Things you should be doing now to make your garden grow.

Even though September is the seventh month in the ninth position on the Gregorian calendar, it’s our second chance to get some gardening done.

In other words, this is a do-over month, the opportunity to try to get things right for the first or second time.

You can’t plant tomatoes and watermelon and expect anything. It’s too late for growing basil and sunflowers from seeds. But by and large, there are still lots of things to do if you are so inclined.

Of course you can do nothing and hope for the leaves to drop and winter to descend as Florida calls.
Summer’s heat and drought is a major player this year, though recent rains have helped the soils somewhat. More rain, except in the corn fields, would be welcomed with open arms.

Planting

Fall is the ideal time to plant some cool season vegetables. Cool weather, including a couple of light frosts, will be ideal for leaf growth. Think lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard. If you don’t care about eating the swollen roots of the beet or turnips and opt for the greens instead, go ahead and plant those seeds.

Radishes also can be planted now, and if the weather holds, you’ll end up with milder roots.

Plant the seeds directly in the ground, either in rows or in blocks, or in your containers, especially if you pull out the plants that were starting to look a little bedraggled.

You could plant some broccoli, and keep your fingers crossed we won’t get hard freezes until mid-November, or provide your own little hot houses with bales of straw and an old storm window.

On the flower front, there’s flowering cabbage and kale. Technically, you could eat them but they aren’t that great. On the other hand, their colorful leaves will grow and grow until several severe freezes or temperatures in the low teens.

Flowering cabbage and kale really don’t produce flowers, but the red, purple, pink and green leaves look like large flowers. Kale tends to have more ruffled and finely divided leaf margins while flowering cabbage leaves look like your typical cabbage leaf.

Pansies also love cooler temperatures. The Icicle series is supposed to last through the winter and come back strong in the spring.

Most of the other pansy series are marginally winter hardy, but if planted now should give you enough color until the first snowfall.

And let’s not forget about the potted chrysanthemums and asters available for the price of a couple fast-food hamburgers. They can be stuck directly in the ground or used as replacement plants for your containers.

Dividing plants

It seems counter-intuitive, but now is a great time to dig up some of your perennials and divide them.

The three biggies are peonies, hostas and daylilies. Many will tell you the last two can be divided any time the ground isn’t frozen but to be on the safe side, give yourself three to four weeks before the ground freezes for the roots to adapt.

If your daylilies are still their normal size, cut them back to four to six inches high. For peonies, you can just cut off the foliage at ground level and discard it. Hostas can either be cut back or just left the way they are.

Dig the clumps, separate the plants or root system making sure there are several shoots, sprouts or eyes on each piece. Water thoroughly and mulch for the winter.

Now is the time to order your spring blooming bulbs though it might be too early to plant them. If you do find some bulbs, store them in a spare refrigerator or cool basement until early October.

Of course, if you want to move your existing bulbs, go ahead and dig them up now. The trouble, for most of us, is figuring out where they’re buried. You don’t want to damage the bulbs as you dig them, but if you do not know where the bulbs are, it’s inevitable. There’s no way to say whether the damaged bulbs will survive without rotting; allow them to dry in the garage on some old screens or newspapers and keep your fingers crossed.

Holiday plants

If you saved your amaryllis, let them go dormant. Don’t water. Don’t give them light. Don’t do anything except move them to the basement or put in a closet. The strap-like leaves should die in a week or so. When brown, cut them off.

Keep the bulbs on the cool side for two to three months. That should give them enough time to set flower buds.

If you saved your poinsettia, start giving the plants absolute darkness from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. During the day, continue to let the plants grow with regular waterings, fertilizing, and bright light.

Some people place plants in a closet at night. Others will put the plants in an unused room with no
lights shining through the windows. Another option is covering the plant with a large cardboard box at night, removing it in the morning.

You can do the same thing with Christmas cacti.

David Robson is a specialist with University of Illinois Extension. For more gardening information or for your local extension unit office, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/mg.