September 9, 2013

Good time to take care of garden chores

By AMY IVY, Cornell Cooperative Extension

---- — September is one of my favorite months to garden.  

The temperatures are cooler, the summer humidity is over, the biting bugs are gone and most weeds have sprouted. The excitement of watching the garden grow is diminished, but I get a lot of satisfaction knowing the work I do weeding, edging and cutting back will last more than just a few days. In summer, the weeds jump right back, but this time of year, my hard work stays noticeable for a lot longer.

My gardens are far from boring to look at this time of year, and this is one of my busiest months for garden chores. New England asters are at their peak bloom right now, and the garden phlox is beginning to wane but is still giving a nice show. I love watching the color changes that my sedum “autumn joy” goes through from late summer until snow falls. Mine are a rosy pink right now but will soon be turning burgundy as the nights get cooler.

The annual flowers are really hitting their stride now. I’ve become very fond of the profusion series of zinnias. They are very different from the classic tall-cutting zinnias. The profusion types form a broad mound about a foot across and high, with lots of small, single blooms about 1 inch in diameter. They are resistant to the leaf spot diseases the traditional zinnias struggle with and produce lots of blooms once they get going. I like to pick sprigs of these plants for small vases indoors. Each sprig consists of a few branches, leaves and several flowers. Zinnias are sensitive to frost so it would really pay to cover these on the nights that frost is in the forecast. They will continue to bloom well into October if you can protect them on those chilly nights. Marigolds, begonias and ageratum are also very sensitive to frost. Petunias, geraniums and calendula are much tougher and don’t need as much protection from the cold.

My vegetable garden has some beautiful sections now, especially the herbs and fall crops that are lush and green. My tomato plants would not win any beauty contests this month; the lower leaves are dead from septoria leaf spot and early blight, but the plants are still ripening tomatoes. My pepper plants are lush, and I’m waiting patiently for some of the green peppers to turn red before I pick them. A lot of people have commented that their crops have been slower than usual to ripen this year. We had such a slow start with all the rain and then a relatively cool August so it’s not surprising that crops are behind. After that awful start to our season, I’m just glad to be getting anything out of my vegetable garden this year.

Every spring, when I’m rushing to get the gardens planted, I vow to do more in the fall to get ready. But after a hard summer of tending my plants, it’s awfully nice to take a break now — when the pressure is off — to stop and appreciate how nice things look. I know I should take advantage of the mild September weather to get all the seed trays, flats and pots cleaned up and sorted out, but spring seems so far away right now. Try to get some of these chores out of the way now while the weather is nice so you’ll have less to do next spring.

Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Clinton County. Office phone numbers: Clinton County, 561-7450; Essex County, 962-4810; Franklin County, 483-7403. Website: Email questions to