9/5/14: In the garden this week

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Little bluestem (Schizachrium scoparium) is in full bloom right now; soon the stalks will turn red-gold and will be covered with fluffy seeds that glow in the sun. This most widespread of prairie grasses grows an agreeable 3′ tall and is unfazed by drought and heat–in fact, it thrives on them. And it’s quite beautiful.

We are having our first dry spell this season. The ground is very dry, so be sure to water any plants you installed this year (and large shrubs and trees installed as much as two or three years ago). And, of course, keep your vegetable garden well watered. I do hope it rains tomorrow as promised.

– If it doesn’t rain tomorrow, water newly installed perennials and woody plants and vegetables. The recommended amount is 1 inch per week during dry spells. Established plants should not need watering.

do not prune woody plants. Many trees and shrubs have begun leaf abscission, the complicated process of shutting down for winter. This takes a lot of energy, so plants don’t have energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next pruning window will come when plants reach dormancy in late fall.

– tomato vines are still ripening fruit, so give them no more than 1 inch of water per week. Remember to take rainfall amounts into account when determining how much to water. Water in the morning, and water deeply. Continue to stake and tie tomato plants and to remove suckers.

plant fall crops such as lettuce, spinach, and other salad greens.

perennials should need no care. Leave seedheads in place–birds will eat the seeds you don’t collect.

– if you fertilize your lawn, this is the optimum time to apply a slow-release organic fertilizer. Fertilizing is quite unnecessary, but for those who choose to do it, this is the one recommended feeding. Lawns do not need watering, even in a dry period: the more you water, the more you have to mow! Use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the grass.

start your autumn leaf collection: because of the drought, shrubs and trees are dropping lots of leave, so collect than and save your autumn leaves for compost. Decide where you will keep them.

consider fall planting. Many perennials and woody plants can be safely installed in fall. Wait for the weather to cool down a bit. September is a good time to plant for perennials, while woody plants can be planted until the ground freezes.

And finally, collect seeds of native perennials to scatter and share with fellow gardeners. Orange butterflyweed is opening its seedpods and showing the fascinating geometric patterns inside. I try to gather the seeds before they flat away.

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