September To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

August turned out to be anything but cool compared to July. In fact, I spent more time indoors this August than in the combined months of June and July. Admittedly, part of this was due to another back surgery, but still, the scorching heat made the outdoors less inviting. It was either oppressively humid or blisteringly hot – take your pick. It was the kind of heat that made you doubt the effectiveness of your deodorant as soon as you stepped outside. To make matters worse, here in Durham, it seems the land itself is hydrophobic. Radar would show rain all around, sometimes directly overhead, but the rain gauge seemed oblivious, insisting, “Rain? What rain?” Then came Hurricane Idalia. (Doesn’t that name sound suspiciously like a new variety of sweet onion from, say, Alabama?)

As for the garden, it is quite pathetic. A few scattered blooms here and there, it resembles a perennial garden in September rather than August. The gaillardia (Gaillardia pulchella) deserves special mention. Year after year, when everything gives up due to the relentless drought, the gaillardia soldiers on. It’s a champion for xeriscaping. Other warriors include Chinese forget-me-nots (Cynoglossum amabile), Zinnias (Zinnia elegans), not perennial but certainly drought-hardy. Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), two species of cosmos (C. bipinnata c.v. Bright Lights & C. sulphureus), African marigolds (Tagetes erecta), and the first signs of a promising wild ageratum colony (Conoclinium coelestinum) managed to thrive. We could potentially get a second blooming from some of the perennials if we cut them back, but we’re reluctant to disturb the goldfinches feasting on the seed heads.  It’s quite a spectacle.

(Left to right) Gaillardia pulchella, Cynoglossum amabile, Echinecea purpurea, Scattered blossoms of the African marigold, Tagetes erecta. (Image credits: Gary Crispell)

As for the rest of the garden:


Do you have a cool-season grass lawn (fescue, bluegrass, perennial rye)? Is it in need of some repair? Now is the time. Whether you are spot seeding, overseeding, or starting all over again, September through October is prime time. Do it when the soil is still warm. This not only promotes good germination, but it gives the grass time to put down a strong root system and a healthy top before the trees try to suffocate it with their haphazardly discarded used foliage.

Scratch up the bare spots or core aerate the whole lawn, or if renovating/starting from scratch, shallowly till the area to be seeded. Work in the appropriate amount of lime and fertilizer. You’ll know the appropriate amount because you got a FREE SOIL TEST earlier in the year. (Materials and instructions are available at the Durham County Extension office at 721 Foster St.) Sow the seed, then lightly pack the soil down to ensure good seed/soil contact. Cover the seeded areas lightly with wheat straw. (All that you put down should be raked up later.) Water everything well, then keep it sufficiently moist until germination. It will need about 1” of water a week, preferably applied in two sessions.

Do not fertilize any warm-season grasses (Bermuda grass, zoysia, centipede) until they start to green up in the spring


Please do not prune (except for storm damage mitigation). Pruning should wait until after Thanksgiving or later if November turns out to be exceptionally mild. Instead, sharpen and oil your tools and equipment so it will be ready when needed.


All of the usual pest suspects from July and August are still lurking in the garden and they are hungry. For example, woolly adelgid on hemlock, and spider mites on many conifers (cone-producing plants). These insect pests seem to know when plants are under stress and will take advantage of the opportunity.  Pests to look out for: Tea scale sucking away on euonymus and camellias, lace bugs on azaleas (especially those grown in the sun), and pyracantha, as well as the ubiquitous aphids.

Spray pesticides only when necessary. Think organic first. Read the label and follow the instructions. If you need assistance identifying a pest, contact the Master Gardener office at 919-560-0528 or


It is time to dig and divide spring and summer flowering bulbs such as daffodils, iris, and daylilies (Hemerocallis). Daylilies, like to be handled a little rough (and you thought this post was rated G) by digging and splitting the bulbs/tubers apart. They will be ecstatic (as soon as they recover from the rough stuff) and will reward you next spring by blooming their li’l hearts out. And, you won’t have to repeat the process for two or three years.

Peonies like to get in on the action in a similar, but different fashion. This is the best time to transplant them. Dig a wide circle around the root ball and gently lift them. Transplant to their new home at the same depth or slightly higher.  If you plant them too deep, they will not flower for you. Cut back the old stems, mulch heavily and water deeply.


Go outside just to be…outside. At some point, the humidity will decrease to a tolerable level, but the temperature will remain in the sweet range. That range is after, ‘as-few-clothes-as-possible’ and before sweatshirt weather. “Sweet spot,” he repeated. That’s when the morning coffee on the veranda is divine or the afternoon beverage is equally so. “Just do it.” Watch the hummingbirds play at Top Gun while they try to fill up before setting off for South America. Plant a fall garden. Go pansy shopping toward the end of the month. Replace some old overgrown landscape plants with natives. Go to a dog park. Even if you don’t have a dog, watching dogs’ exuberance while they run and play is oddly relaxing and a stress reliever. Enjoy September, Y’all.

Reading and Additional Information:

To find plants that could work in your garden or to get additional information on particular plants go here:

Planting Fall seeding of Cool-Season Grasses:

Fall focus on succession planting and pollinator friendly plants:

Do You Have a Garden Journal?

By Katie Berger, EMGV

There were some technical issues with this posting last week so we are posting it again. Some of you may have noticed our cool new translation feature. While articles will still be sent in English, you can now choose to see articles in Spanish by selecting your language at the bottom right of the screen. Happy reading!

Whether you’re starting your garden journey in your own yard, or as a new Extension Master Gardener intern, prepare to suck up information that will come your way with the force of a fire hose.  You will be exposed to the latest facts about the plant world around you.  If you are working or have small children at home, my hat is off to you.  Having a garden is well worth it, but it will be challenging. 

A garden journal can help you keep track of your successes, and what to change for next year! Image credit: Pixabay, Oldiefan (Christiane) CC0

One of the “optional things to do” will be to start a “Garden Journal.”  What!  You think you don’t have time.  I am sure you are correct, but it will be a missed opportunity.  Think seriously about it and I will try to tell you why. The benefits of a garden journal are varied and diverse. What is in a garden journal? One of the first things is a description of your garden. Ideally, this includes a detailed description of the various sections in your yard drawn to scale. Areas to include in your journal might be:

  • What is the terrain like? How much sun and shade does your garden get?
  • How does this change during the day and how much does it change with the seasons?
  • What kind of soil does it have?
  • Are there spots that are wet much of the time?
  • Are there plants that are growing well and plants that are not? This is a great place to take regular notes on what’s working and what could use a different approach.
  • Do you see recurring pest problems, either insects, critters, or disease?
  • For edible plants, was it actually tasty? Did the plant survive and produce well?

The journal will keep information from being lost and make it easy to find it. It is a place to store soil reports over time and these will be most helpful in putting the right plant in the right spot both in terms of sunlight and nutrients, One of the most frustrating things about gardens is having expectations dashed. For instance, buying a plant, and then putting it in the ground to watch it die. You cannot expect a plant will thrive if it needs more than six hours of sunshine and you plant it where there is mostly shade (and vice versa).

A to-scale landscape drawing.
Image credit: Amy Rozycki, EMGV

So, you say to yourself, this could be useful. What exactly goes in the journal? The N.C. Cooperative Extension recommends that a good journal will have sections consisting of a detailed, graphed plot of the different areas of your garden. You should identify plants within those sections. A good suggestion is to use a pencil for representing the plants as they will change over time.

There would be a section for soil type and nutrients. This would be the place to keep soil tests over time. A wonderful way to identify your soil type can be found in “The Dirt on Soil: Nutrient Management in the Garden.” And don’t forget about submitting your soil samples during the free season (from April through Thanksgiving) so that you can know what you’re dealing with and next steps for nutrient management.

QR link to Durham climate data.

Another chapter would be for recording weather and weather events. You can obtain weather data from the Climate Office of North Carolina and weather apps. The link to Durham data from the Climate Office is listed below, or you could include this handy QR code in your garden journal to always be able to access the Durham data.

There would be a section for plant information and history. It would be helpful to know when and where you obtained your plants when you planted them, and how much they cost. What were the instructions for planting? Records of when the plants were harvested or bloomed would also be part of the journal. This can be as simple as the cut-out seed packet or a photo of the package or you might want to adapt the form provided by the NC State Extension.

So you are convinced! But you don’t know what kind of journal to get. This is a difficult decision and is likely to evolve over time. You can buy readymade journals from bookstores or on-line vendors. They come in all sizes with a variety of different pages. Some have blank pages, some are waterproof, and some have a grid system that can be used from graph paper or lined paper. You can use a loose-leaf binder that would be easy to add pages filled with pictures, seed labels, and graphed plots of areas. Do consider durability because it may go outside with you. There are also electronic garden apps either for free or subscription. Such apps will depend on your electronic devices and whether you exist in the Android or Apple universe.

So, you are asking yourself, when will I really need all of this? On the next to last day of Master Gardener classes, after being pumped full of ideas to improve my yard, I managed to break my hip. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my own advice and, at least, designate a shoebox for all the things I learned. I am sure I have forgotten a lot of what I wanted to do and have been unable to go out into my yard for months. I will be back, but I have missed opportunities. It might not be a broken bone, but a dry or distracted summer can wreak similar havoc. You never can tell what life will deal you. Get that shoe box ready.

Additional Resources

“The Dirt on Soil: Nutrient Management in the Garden,” part of the Bull City Gardener Learning Series.

“Now’s the Perfect Time to Test Your Soil,” notes on submitting soil samples.

DURH: North Durham Water Reclamation Facility Durham, NC (Durham County).

North Carolina Extension Gardeners Handbook Feb. 2022. Appendix A Garden Journaling.

NC State Extension Individual Plant Profile form

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