September is a great time to be in the garden. The cooler weather is a warm welcome after a long hot summer. Don’t put your feet up and relax yet though. There’s still work to be done! Here are 11 things you should be doing in the garden in September.
1. Continuously harvest crops. The more you harvest, the more plants will produce. You may have had your fill of tomatoes and zucchini for the summer, but by winter you’ll be longing for them. Keep harvesting and store them for cold winter nights. Try freezing, canning, drying or pickling to keep produce in the house throughout the fall and winter months. There’s nothing like homemade pasta sauce. If you have a surplus of tomatoes, canning tomatoes for homemade pasta sauce is a fantastic way to use a lot of them up quickly. You’ll thank us come winter when you’re craving comfort food.
Many crops reach their peak in September. If you planted potatoes in early spring, they should be ready to harvest now. Beans, onions, apples, tomatoes as well as zucchini & summer squash are all generally ready to harvest in September.
2. Plant spring-flowering bulbs now. Planting flowers near your vegetables is a great way to bring pollinators to the garden. It’s also aesthetically pleasing. Some of our favorite bulbs to plant in the fall are daffodils, hyacinths and crocus. If you prefer to have flowers in containers, you can also plant those now. Store pots in your unheated garage over winter and place the pots out in early spring. You’ll have beautiful blooms early in the season.
3. Tend to pumpkins. Pumpkin season is here! Your pumpkins should be growing a lot at this point. There should be noticeable growth and they should be turning from dark green to bright orange, depending on the variety planted. To prevent them from rotting on the ground, place pumpkins on wooden boards or straw. Cut back leaves that are shadowing pumpkins. This will help them ripen in time for fall festivities. Pumpkins are ready to be harvested when their rinds are hard. Give the pumpkin a thump with your finger and if you hear that it is hollow, then go ahead and cut the stem with a sharp knife leaving about two inches of stem attached to the pumpkin.
4. Keep your beans. Continue to water and harvest beans regularly to promote continuous production. Before the first frost, pick some beans to dry and save for spring planting. Open-pollinated or heirloom varieties are great for saving. Hybrids do not produce as good of quality plants from seeds. If you have plants that are done for the season and you don’t need the space for fall planting, cut them off at ground level and leave the roots in the ground. They will add nitrogen back into the soil as they decompose.
5. Fall clean up. You’ve heard of spring cleaning, but have you heard of fall clean up? A gardener’s job is never done. Fall can bring almost as much work as spring does. Once fruits and vegetables are finished for the season, it’s time to pull them up and clean out the garden beds. Pull weeds and plants that are done producing. Tidy up the garden and get it ready to either plant a fall garden or to put down cover crops to protect the garden until your next planting season.
6. Cover sunflower heads with netting or a brown paper bag to prevent birds from stealing all the seeds. When the heads turn brown on the back side, cut them and harvest the seeds. If you need the space in the garden before the heads have turned completely brown, cut the heads off with about a foot of stem. Hang them upside down in a dry warm space for 5-7 days to dry out. Then you can easily harvest the seeds by rubbing your thumb across the face of the flower. Spread the seeds out to dry if you plan to save some for next year or to feed the birds. If you want to eat them, soak them in salt water, or plain water if you don’t want salted seeds, overnight and then roast them.
7. Save seeds for spring. Most fruits and vegetables are very easy to harvest seeds, particularly from tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas. Don’t save seeds from plants in the squash family. They won’t produce good quality plants. When saving seeds, choose ones from your best plants. You want seeds from the ones that looked good and produced good quality fruit and vegetables. Spread seeds out on paper towels to dry before placing them in envelopes. Put the envelopes in an airtight container.
8. Add compost to the garden. Fall is a great time to enrich vegetable garden beds with compost or manure, if you have the money and time. It can be expensive if you have a large garden. Some gardeners like to add compost in the fall and let the earthworms work their magic over winter, while others wait until spring to add compost. Either way is completely fine and up to you. Make sure the compost you use is completely decomposed. If you use partially decomposed compost, you could be draining your soil of nitrogen. Adding compost enriches the soil making it easier to drain and hold air and water at the same time. Spread 2 to 3 inches of compost over your vegetable garden bed and then mix it in about 6 inches deep. The beneficial microorganisms will prevent the harmful ones from surfacing and the worms will turn the compost into rich soil in time for spring planting.
9. Clean bird feeders and bird baths. We love birds here at gardenstead. It’s so much fun to see all the different color birds fly into the yard. You can learn how to attract beneficial birds to your garden to help with pest control and pollination if you aren’t already doing so. Bird feeders are a great way to attract birds. They can take a hit with all the birds, and squirrels, that visit them throughout the spring and summer though. No one likes to eat from a dirty plate. Well, we’re not sure if birds actually mind, but it would be nice to clean up bird feeders. Bird baths also turn into a big mess over the spring and summer. Make sure to clean them regularly. Birds don’t like completely clean water so it’s ok if leaves and other yard debris end up in the bird bath, but once mold starts to grow, it’s time to clean it. You can quickly clean bird baths by dropping 3 alkalizer tablets into the bird bath and them filling it will water. After they finish bubbling, dump the water out and simply wipe the gunk out. Then add clean water and drop in 3 penny’s or copper pieces to keep it cleaner longer.
10. Plant a fall garden. It’s not too late! Follow our guide to fall planting to extend your growing season. September is a great month to be in the garden. The days are cooler and shorter. Less bugs are in the garden at this point too. Head out to the garden and plant a few veggies for a fall and early winter harvest. Try planting a few of these:
- blueberry bushes (zones 3-10)
- Broccoli (zones 5-9)
- Garlic (zones 3-10)
- Spinach (zones 3-9)
- Lettuce (zones 3-10)
- Radishes (zones 3-10)
11. Clean out cold frames and greenhouses now before freezing temperatures arrive. Pick a day when the weather is nice and take the time to clean your cold frames and greenhouses so they will be ready when you want to use them. It is much nicer to clean them out now while the weather is nice, rather than in the cold temperatures of winter.