Jobs for the month: September 2011

Expert Gardening AdviceSeptember can be one of the loveliest months. Often the weather is good – an Indian Summer, with warm, sunny days stretching into November.

The garden takes on a heavy drowsiness, with early autumn flowers like Japanese Anemones and Asters bathed in low golden sunlight, and heavy dews drench the grass until almost midday. If we have good weather, it’s a huge bonus because not only can we enjoy our gardens for a few precious extra weeks, but can make a good start on all the work there is to be done this month.

Vegetables:

Potatoes:

Maincrop potatoes should be lifted now. It’s fine to leave them in the ground until they’re needed, but if the weather is wet and they’re at risk of slug damage, it’s best to dig them up.

Choose a dry day and lift them carefully with a fork to avoid damaging the tubers, and leave them on the surface of the soil to dry out for a few hours before storing them in brown paper potato sacks. They should be stored in a dry, frost-free shed.

Fork the soil over after lifting to make sure that even the tiniest tubers have been removed; left in the soil, these ‘volunteers’ can carry disease forward to the next season.

Tender veg:

Tomatoes have done well this summer and have cropped heavily. Plants need to be lifted before the first frosts, so keep an eye on the weather forecast. If tomatoes are still green when the plant is dug out, just put them on a sunny windowsill and they should change colour within a day or so. Alternatively, green tomato chutney is delicious, and a great way of using up unripened fruit.

Keep picking runner beans daily to keep them cropping unless you want to save seed for sowing next year. Once the beans are finished, or have been damaged by frost, cut them off at ground level, but leave the roots in the soil; the roots have nitrogen-fixing nodules on them which will add nutrient to the soil.

Harvest pumpkins and gourds when they are of a suitable size. Choose a dry day and cut them off leaving about 5cm of stem. If the weather is sunny, leave them outdoors for the skin to ripen and harden, otherwise put them in a dry spot in a sunny greenhouse.

Continue to cut courgettes whilst they’re small as long as they’re still cropping.

Hardy veg;

Leaf Beet, or Perpetual Spinach has done very well this year and should stand well in all but the coldest winters. Keep harvesting individual leaves as they’re required.

Sow lettuce or mixed salad leaves for use over winter. Sow a pinch of seed in a 7cm pot, then prick out into modules before planting under tunnel cloches outdoors.

Harvest the first of the leeks; lift carefully with a fork from the end of the row to avoid disturbance to the other plants.

In windy areas it’s a good idea to protect over-wintering cabbages and Brussels sprouts. Earth them up and firm the soil around the stems, or stake them individually.

Fruit;

Fruit has cropped early this year thanks to the warm, dry weather, and there are bumper crops of apples, pears, plums and damsons. To test if apples and pears are fully ripe, cup the fruit and twist gently; if it comes away from the branch without any resistance, it’s ready for picking. Pears will continue to ripen after picking. Not all fruit on the same tree will be ready at the same time and ripening will depend very much on the variety, some not being ready until late October.

Early varieties of apple do not store well and are best eaten within a few weeks. Later ripening varieties can be stored in clear plastic bags in a cool dry place; check the bags regularly to make sure that individual fruits are not rotting. Apples can also be individually wrapped in newspaper and stored in boxes or trays.

Prune blackcurrants by taking out old stems close to the base.

Order new fruit trees and bushes for planting in early November.

Lawns:

Now is the ideal time to sow a new lawn, or repair an old one, or to establish a wildflower meadow. See last months ‘How To’ for details.

Established lawns have been under a great deal of stress this year, with a dry summer following a very harsh winter. Applying an autumn lawn feed will help to keep the lawn healthy and growth strong. Spot-treat any weeds with a systemic weedkiller, then, if you can, rake out dead grass and moss using a spring-tine rake – or hire a mechanical one. Aerate the lawn using a fork or a mechanical aerator to improve drainage and allow oxygen to reach the roots, then apply the lawn feed.

Flowers;

Collect seed from plants you want to grow on next year. Choose a dry day and wait until the dew has dried off plants. Only collect ripe seed – the seed case should be dry and brittle and the seeds are usually brown; unripened seed will not germinate. Collect the seed in paper envelopes, separating out any debris. Label clearly and store in a box or tin in a cool dry place.

Order and plants bulbs for a spring display – there’s no better way of bringing colour to the garden. Choose carefully; daffodils are wonderful, but if you have a small garden, select choice varieties rather than mixed bags – you may as well have the best. All bulbs are best planted in groups or drifts, and in most gardens that means beneath shrubs or amongst other plants in the flower border.

One of my favourites is ‘Thalia’ and some of the miniature and smaller daffodils are best if you dislike the ugly dying leaves after flowering. Don’t forget the very pretty smaller bulbs like the exquisite ‘Glory of the Snow’ (Chionodoxa luciliae) or the beautiful blue spring squill, Scilla siberica.

Happy Gardening,
Sue

Shopping List

Vegetables

Sussex Trugs – set of three

Secateurs / Pruners

Tunnel cloches

Hand Trowel

Dutch Hoe

String

Canes

Lawns

Lawn Rake

Lawn Seed

Flowers

Seed packet organiser

Seed Packets

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