Is everyone as sick of warm, dry weather as I am? I feel like I’ve moved to South Carolina. I want a beautiful northern fall.
We’ve had barely an inch of rain since the beginning of September; normal rainfall is over 4 inches per month. And temperatures remain stubbornly high–more than 10 degrees above normal most days. Tomorrow is supposed to be close to 80 degrees once again (a normal high for this time of year is in the low 60s). I look out my window at a backyard of persistent green. NOAA Predictions are for a winter with above-normal temperatures but normal precipitation.
What does this mean for the garden? A lot of chores we normally do in September, such as putting the vegetable garden to bed or feeding the lawn, can be put off until late October or even later (I’m still picking tomatoes). And we may have only a very short window for cold-dependent chores like shrub pruning, which should be done when the plants are completely dormant.
But there are always things you can do in the garden this weekend, if you can bear the heat:
— water new plantings this week: there’s been almost no precipitation for the past 6 weeks. In any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water thoroughly all woody plants installed this season or last fall. The soil is very dry, so even perennials planted this spring might be in need of water. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? I use a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well. I will water my new trees and the clients’ gardens I oversee this week.
— practice good horticulture with warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers. This is particularly important as the season winds down. Monitor for insect eggs and larvae and remove them before infestations become serious. Throw out infested or diseased plants to prevent the spread of disease (do not compost diseased or infested plant material). Fall-planted cool-season crops are not doing well this year!
— because of the warm weather, tomatoes continue to ripen their fruit, but be sure to cut back on watering to avoid split fruits: provide no more than an inch of water per week. (If it rains, don’t water.) Keep removing suckers. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes. And keep picking: don’t let the fruit rot in the garden.
— extend a garden bed or start a new one (it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn): mow the grass very short, then spread a 3-4” layer of shredded cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. You’ll be able to plant right through the mulch and thatch next spring. You can scatter seeds there now as you collect them.
— collect seeds. Seed of purple lovegrass and of little bluestem is ripe, as are seeds of joe pye weed, penstemon, prairie onion, and monarda. Some aster seeds will be ripe soon. Milkweed seed are almost done. I try to harvest just when the pods split open so I can easily separate the seeds from the down.
— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: if you feel you must fertilize your lawn, best practice is to give it no more than two applications of slow-release organic fertilizer each season, around Memorial Day and Labor Day. However, because of the warm weather, I would still hold off on fertilizing. If you reseed bare areas this fall, be sure to water newly seeded areas frequently: grass seed will only germinate if kept moist, so give seeded areas a light sprinkling several times a day. If you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. If the lawn is doing well, let the grass grow at least 3″ tall for maximum photosynthesis. Do not water, or if you feel you absolutely must water, water infrequently and deeply. And always remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow!
— plan for next season: Do it now, while the garden is still growing. Notice things that did great and things that didn’t, make lists of areas you want to improve, areas of lawn you could get rid of, places that are getting sunnier or shadier and need new plantings to suit.
— do not clean up the perennial garden until spring: the seeds that remain will feed the birds all winter; the stems and dried leaves will shelter innumerable small creatures; and the detritus the ground harbors next season’s butterflies and moths.
Enjoy the garden this week and always. It’s not too cold for a cookout!