Monday, September 1, 2008

September Newsletter

Dear Gardeners,

Ah, those are words I haven’t written in a while! It’s good to be back. Like the end of a great vacation, it is good to get into the swing of things again! So it is with September.

Yes, we desert gardeners take summer hiatus while the rest of North America gets their hands dirty and their fresh, juicy veggies. As the growing season for others winds down, ours begins! So, throw your garden gloves through the washing machine, rinse off your trowels, unpack your saved seeds from last year, and let’s get gardening!

The fall garden is the most productive time of the year for us desert dwellers. So, you have some work cut out for you. Here is your September checklist:

1. REMOVE THE RIFRAFF. If your yard and garden have been hit with the same summer monsoons that mine has, then you probably have an abundance of vegetation… but not necessarily the kind you want. It’s time to de-weed. When weeding, try to get the root removed completely. If you let them lie, you will be repopulating your lawn and your neighbors’ when they go to seed, send up new runners, or layer themselves to propagate descendants. I don’t put my weeds in my compost, because I don’t want them to come back to haunt me. Bag ‘em and green can ‘em.

2. MOWING AND SOWING. It’s time to decide what you are going to do about a winter lawn. Are you going to plant winter grass? Are you going to let the Bermuda go yellow for the cool months? What ya gonna do? I know there are a few who receive this newsletter who are new to the desert. For you, I will mention that there are two lawn seasons here. Summer and Winter. Two types of grass, two planting times, one full year of greenness. Many choose to take a cool-season vacation from mowing. Personally, I would rather do the opposite and let the grass die in summer and mow when it is nice outside! But at our house, we opt to plant a winter lawn. I love the option of opening Christmas presents on the grass in 70 degrees!! So, decide now if you are going to overseed your lawn for winter, and if so, make arrangements to get started! *more on this under grasses in the Suggestions section*

3. SEEDS AND SWEDES. Okay, so not really Swedes. A lot of bulbs come from Holland… but it rhymed! Do I get credit for that? Either way, it is time to start planting seeds for the veggie, flower, and herb garden as well as thinking ahead for your winter bulbs. Make sure you have fresh seeds packed for this year (it usually says on the back of the packet), and when you buy new seeds, be mindful not to get them hot. This means if you stop at the grocery store on the way home from the garden center, take those babies in with you! And, it doesn’t hurt to store them in the fridge when you get home until you are ready to plant them.

4. GO WILD! It’s time to spread your spring wildflower seeds!

5. MAKE A PLAN & BUDGET WISELY. If you are a plant geek like me, this is the time of year when you have to really have some self-control to prevent yourself from buying every interesting-looking item in the garden center and ordering hundreds of dollars worth of seeds. Not to mention at the end of the month we will be seeing many bulbs available that are too breathtaking for words!! The solution? Don’t decide in the garden center what you are going to buy. Create a garden plan, account how many/what size you need, compose a shopping list, and stick to it. Additionally formulate a budget like you would for anything else. This way if you do find an irresistible plumeria at Home Depot, you can decide what items from your list will have to be scratched in order to remain within budget. Afterall, the kids won’t be as thrilled with Wandering Jew at Christmas as I would be. A true Garden Plan is not a list of things you want to grow, but a map of their placement in your space. Sometimes what we want to grow, is not the same as what we have time, space, and budget to grow.

6. THE WRITER’S MIND NEVER WHITHERS. Journal your experiences this year in the garden to remind you next year what worked and what didn’t so much. It is also great to write down, blog, or otherwise document your garden plantings to remind you later what those little green sprigs are coming out of the ground. It is surprising to me what can be forgotten in just a few short weeks!

7. MORE FUN TO COME. September is busy in the desert. Especially for vegetable and herb growers! But October is even busier because it is time to plant and prune everything else. So, get ready! You have your work cut out for you!

I am excited for the fall garden, and I hope you are, too! Please, if you have any suggestions, tips, or recommendations, send them to me at or leave me a comment on the blog. I’d also love to share pictures of your gardens’ success, so send those along, as well!

Hands dirty,

(Below you will find my monthly itemized suggestions.)

September Suggestions


It’s time to clear out your flower beds! Remove summer annuals, add a little manure to revive the soil, and plant your cool-season choices as soon as temps drop to highs below 100 and nights in the low 70’s. Mid-September ought to do it. Once the plants are established, they will tolerate a rise in temperature, but fresh plantings don’t love the blast furnace heat.

Great plants and seeds to look forward to this month: alyssum, arctotis, aster, bachelor’s buttons, bells of Ireland, black-eyed Susan, California poppies, canary creeper, candytuft, clarkia, coreopsis, cosmos, English daisies, forget-me-not, gaillardia, larkspur (a favorite of mine) lobelia, marigolds, morning glory (check for legality in your area, and mind that it is invasive), nasturtium (LOVE these, and you can eat the flowers, too), nemesia, nemophila, nicotiana, pansy, petunia, snapdragon, statice, stock, sunflowers, strawflower, sweet alyssum, sweet peas, sweet sultan, toadflax, wallflowers, zinnia.


Late this month, look for all the bulb goodies. I prefer to buy from bulb catalogs and online. Also, Costco seems to get nice bulbs in. There is just so much more variety online to choose from than what mediocre selections will be found next to the check-out line at Lowe’s.

If you want to grow hybrid tulips, crocus, or hyacinth by your front door for spring, buy them now to allow plenty of chilling time (in your fridge) before planting. These bulbs must have more cold hours in order to bloom than what we are naturally going to get here in the desert. Also, if you buy amaryllis now, you may have Christmas blooms!

Growing bulbs is not intimidating. They are some of the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow. Just remember, planting depths written on the packaging is for the rest of America. Here, plant them half as deeply as what is stated.

Fun bulbs to look for in September: bugle flower, butterfly iris, cape tulip, freesia, harlequin flower, chasmanthe, Solider-in-the-box, Naples garlic, ornamental alliums. Oh, and potatoes… but I usually list those under veggies.

The list will be really long next month, so save some garden space!


Now is a great time to plant the succulents of all types and varieties! Go pick out a lovely agave or funky yucca and throw it in the mix to add stationary strength to the texture of your garden!


Time to plant strawberries! Hooray! I like the Sequoia and Chandler varieties, myself. Give them space, they spread a lot. Also, fertilize your grapevines, but no pruning, yet.


Did I mention that it is time to decide if you are planting winter grass or not? It is. Your bemudagrass lawn is going to start puttering out in October and won’t be back until the end of March. Meanwhile, it is a great time to plant perennial rye for a winter lawn. (Annual rye stains little boy’s knees, and perennial, supposedly, does not.)

Before overseeding, let your Bermuda dry out for a week (or more if you are swampy post-monsoon), then verticut (give it a buzz, not a trim) your lawn and spread rye seed. Keep your rye moist until germination is complete. Remember: a dry seed is a dead seed.


It is a good time to mulch your perennials, and late in the month you will see a variety of spring-flowering plants available in the garden centers.

It’s not too late to prune frost-sensitive perennials. Your long to-do list comes next month, so start your yoga now to get ready!

Like annuals, the list of plants is longer next month, so save room, but here are a few that can be planted from seed now: aster, carnation, columbine, feverfew, hollyhock, statice, yarrow.


It is time to take a look at your roses. Did they fare well through summer? If not, perhaps you should consider a new location for them. Take a look at your garden and decide where you would like a few more. Late this month they will start reappearing in garden centers. You don’t want to wait too long to plant container-grown roses, as they will need a chance for their root system to become established before the cold nights set in. Don’t trim your beauties yet; wait until the daytime temps are staying below 100 degrees.


Prune only summer-flowering shrubs at this time. For others, wait until October, the busiest desert-gardening month. However, if you have storm damage from the high-winds of the season, prune those puppies now! Don’t wait. Desert-native trees may need pruned in order to prevent breaking branches in the next wind, as well.

This is the month to plant desert-native trees. If it isn’t frost tender, September is a great planting month. Don’t plant deciduous trees now. Wait until they are dormant in a few months. This is the last month to fertilize palms, too.

I recently learned that one of the ways plant disease is spread among shrubs and trees is through pruning tools. I guess that makes sense. We wouldn’t go to a blood-drive where they used the same needle on all of the participants… so it should be with our pruning tools, only we don’t have to replace them after each snip. Carry a bottle of disinfecting wipes in your garden tool tray, and wipe after each cut. Great idea, huh?


This is what I’ve waited all summer for! This season is what makes desert-dwelling bearable for me. Here goes.

When choosing between the many garden varieties of veggies, select short-season varieties that will mature more quickly. This is true all year long, so remember it. For instance: A tomato that matures in 69 days will neither be fried by the heat in the spring garden nor bitten by the cold in the fall garden. Whereas, a 90 day tomato (like beefsteak) will be fried or bitten before it matures, wasting your time, resources, and garden space. Short lived is often more lived.

With the upcoming mild winter, it is a great time to plant cole crops (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, etc), greens, and veggies. Keep in mind, if you plant 15 spaces of lettuce in one day, you will have 15 heads ripe and ready the same day. I like to plant mine 3-5 spaces per week over 6 or 8 weeks, to allow continual harvest of the items that don’t keep well and can’t be dried or canned. It is called succession planting and is especially useful with greens in the desert where you can grow them all winter long.

Prune heat and sun damage herbs: geranium, rosemary, lavender, sage, and thyme.

Divide chives, oregano, marjoram, and mint.

Plant and sow in September: anise, bay, beans, beets (a great reliable grower for the kid garden), bok choy, borage, Brussels sprouts, bunching onions (late in the month), burnet, cabbage, calendula, carrots, chamomile, chervil (not to be confused with gerbil), Chinese cabbage, Chinese chives, celery, cilantro, collard, cucumber, cumin, dill (careful, it will take over the world if you let it go to seed), endive, fennel, garlic (late in the month), garlic chives, kohlrabi, lavender, leek, lettuce, marjoram, mustard greens, onions (late in the month), parsley, peas, peppers (early in the month), potatoes, radish, rosemary, sage, sorel, spinach, Swiss chard, thyme, tomatoes (early in the month), turnips

Save room for October’s plantings: close to all of the September plantings (but not tomatoes or peppers), and one of my favorites, ASPARAGUS!