then cultivate lightly, fertilize and water heavily.

This combined action along with two more sensational growing months will fool them into a second childhood and have them looking marvelous.

6. Buy bulbs (but do not plant until October/November)

Order bulbs like crazy, then order more. Get tall, short, early, late, single, double, variegated, fringed, fragrant, lovely cut flowers. Just order tons of bulbs — but do not plant until October or November.

Our weather here on the Olympic Peninsula is so mild (for bulbs) that when they are planted early, there is a tendency for them to prematurely emerge.

Bulbs coming up in December or January is not a good thing unless they are snow crocuses, snowdrops or species iris.

7. Fertilize

Fertilize everything so your plants do not suffer from nutrient deficiency.

Use specific fertilizers made for your exact plants (rhody food for rhodies and rose food for roses).

For your lawn and other plants, get autumn blends that are lower in nitrogen to avoid new, weak growth that will be damaged by early frost.

As for your annual flowers or baskets, let the normal fertilize fly because they will be dead in two months.

8. Roses

Stay on top of them now by stripping away those dead leaves because we will soon be into the prime time for black spot and rust.

Soak them well and apply a new covering of compost or mulch along with rose food.

Remember that Peninsula roses bloom well into December (or all winter).

9. Propagate

If you want to reproduce those expensive fuchsias, geraniums, lantanas or verbenas (along with anything else), now is the ideal time to take cuttings before cool night temperatures “wooden” up the stems.

Always cut off any buds or flowers, leaving only two to five small leaves.

Remember, proper root cuttings must have lots of light and warm soil (72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit) and never, ever let the soil dry out.

10. Remove debris

As your summer plants fade, leaves fall and foliage deteriorates, remove all dead and dying plant materials.

As temperatures cool and dew settles upon the yard, bugs, slugs and a whole host of diseases need this type of material to thrive.

Sound cultural practices demand debris removal as summer wanes to fall.

Have a glorious September.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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