September is the Best Time to Sow the Seeds of Springtime - by Tom Spencer / Soul of the Garden

Autumn has always been my favorite season. As a kid, growing up in the Hudson River Valley of New York, I remember it as a time of crisp days, colored by brilliant foliage and scented with the smoke of leaves that had been raked into neat piles and set ablaze along the roads and driveways. September was the month that my dad would take the screens off the windows and replace them with a second layer of glass, and my mom would remind me to close the doors against the chill of the evening. It wasn't summer anymore, after all.

Imagine how cheated I felt by my first September in Texas. I have lived in the Lone Star State for nearly thirty years now, and incredibly, I still have to dampen that rise of expectation I feel when September rolls around. Here, September is the fifth month of a six-month summer, its very name feels like a taunt. A passing cool front may, at last, break the unrelenting spell of heat, but its effects will quickly fade. I have to keep reminding myself that it won't be fall 'till the end of October.

Despite the heat, September is a time when Texas gardeners need to shake the dust off their boots and get busy. In fact, this is one of the busiest months on our gardening calendar. There is a long list of tasks that we need to tend to, because the seeds of our "second spring", our incredibly mild falls, are planted now. This is also the best time of year to sow the wildflowers and divide the perennials that will brighten your gardens when our official springtime arrives.

Vegetable gardeners from Central Texas count on the fall as their best growing season. In fact, if you haven't started your fall veggie garden yet, you're running late. Veterans have had their fall tomatoes and peppers in the ground for weeks now, taking advantage of the lingering heat. However, there is still time for those of you who relish the bounty of the winter harvest. September is the ideal time to start your leaf crops like spinach and lettuce, as well as cabbage and kale. This is also a great time to set out your snap beans, cucumber, squash, and potatoes. The shorter days and cooling nights of the fall make for larger, and some say tastier, harvests.

Roses have always been associated with the springtime, but they can put on a fantastic autumn display here in Central Texas if they are prompted. If you haven't already done so, cut your roses back and give them some extra love and attention. I like to top dress mine with manure compost and bone meal and then drench the soil with liquid seaweed and other goodies. The results are well worth the effort.

While you have the shears out, remember that September is also the best time for any end of the growing season pruning that needs to be accomplished. Trimming your shrubs any later in the fall will leave them vulnerable to frost damage on tender new shoots. If you finish your pruning in September, the new growth will have a chance to "harden off", and should go through the winter with no problems.

One of the biggest pay-offs you can achieve in the garden at this time of year is to divide your tired and crowded perennials. This is especially true for plants like daylilies, iris, and Shasta daisies. Dividing perennials gives you the chance to freshen the soil and give everybody a little more breathing room. You'll be amazed by the results. This doesn't have to be done every year, but for many plants, September is prime time for division. There are many excellent step by step guides available that make division easy, even for first timers. Check out the following website for clear, concise instructions: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/county/smith/tips/flowers/divide.html A great reason to divide your perennials is to share them with your friends (even if they are Aggies!). There is a wonderful tradition of "pass-along plants" that travel from garden to garden courtesy of this divide and conquer strategy.

My favorite chore at this time of year more closely resembles a ritual: sowing wildflowers for the big springtime show. If you want your own wildflower meadow in March, sow the seeds in September. Years ago, I adopted a small stretch of Mo-Pac near my former home and spread bluebonnets, Indian blanket, evening primrose, Mexican hat, and lemon horsemint along a hillside. Since I could not water the site, I choose only proven survivors. My favorite trick was to watch the weather radar late in the month and sow the seeds right before we got a downpour. That way, I knew the seeds would have a better chance of getting knocked down to the soil through the stands of roadside grass.

While I certainly miss those autumnal Septembers of my youth, I now revel in the glorious Novembers and spring times of Texas. Here's to gratification delayed, yet fulfilled! The clock is ticking, don't let that first cool front catch you unprepared.

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