September: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

Hey, look!  It’s September and for the moment it has cooled off and the relentless humidity has dropped below 185%.  How sweet is that?  Another drop or two of rain here in Durham would be nice, but this time of the year one must be careful what one wishes for. 

The Accidental Cottage Garden looks, well, pathetic.  I eschewed using city water for anything except the tomatoes and peppers and the rain barrels have been dry more than wet, so the perennials are parched.  The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) looks weird with new blooms and nearly ripe seed pods.  Looks like an “oops” late pregnancy sort of thing.  The purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are barely hanging on, but the goldfinches (Spinus tristis) are loving the seeds.  Gaillardia (Gaillardia pulchella) are really drought resistant.  They keep their spot in the garden colorful for months with absolutely no care whatsoever.  The spreading garden mum (Chrysanthemum “I-don’t-have-a-clue”) is reblooming as usual.  It, too, requires very little attention other than deadheading the first blooms.  All the other perennials have given up the ghost.  And the fescue lawn I planted in the backyard last Fall?  You can hear it crunch when you walk across it.  That does not bode well for a reemergence this Fall.

So, let’s make the totally unwarranted assumption that we will get some rain this month so that this to do list actually has some relevance.


If your fescue lawn looks like mine September is the time for rejuvenation (reseed/overseed).  Loosen the soil in bare areas (or till up the whole yard) before sowing seed.  A major key in sowing a successful lawn in the seed/soil contact—the more the better.  If your bare spots are larger than 1 square foot a light layer of wheat straw will help maintain moisture and keep the birds from finding all of your grass seed.

Apply lime and fertilizer per your SOIL TEST recommendations.  (I just know you got a FREE soil test this summer.

Resist the urge to fertilize any warm season lawns (Bermuda grass, Zoysia, centipede) now.  It will encourage too much new growth just when they should be getting ready for dormancy.

You may treat lawns for grubs up until the middle of the month.  After that the grubs will have “settled down for a long winter’s nap”.   


Still not allowed.  Wait until Thanksgiving.  Since you are going to do all your shopping online you will have time to prune on Black Friday.  You need to work off the extra slice of pumpkin pie anyway.  Otherwise, sharpen the equipment and hang up on the wall for now.


Look for the same usual suspects as you did in August (i.e.:  wooly adelgid on hemlock, spider mites on all coniferous evergreens, tea scale on euonymus and camellia and lace bugs on azaleas and pyracantha.  FYI:  azaleas grown in the sun will be more susceptible to lace bugs than those grown in shadier conditions.).

Perpetuate your perpetual rose program.

Keep an eye out for other insets and diseases.  They like Fall as much as homo sapiens do.


It is time to dig and divide spring flowering bulbs.  Daffodils in particular will be appreciative of the attention and reward you in the Spring.

It is, also, time to transplant peonies.  Oversize the new planting hole and the root ball and avoid planting too deeply.   Cut back any old stems.  Mulch well.


Go outside just to be outside.  Mulch your plant beds if your OCD/ADHD won’t let you kick back and relax.  Clean up and put up all the equipment you won’t need until next year.  Plant a fall garden.  Clean out the summer garden and dispose of the old plant material.  Take a kid or a dog or a kid and a dog to a park and enjoy their enjoyment.

Get vaccinated and wear your mask.  “The life you save may be your own.”  Think about it.

*Resources and Further Reading

Organic Lawn Care Guide

North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook – Starting Plants from Seed (Sexual Propagation)

Learn more about insects and how to control them from the North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (find your perfect plant or figure out what that unknown weed is!)