It's Landscaping Time

The latter part of September is prime time for planting landscape plants -- trees, shrubs and ground covers -- so they can develop sturdy root systems over the winter rainy period and burst into top growth next spring. You may want to wait until the first rain before putting in any new plants. Remember, nursery plants may have been nurtured in a protected lath-covered setting, so shield them after transplanting with temporary shade and protection from drying winds. Shingles, cardboard boxes and old umbrellas are useful tools to provide temporary shelter.

Maintenance

Cool-season lawns (bent, blue-grass, fescue and rye) will soon begin a green growth spurt; they will need fertilizer and water. Plant winter vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and turnips) and cool-season annuals (such as calendula, Iceland poppy and nemesia) this month to take advantage of the warm soil and warm air temperatures.

Fertilize begonias, fuchsias, and all newly planted annuals, vegetables and perennials after they are established for two weeks. Citrus plants get their final feeding this month.

Prune back overgrown, scrawny geraniums and pelargoniums. You can propagate them along with hydrangea, ivy and fuchsia by pruning a non-blooming tip and planting in damp sand or vermiculite.

Carefully dig up and divide overgrown agapanthus, bearded iris, daylily, primrose and Shasta daisy. For the best selection, shop for bulbs as soon as they are available in nurseries. Buy spring blooming bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes such as anemones, crocus, daffodils, Dutch hyacinth, Dutch iris, freesias, leucojum, narcissus, ranunculus, scilla and tulips.

Some of the most delightful weather in Humboldt County comes in September, California's second spring. There is less fog; days are bright and clear.

September has less than two percent of our annual rainfall. Plant roots extend several feet into the ground and if you water with just a hose nozzle you only wet the dust. The best way to get the root area wet is to use a fine spray or a slow drip and let it soak in over several hours. You will not have to water again for quite a while, and it is also much better for the plant to have infrequent and deep watering.

If you have plants in pots, keep a sharp eye on them, because the combination of sun and wind dries them out rapidly. Once the soil in the pot has dried away from the sides, the water just runs right through. Set them in a bucket of water until they have absorbed water again.

Lawns are trying real hard to go dormant, so if you have a few brown patches, don't panic. Cool-season lawns (bent, blue-grass, fescue and rye) will soon begin a green growth spurt---they will need fertilizer and water.

Planting

In the garden the spotlight shifts from tired annuals to hardy asters and Japanese anemones. Do not overlook Aster frikarti, whose 2 1/2 inch flowers of soft blue continue to open from mid-August through October. This showy aster forms a mound of gray-green foliage two feet high. Consider, too, the hardy dwarf asters in named varieties. These make fine edging plants for September and October, and require no staking as do the regular tall types.

A small tuberous plant which blooms this month is the hardy Cyclamen hederifolium (C. neapolitanum). Both a pink and a white flowering form are available. The pretty marbled leaves unfold as the blooms fade, providing an attractive groundcover until their summer dormancy. Hardy cyclamen like filtered shade and the leaf mold soil of a woodland area. Use under trees, as carpets under camellias, rhododendrons, and large, noninvasive ferns. Good companions are the bulb flowers colchicum and autumn-blooming crocus, which flower at the same time.

Bedding plants to fill your garden with color are available at the nurseries. You will find pansy and viola (both most effective when planted in clumps), nemesia, fairy primrose, snapdragon, winter stock, calendula and Iceland poppy. There is time to grow these from seed if you really hurry, but flowering will start much later. For an attractive border, try nemesia backed by winter stock and snapdragons. Plant winter vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and turnips. Revitalize the tired soil by adding a thick layer of composted humus, and spading it in deeply before doing any planting.

Perennials may be found as bedding plants at nurseries, and this is an economical way to buy them, for once they are moved into gallon pots the price jumps fantastically.

Sweet peas can be had for Christmas if you use seed of "early-flowering" varieties, sow early this month, water and fertilize carefully, and have a little luck with the weather.

On bulbs for fall planting, watch for early arrivals in order to get some of the largest, as well as some of the new varieties which are frequently in short supply. Buy spring blooming bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes such as anemones, crocus, daffodils, Dutch hyacinth, Dutch iris, freesias, leucojum, narcissus, ranunculus, scilla and tulips. Even though tulips have been precooled, you will have better results if you buy them early and keep them in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator until planting time in December. Time to plant most spring-flowering bulbs is October.

Do not fertilize roses anymore, so new growth will have a chance to mature and harden by dormant-pruning time. Keep up watering.

On chrysanthemum, stop fertilizing any that show color, but keep up the watering program. Check stakes and tie on tall varieties and those with large flowers. Use furrow or flood irrigation, since overhead watering adds too much weight to blossoms.

Fertilize all newly planted annuals, vegetables and perennials after they are established for two weeks. Citrus plants would benefit from a final feeding this month.

Prune back overgrown, scrawny geraniums and pelargoniums. You can propagate them along with hydrangea, ivy and fuchsia by pruning a non-blooming tip and planting in damp sand or vermiculite.

New lawns are advantageously started this month. Seeding may be done any time in the coastal areas, the latter part of the month would be best further inland.

It is a good month to plant broad-leaved evergreens; roots establish themselves in the warm ground and during fall rains. This month and next you can lift, divide, and reset spring- and summer-blooming perennials. Carefully dig up and divide overgrown agapanthus, bearded iris, daylily, primrose and Shasta daisy.

Here's a nice combination of plants that will give you a pretty display next spring: plant Grape Hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) and evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens). Add some white or light blue pansies and the effect is stunning. All these plants should be available in the nurseries this month. Plant in full sun or partial shade. Set the grape hyacinth bulbs about 2 inches deep and 2 to 3 inches apart. The more you plant, the better the show. Plant the candytuft and pansies from six-packs. Set them among the bulbs, at least 6 inches apart.

Fall planting is better than spring planting. Almost all the plant books say plant in the spring. But almost all the plant books are written for the East Coast and the rest of the continental states. Here on the North Coast we enjoy a Mediterranean climate that is found in only a few areas of the world. By planting now, while the soil is still warm, the roots continue to grow until the soil temperatures drop into the low fifties, usually in December. Then in the spring when the soil and the air warm up, the plant is already established and responds with strong growth. When the rains stop, the plant has a healthy root and top system and can survive nicely on minimal watering.

Remember, nursery plants may have been nurtured in a protected lath-covered setting, so shield them after transplanting with temporary shade and protection from drying winds. Shingles, cardboard boxes, even old umbrellas are useful tools to provide temporary shelter.

Blanket Flower

A whole lot of years ago, if you noticed those bright yellow and bronze daisies in front of the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce at 14th and Main, you weren't alone. This "Hey, look at me!" garden was composed of only one type of plant called Gaillardia grandiflora, also called Blanket Flower. This particular variety was 'Goblin', a lower-growing and more compact type than the species.

Goblins!

The Blanket Flower's foliage looks a little rough, but the three to four-inch wide flowers completely blanket the plant. This plant is available as seed, in six-packs or in gallon pots. I purchased these in six-packs in the fall, potted them up into four-inch containers and set them out in June. If it hadn't been in such a high-traffic area, I would have planted them directly from the six-packs.

They bloom from June until frost, thrive in sun and in the heat, tolerate some drought (no irrigation system in this spot then), and can even be used for cutting. They do require good drainage. Sometime before spring I shear them back to about half their size. After a couple of seasons they burn out and need to be replaced.

The white milliflora petunias that were in the nearby planter are a new variety that can be used as a ground cover. These require a bit more food and water than regular petunias.

Native Plants

Planting now is especially important for California native plants, because they have adapted to this cycle. If you wish to garden with natives (and it much less work to maintain a native garden!) it is almost imperative that you do it this way. It isn't a coincidence that native plants appear in the nurseries this time of year.

Garlic

Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow here and it also has the advantage of being low maintenance since it grows through the winter. You can plant now or through Christmas and still get a fair crop in early summer. There are several varieties available at the nurseries, including elephant garlic, which is actually a leek.

Separate the bulbs into individual cloves and plant the biggest ones pointy end up and twice as deep as their size, five inches apart and in rows sixteen inches apart. Put elephant garlic twice as far apart. If you plant them just before the rains start you will not have to water. To get a large crop, keep them weeded and side dress them regularly with a fertilizer high in nitrogen when they are up and then again next spring when the soil begins to warm. Detailed directions for growing ab excellent crop of garlic are here.