By Jane Gates, Signal Staff Writer
As summer fades, temperatures in the Santa Clarita Valley often ignore the shortening daylight hours and soar into triple digits. This has been a relatively mild summer when compared to the past few years. But there’s no way to predict what the weather will bring this September.
Moisture spinning in from the monsoons of the Four Corner states can bring random thunder showers, humidity or miss us entirely while we remain hot and very dry. For the gardener this means – whatever happens – active work is still best done in the earliest morning hours or just before the sun goes down.
September brings plenty of jobs to do. The shorter days tell desert and chaparral plants to prepare for their active growth to begin while most other garden growth prepares for a winter slow-down or the end of annual life cycles. So now’s the time to clean up fading growth, save any seeds you may want to replant for next year, and prepare your new autumn/winter garden.
With average annual heat indexes climbing and droughts becoming more frequent, the autumn is becoming our most productive season for gardening. We still experience occasional nighttime frosts in winter, but overall, garden growth seems to thrive better with current milder autumn and winter temperatures than those of the shortening springtime and triple-digit summer.
Here are some suggestions for September gardening.
Start seeds of cool-weather vegetables. Keep seeds and young plants well-watered for good germination and a strong start. Planting early offers sturdy little plants that will grow through the chilling temperatures of some winter nights.
Plant some hardy flower seeds to get a head start on next spring’s season.
Irrigate very early in the morning or in the evening. Heat during the day will evaporate irrigation water before it can reach the roots that need it. Wet drops on leaves can also work like tiny magnifying glasses, burning spots into the leaf tissue.
California native plants are semi-dormant in the heat of summer and look dreary and dry. Let them stay that way until rain falls, or give them slow, deep watering occasionally to wake them up. You can deadhead (cut off) dried up flower spikes if you want to neaten up any shrubs.
Keep annual and perennial flowers deadheaded to encourage late blooming. Or leave the spent flowers in place to dry so you can collect seed for next year.
If you do choose to plant shrubs, trees or flowers, keep them well watered and try to rig up some temporary shade to make planting less stressful for the first week or two. You are likely to have more success planting after the worst of the heat is over in late September or early October. …Unless we have a cool September. One never knows these days!
September is harvest time! Keep ripening fruits and vegetables cropped. Preserve extras by canning or freezing and store winter squashes and root crops in a cool, dry space. Should you find you have extra food, share with a neighbor or consider donating to local food banks. There are people you’ve never met who would very much appreciate your home-grown food.
September is also a good time to pull out all that faded garden growth and to rake falling leaves, branches and other litter. Keep up with yard cleaning to keep away unwanted rodents and insects before any of them decide to move into your home with inclement weather.
Ask yourself these questions to see if your landscape is up-to-date for September.
Is your landscape set up for whatever weather wintertime sends?
Are your ground drains free of blockage?
Do you have permeable paving, swales, dry riverbeds or other practical set-ups (that can also be decorative!) designed to conduct water from a heavy flash rainstorm safely away from your home or other structures?
Are your gutters cleared for smooth drainage and free from flammable dry litter should winds send burning embers your way during a local wildfire?
Have you removed all old wood from close to your house? Don’t offer termites this irresistible invitation into your house!
You can do all these outdoor garden and safety projects while making your landscape gorgeous. Too many homes are surrounded by fields of dead weeds, powdered soil, brown lawns or smothered with boring gravel. None of these solutions is useful or good looking. In fact, they only add to the problem by making the air around your home dusty, dry and hot. There are many ornamental ways you can make your landscape lovely, safe, practical and enjoyable.
Just a few might be to build a raised vegetable garden to add interest, flavor and healthy ingredients into your cooking. Add paths for design, easy access and less water usage. Try some decorative shapes, colors and textures of rock, tumbled glass, decomposed granite and much more that can fill spaces between plants making maintenance easier and your landscape artistic.
September is a great month for improving your garden. Clean it up and reap the rewards of redesigning your outdoor space. There are plenty of things to do in the garden during early autumn. Do them together with the whole family for faster results and more fun. Do you have your to-do list ready yet?