September Chores: Let's Learn Some weeds

Powdery mildew aside, this season's garden loved all the rain. Naturally, the weeds did too. Take a quick stroll through your garden and check the weeds. Check yourself too, and see if you can id them.  If you're like me, I failed on the id part. I don't know my weeds as well as I know my beloved plant children. That's about to change, because every gardener worth their weight in zucchini needs to know the competition.

Weed War: Chore Number 1

The purpose of weeding is to stop the weed seeds from spreading, and hopefully, lessen the weeds for next season.

  1. If there's no time for pulling, use super sharp snipers and cut those flowering-soon-to-be-seeds off. This buys some time and helps reduce the spread. Remember, one year's seed is seven year's weed.
  2. Weed after a good rain. The weeds are easier to pull up, root and all.  
  3. Avoid mucking around too much in wet soil, though. If you can reach across, instead of stepping on wet soil, do so. Rake up the soil when finished to reduce compaction and runoff.  
  4. Do dispose of the weeds. Unless you're a composting guru, it's probably best to throw weeds out with the trash.

Compost needs to be hot to destroy the weed seeds. Turning up the temperature is as easy as turning the compost pile, but for the beginner, skip adding the weeds for now. You want your first go at composting to be successful. You don't want to spread weeds into the garden directly from your compost bin next year. For more information on weeds and compost, click here on Weed Science Society of America's site. (Lots of other great information on this site, as well. All about weeds.)

First up. Let's identify a few of the bad guys.  Click on each picture for information.

Pennsylvania smartweed in bloom. Polygonum penslyvanicum is a weed that thrives in moist areas and is blooming now. Cut off seed heads if you don't have time to weed, but weeds pull up easily, especially in dry soil. Pulling these is not a time consuming task. Just FYI: Smartweed is in the same family as knotweed. So, there's that. Persistent is it's true name. Click here for more information about this weed, and a map of where you'll find it. (Hint: Everywhere but a few states out west.)

Yellow nutsedge or nutgrass, Cyperus esculentus, thrives in areas of poor drainage. Places where water pools, and sprinklers are leaking (hence it's infestation in your lawn), but once established it can tolerate drier soils. Those flower heads need to go. Click here for more information on this weed.

Ground cover weeds: The Worst

A great book for identifying and understanding your weeds. Click here for more information.

 A once through pass for weeds doesn't cut it, and timing is crucial. For spot places that need extra care, try layered cardboard or newspaper smothered in mulch, which is very effective. Weed the area first, water it well, then put down cardboard or newspaper, and mulch. If you want to plant in that area, cut small x's in the cardboard and continue to water the plants. Substantial perennials and shrubs work best. 

Weed Tip: Purchase the book pictured here for easy identification of weeds. Click here

Lawn Care: This is the month: Chore Number 2

  1. Now is the time to reseed bare places, aerate compacted places, and add an inch layer of compost to the lawn.
  2. Suggested time to add a layer of compost: mid-September and again mid-October to early November.
  3. On the final mow, be sure to lower the mower blades to 3" instead of 3.5". Leave your lawn clippings unless you've had to wait too long to cut and the grass clippings are matted down, then remove and compost.
  4. Consider adding clover to your lawn as it helps with nitrogen fixation, helps push out unwanted weeds, doesn't get over 4-8" tall and grows well with grass. For more information on clover, click!

Lawn Tip: Ian Farthering will be giving you all the lawn care advice you need on Saturday, September 9th at 11a.m. at BB Barns. Register now. It's free and full of information.

Perennials: Divide and Conquer: Chore Number 3

Helenium 'Mardi Gras' is a summer through fall bloomer. it is non-stop blooming for 3-4 months. It is unbeatable for color and needs no deadheading to keep blooming.

  1. Use this cooler weather as an opportunity to divide and transplant perennials, and begin your fall clean-up. Many perennials are yellowing already (or have very chewed-up) leaves.
  2. Hostas are a good place to start. Cut off their flower stalks, then go through the garden with a pair of deadheaders, and remove spent flowers, yellow or sickly leaves, cutting back to plant level. You'll thank yourself in October when fall clean-up begins in earnest, as deadheading can be a time consuming task.
  3. Remember too, that perennials benefit from division every 3-5 years, so examine what perennials are starting to bleed out in the middle (dianthus, phlox, shasta daisy), and divide and transplant for a healthier plant. It's an inexpensive and easy way to grow your garden.   

Perennial Tip: Spring-to-early-summer blooming perennials divide in fall, late summer-to-fall blooming perennials divide in spring.

Gardener's rule of thumb: Divide when you have the time.

Landscape Tip: The longer you live in a landscape, (unless you have no trees) the shadier it gets. Is it time to re-evaluate perennial beds? Which perennials are leggy and reaching for the sunlight? Or the opposite? Which ones are now getting fried from too much sun because a tree was removed?  Or, maybe the perennials are gone by now? If so, check out the store's great selection of fall perennials. Anemones, Joe Pye Weed, plumbago, sneezeweed, asters, and more. These perennials will keep color going into fall. 

Peony Tip: Peonies are one perennial that don't like to be moved, but sometimes it's necessary and September is their moving month. For how to transplant peonies, click!

 Hostas make a great groundcover and display with their showy leaves, but they are the first perennials whose leaves start yellowing. Don't be afraid to go ahead and cut them back. A few new leaves will emerge as temperatures vary, but that's one less job for fall clean-up. Do the same for other perennials as they begin to fade. 

Hostas make a great groundcover and display with their showy leaves, but they are the first perennials whose leaves start yellowing. Don't be afraid to go ahead and cut them back. A few new leaves will emerge as temperatures vary, but that's one less job for fall clean-up. Do the same for other perennials as they begin to fade. 

Pruning & Fertilizing: Chore Number Zero: You can Skip it!

Do not prune shrubs or trees. Skip the fertilizer, too. Fertilizing stops at the end of July, first of August. You can, however, continue to remove all dead/diseased/damaged/dying wood on shrubs and trees, which is where pests and disease hang out. You don't want new growth pushing out now that won't have a chance to harden off before cold weather sets in, causing potential die-back.

Plant Trees and Shrubs: Chore Number 4

Seiryu maple in fall. Consider adding some fall color to your garden now. (Picture courtesy of Chris Stone, perennial buyer at BB Barns Garden Center.)

September and October are good months to plant trees and shrubs. The soil temperature will stay warmer than the air temperature as night temperatures drop, forcing plants to focus on root growth over shoot growth. That's a good thing, since the goal is to have a good root system. Traditionally, we get more rain in the fall and early spring than in the summer, which is another good reason to plant now. That said, be sure to check the amount of rain you're getting and don't assume we are. Establishing plants with consistent watering is key to healthy, drought resistant plants in the future.

The store is getting in truckloads of stock now. 


Add-Ons: Not actually chores but fun if You're Game

Veggies: Plant Greens Now

Fall transplants are in! Plant mustard, radish, mixed greens, turnips, and more for a fall harvest. Here's a quick how-to on planting and growing greens

Container Gardening: Spruce up your SEasonal Pots

It seems early for pansies and violas, but getting them in the ground now establishes good root systems for a beautiful fall show (that lasts well into next growing season). Plant now, and if the pansies begin to get leggy, shear them very short (about 2"), which forces root development, and creates a tighter plant. New growth will happen quickly and they'll be blooming again soon. Mix with annual mums, heirloom pumpkins and evergreens for a great fall display. 

For our Autumn Container Gardening With Flair seminar, register here. Learn how to create fall containers and vinettes. 

Picture courtesty of Nancy Martemucci. Read more about her garden here

Bulbs: Purchase them now

Decide on your bulbs and purchase now. Where does the spring garden need sprucing up? How many bulbs and which varieties are needed? We sell out fast once the weather starts cooling down, so don't dawdle. Make your list and purchases now. 

If you're read this far, then you know September is a busy month. Expect October to be just as challenging. If you want more information on the topics discussed here, the upcoming September blogs will be dedicated to more in-depth look at lawns, autumn containers, planting bulbs and dividing perennials. We will also be offering a month's worth of free classes on a variety of topics. Register here

For a printable pdf of the September chores without pictures, click here.

Cinthia Milner is the garden coach, outside sales staff and blog writer for BB Barns. 

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.