September To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

The ACG’s resilient gallardia is still going strong. (Image Credit: Gary Crispell).

I’m baaaack!  A huge thank you to Melinda for filling in for me last month.  I more or less missed August altogether.  A family beach week sandwiched between two hastily-planned trips to Houston, Texas pretty much ate up the whole month.  But now it’s September.  New month.  New start.

Right, September, the month of weird temperature swings, totally unpredictable precipitation, and the ever-present possibility of a tropical visitor with a violent nature.  Wheeee.

The Accidental Cottage Garden (ACG) is abysmal.  It looks like no one has cared for it in over a month, which come to think of it, is pretty accurate.  I mean, the rain gods didn’t even visit much.  Most of the plants have given up any pretext of looking cheery let alone pretty.  There’s one bedraggled clump of rudbeckia (R. fulgida), a few sad zinnias (Z. elegans ‘Canary’), a marigold or two (Tagetes patula), two forlorn purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and one brave cosmos plant (C. bipinnata).  Elsewhere, in the ACG are the tenacious gallardia (G. pulchella), the spreading garden mum I have yet to identify. You’d think after four years I would at least have a clue.  Nope. Therefore, it shall remain Chrysanthemum don’thaveaclue.  The stonecrop (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’) is showing color and will soon grace us with its lovely pinkness.

Yellow ginger lily in September, extending the summer-blooming season with gorgeous sights and sweet smells. (Image Credit: Gary Crispell)

My favorite flower right now is in back beside the deck.  It is a yellow ginger lily.  We brought a piece of rhizome back with us from Hawai’i ten years ago.  I have divided it numerous times (there’s three pots of them here), and now they are ready again.  If anybody has a couple of 5 to 7 gallon nursery pots sitting around, I’ll split the ginger lilies (Hedychiun flavescens) up and put some in the spring plant sale.  Just sayin’.  Anyway, it has the most delicate and exquisite scent that just hangs in the air on a humid morning or evening and makes sitting on the deck most delightful.

I suppose it is time to get around to what I have been informed is the main purpose of this communique. I have my own opinion, but they didn’t ask me.


Time to rejuvenate cool season lawns (tall fescue, bluegrass, perennial rye).  Unless you irrigated this summer, they probably look rather sad.  We assume that you did avail yourself of the FREE SOIL TEST service from NCDOA this year and know how much lime and N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) fertilizer you need to add to your soil.  (Click HERE for more info on soil testing). So, there are basically three approaches to rejuvenation.

They all start with spreading the lime and fertilizer over the yard.  The first method is for those of you who only have some relatively small bare patches.  Loosen the soil in the areas to be reseeded, scatter seed on the loose soil and tamp it down (Not stomp…just walk over it firmly.).  Spread a light covering of wheat straw over any patches larger than one square foot.  Keep moist until germination and then water thoroughly as needed to give it about an inch of water per week.

Method two involves a core aerator.  Spread chemicals as above and core aerate the lawn twice in perpendicular directions.  Spread seed over entire lawn and cover large bare areas with wheat straw.  Water as above.

The third method is drastic.  It is used when your lawn looks like my backyard…totally nekkid.  Spread lime and fertilizer then till up the whole yard.  Spread seed and roll yard to achieve optimal seed/soil contact.  Cover yard with wheat straw and water as above.  The book says all this should be done by the second week of October.  The book ain’t wrong.  A little conservative maybe, but not wrong.

Do not fertilize any warm season grasses (Bermuda, zoysia, centipede) anymore this year.  They are getting ready for a long winter’s nap and unlike bears, they do not need to fatten up.

Grub control efforts are still worthwhile until the middle of the month when the grubs, too, are going into hibernation (having already fattened up on your lawn’s roots).


Nope.  Nicht.  Non.  Nyet. No!  Sharpen the pruning shears and loppers and oil ‘em up then hang ‘em up until Black Friday or Boxing Day even.


The same culprits that you were saying bad things about in August are still out there—all of them—and most likely in the same places they were then.  They are tenaciously pernicious.  Get them!  I shall forthwith reveal their identities and their likely hideouts.  Woolly adelgids (Adelges tsugae) will be creeping around hemlocks while spider mites are not so discerning.  They will lurk on the underside of any coniferous evergreen’s needlelike leaves and on most other plants that might be under stress.  (They have no mercy.) Tea scales (Fiorinia theae) will be found on euonymus and camellias.  These will either have to be sprayed with a horticultural oil to smother them or you can pick them off individually and smush them.  Well, not necessarily with your bare fingers.  That is rather yucky.  Lace bugs (Stephanitis pyrioides) will be hanging out on pyracantha and azaleas, especially those growing in sunny locations.  (Azaleas are an understory plant, after all.)

As always, continue any rose maintenance program.

(Left to right) Woolly adelgids are concealed by white, fluffy secretions; camellia leaves showing symptoms of tea scale; tell-tale stippling on leaves indicating lacebugs’ handiwork. (Image Credits: JR Baker, UGA extension, SD Frank)


Here is your chance to get dirt under your fingernails.  I know you want to.

Dig up spring-flowering bulbs and tubers and rhizomes and divide them.  Daffodils really like the attention as do irises and day lilies.  The reward you get in the spring will more than compensate for having to get your nails done again. (Real men aren’t afraid of the manicurist.)

(Left to right) Bearded irises in full bloom, their overcrowded rhizomes ready for division, and a newly-divided iris being replanted. (Image Credits: Tom Flemming_CC BY-NC 2.0_Flickr and Bumcombe County EMGV Extension).

Peonies that need transplanting can receive that attention now.  Dig a big hole and a big root ball.  Just be aware of not planting too deep.  Only as deep as the hole they came out of.  Cut back any old stems and mulch well.


It could happen, you know.  It’d be a shame to get to October before you realized that September had been spectacular.  Stay aware.

It’s not too late to plant a fall garden.

Go camping with the grandkids. 

Get the fire pit ready for that first crisp fall evening.

Just go outside and revel in the goodness and wonder of nature.


Resources and Additional Information

North Carolina State University’s TurfFiles ( offers a user-friendly and comprehensive guide to establishing and caring for your lawn. The following links offer tips on fall lawn renovation:

Bumcombe County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer blog site offers a great guide to rhizomes and bulb care including division and planting with advice on everything from irises to daffodils.

For more information on garden pests woolly adelgids, tea scale and lace bugs, these links show great photos for identification, signs, and symptoms.,into%20a%20varnish%2Dlike%20shield.

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