Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2008
Regional Report

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Some rose blooms turn different shades as they age. Trim and fertilize now for one last flush before dormancy.

Transition in the Garden

We haven't had a torridly hot summer, but fall's mildness is a welcome prospect that makes just about any gardening task pleasant. The soil and air are warm but not overly hot. Fresh summer produce is still delicious, but production is slowing down. Garden tasks center around cleaning up the old garden and getting the new one started. Seeds and transplants of cool-weather and overwintering crops planted now will achieve strong root and foliar development that will thrive and survive light frosts to bear sooner in the spring. Soil amendments dug in now will break down over the winter, enriching the soil for next year's gardens.

What a great way to end ... and to begin!

Here are some tasks for winding down the summer garden:

Pinching Blossoms
Pinch out new blossoms and growing tips of melons, winter squashes, and determinate tomatoes to force growth into the fruits that have already set. Any blossoms that set from now on won't ripen sufficiently before cool weather comes, unless you want lots of immature green tomatoes around Thanksgiving. Indeterminate cherry tomatoes, on the other hand, can be allowed to continue setting, as the little fruits ripen more quickly.

(Years ago I trimmed back my tomatoes down to the newest growth in the hopes that I'd still get delicious homegrown fruits in January. I did get fruit, but even with renewed soil and fertilizer, they were pretty tasteless, not much better than the storebought ones. I determined to devote that garden space to cool-weather veggies instead.)

Citrus Care
Feed citrus for the last time this year, and water trees less as the weather cools and the rains (hopefully) take over. Cupped, wilted, or falling leaves signal moisture stress from hot winds, which can occur even when the soil is damp. Provide lath, shade cloth, or other semi-open material for protection. Pale green new citrus leaves may need a dose of liquid chelated iron or a solution of fish emulsion and kelp.

Other Fruits
Remove and destroy fruit mummies on the ground or still on the tree to reduce the chance of brown rot affecting next year's fruit. Strawberries with whitish or yellowish leaves need to be fertilized one last time with a high-nitrogen food. After that, fertilizer them with a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus, high-potassium fertilizer to help them harden off for the winter and strengthen their root systems.

Move Houseplants
Bring in houseplants from their summer breather outdoors after grooming them and thoroughly checking them for pests. This is a good time to repot them in fresh potting mix. Toss the old mix out into the garden as mulch or onto the compost pile (it's a great deodorizer). Keep plants in a bright area indoors for three weeks to let them gradually get used to the darker, warmer, and drier indoor conditions. Then move them to their winter homes away from drafts and heaters.

Trim Perennials
Cut back alyssum, coreopsis, marguerite and Shasta daisies, delphiniums, dianthus, felicias, gaillardias, geraniums, ivies, lantanas, lobelias, petunias, and santolinas to one-third or one-half of their present size. However, don't cut them back beyond the green foliage into the older woody growth, as this may kill the plant.

Enjoy the Last of the Roses
This is the last month to trim back roses and feed them for their last bloom cycle before going dormant. Hold off on severe pruning until plants are fully dormant in January. Water only in the mornings to lessen mildew and other disease problems.

In the next column, I'll help you get started on the new garden that will bring food and beauty through the fall and winter.

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