September's Southern California Gardening Tips

Fall is a great time to plant trees, shrubs, bulbs, perennials, grass seed and sod. Plants that are planted in the fall enjoy cooler temperatures and ideal growing conditions that allow roots ample time to grow into the surrounding soil. Use starter plant fertilizer mix when planting and mulch to control the ground temperature and moisture. Be sure to water newly planted trees and shrubs and add about 3 inches of mulch around the base of each plant.

Plants and trees that provide color and accents in the month of September include Beautyberry, Crape Myrtles, Cottoneaster, Viburnums, Hypericum, Hydrangeas, Potentilla, Pyracantha, Butterfly Bush, Coreopsis, Scabiosa, Ornamental Grasses, Mums, Flowering Dogwood, Red Maple, Red Oak, just to name a few.

Allow your plants to finish the summer growth cycle in the normal manner--that means no heavy applications of fertilizer or excessive pruning. Both heavy fertilization and pruning encourage new growth. Right now the plants are anticipating the cooler weather and going into a natural dormancy, anything that disturbs that will weaken the plants for wintering and for display in the spring. New growth is also susceptible to injury should you experience a sudden freeze.

For every weed you pull now, you will get rids of what will be hundreds in the spring. Remove any diseased or infested plants as well. While doing a general cleanup, save seeds from your favorite self-pollinating flowers. Allow the flower heads to mature instead of dead-heading, collect the seeds and dry them on newspaper. Store them in glass jars in a cool, dark, dry place until spring. This is also a good time to mark where your perennials are so you don't plant over them by mistake.

Make sure you bring your tender plants indoors before you experience a frost. Pot up herbs, chives and parsley, bring them indoors and put them in a sunny window to extend their season. You can also take cuttings from your annuals and over-winter them in a sunny window to have fresh new plants for your spring garden.

Fall is a good time for improving your garden soil by adding manure, compost and leaves to increase the organic matter content. Watch for insect or disease damage and remove.

Annuals
September into October is a good time to plant mums and pansies. They both love the cooler weather and can survive light frost. Most will come back in early spring to bloom again, depending on your part of the country. They appreciate some shade in the warmer regions, and remember that some of your trees will be bare of leaves, letting in a lot more sun than normal--so choose your locations wisely. Mums like a little more sun than pansies.

Perennials and Bulbs
Plant spring-flowering bulbs now for the best chance of a brilliant spring display. Irises like to be planted now, daffodils towards the end of September and Tulips in early October as the weather cools. Make sure you mulch to insulate the soil and keep the ground temperature warm enough for roots to establish themselves. As the weather cools, you will want to pull back the mulch at the end of winter to discourage premature growth as the sun will warm the soil.

If you dig up up bulbs to separate them into more plants, or to protect the more tender bulbs from harsh winters, it should be done before your first frost.

Vegetable Gardens
During Fall you can still plant beets, radishes, turnips and leaf lettuce. Root crops can be left in the ground in the cooler climates, be dug up as needed--just apply mulch to prevent ground freeze.

This is an excellent time, after harvesting your summer crops, to plant a cover crop of clover, soybeans or vetch to be dug under next spring. These plants produce nitrogen providing good organic matter and food for your next spring crops, and they help control winter weeds as a bonus.

Lawns
This is the best month to reseed your lawn. For best results, soak the lawn a day or two before you aerate or de-thatch your lawn. Then you can lime, fertilize and seed your lawn all in a day. If you are planning to use any weed killers, you cannot seed for at least three weeks after applying the killer.

House Plants
If you have taken houseplants out for the summer, it is time to bring them back in--check for bugs first! It's a good time to re-pot those that need it, then fertilize through November and stop until spring.

Begin conditioning your Poinsettias and Christmas cactus to get them ready for the upcoming holiday season. For more information about this, click here.

Shrubs and Trees
Prune evergreens lightly now if you need to shape them, but save major pruning until early next year. Pruning stimulates new growth which may not have time to harden off before winter.

Stop fertilizing your trees to allow this years growth to harden off before winter.