A GROWING CONCERN: Plenty of labor left for late summer days

CAN YOU BELIEVE it? September is already upon us!

The weather definitely turned this last week with all the rain, but hold your horses folks, or at least the hand trowels, hoses and shovels.

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. 23.

A few simple tasks, done now, will keep the yard looking great until November.

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

1. Water. Now more than ever, you need to keep your plants soaked. It has been a hot dry summer and nothing stresses out plants more than lack of moisture down in their toes.

Your trees and plants sense the days are getting shorter and are ready to start their march to death or dormancy. Being dry will only speed up the process. Get it?

Deepwater all of your trees and bushes, especially your “this year” planted ones. Definitely soak your fruit trees so they don’t abort or drop their fruit, and now is a good time to water the lawn with ¾ inch of moisture.

2. Bone meal. Bone meal, bone meal, bone meal. All of your bulb-type plants, corms, tubers and fleshy root items set their buds and roots this fall for next year’s season.

Bone meal is the key to flower and root production.

It’s absence is the reason many perennials do not flower and your daffodils don’t have blooms.

It takes 4 to 6 weeks for bone meal to break up into the soil, so we must do this job this week. While you’re at it, throw down some lime, too.

3. Plant fall flowers. This is the key to a very successful and colorful fall. Go out this week and next, 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.

Get ornamental kales and cabbages, and mix them up with viola and pansy borders. Pick those nice, brightly colored mums. Pick ones with tight buds as they last a month or more longer than those opened already, and find some gorgeous fall perennials like rudbeckia or fall sedums to plant with them.

Plant ornamental grasses now so their tassels will delight you in the winter and do not overlook heathers, hollies, Dusty Millers, artemisia or even snapdragons and dianthus.

4. Plant a fall tree. I want you to select and plant a fall colored tree. Fall weather here on the Peninsula is perfect for autumn foliage with our cool days and nights.

Every year, plant at least one super-duper-dazzling fall color tree and add it to your collection. Maples are fantastic, but so are oaks, sycamores, birches and smoke trees. Even the edible fruit trees, cherry, give 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 itself. Flowers live to reproduce, so cut away those old blooms, take out the top growing tip, strip down the old, big yellow leaves and cultivate lightly, fertilize and water heavily.

This combined action, along with two more sensational growing months, will fool your flowers into a second childhood, having your yard looking marvelous.

6. Kill the buggers. With the evening light coming earlier each day, the slugs are out at 9 p.m. instead of the eye-opening 10 or 11 p.m., when we are normally in bed.

So, take this extra 30 minutes of your day and go out into your yard with a hand trowel and a flashlight.

Yes, we are hunting slugs. And mighty is the slug that has been eating your leaves during the summer. They are elongated, out cruising for a mate and causing havoc in your garden each evening.

They are easier to spot with a flashlight, with their slippery backs and slimy trails, clearly leaving tracks for you to key in on. Look along the sidewalks, near rock screes, where you have boulders and wooden logs, near pots, yes, even on the side of the house.

The slugs like to hide in these damp caverns during the day, and come out about 9 p.m., starting their evening trek as they look for your prized foliage to eat and new places to lay their eggs. A quick slice and flick of the shovel will get them off the sidewalk, not leaving a stain or crusty pile to deal with later. I have been catching both the 5-inch long buggers, and their cousins, the 1-inchers.

You might need a small pruner to slice the smallest ones, a pocket knife is good for that tool, as the tiny ones on pots and leaves are more slippery than a pig.

7. Buy bulbs. Order bulbs like crazy, then order more. Get tall, short, early, late, single, double, variegated, fringed, fragrant and lovely cut flowers. Just order tons of bulbs. But we will not be planning them until October.

Mark your wall or electronic calendar for mid-October, “plant-bulbs.”

Our weather here on the North Olympic Peninsula is so mild for bulbs, that when they are planted too early, there is a tendency for them to prematurely emerge. Bulbs coming up in December or January is not a good thing unless they’re the miniature white blooming snowdrops, which peek out of your winter ground late January to February.

8. Roses. Stay on top of your roses now by stripping away those dead leaves and cleaning them up off the ground. These leaves do NOT go into your compost, but straight into the garbage. They have mildew and rust spores on them and we do not want these living in our yards and getting back on to the beautiful rose bush.

Soak your rose’s roots well and apply a new covering of compost or mulch, along with rose food.

Remember that Peninsula roses bloom well into December, especially using the super-nifty trick.

9. Fertilize. Fertilize everything, so your plants do not suffer from nutrient deficiency. Use specific fertilizers made for your exact plants, i.e. rhody food for rhododendrons and azaleas, 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 frosts. As for your annual flowers or baskets, let the normal fertilizer fly, because they will be dead in 2½ months.

10. Gutter done. Get your eaves and gutters cleaned out now, while the weather is dry and the job is easier to perform. With dry weather, the job of cleaning them will be much easier, and more pleasant for you, as the debris usually lifts or can be blown out of the gutter.

With fall leaves just around the corner, get a head start as we go into next rainy season. Do this task earlier in the day, while you’re fresh and vibrant, because climbing a ladder and balancing on a rung can be tiring on your feet and strenuous to your arms and back.

Or better yet, hire a gutter cleaning service.

11. Labor Day. This is a good weekend to take a look at the Labor Day sales for outdoor barbecues, patio furniture and large outdoor pottery items (and look for drain holes at the bottom).

Be ready to pull your October rugs from off the back deck, pull it up while it’s still dry outside and tuck them away in the garage for longer lasting fabric life.

In the meantime, keep your boots clean, heavy socks ready and your garden gloves dry, because we will be busy the next few weeks as we take advantage of the last push of summer.

And as always … stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and 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 news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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