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Ann Wright: Welcome, September’s garden

 

As days begin to shorten, with a wee bit of cooling at night, September is here as we look forward to the autumnal equinox when hours of daylight are roughly equal to the night time hours — this year, Sept. 22. Right now, however, it is more difficult to be outside for very long in the unhealthy air. Concern for fires and drought is still a big part of our everyday life. But, as we look forward to clearer, cooler days ahead, planning for a fall garden provides some respite.

As summer harvests wind down, September is a good time to focus on fertilizing fruit trees and adding compost to existing garden beds. Pick up fallen, dry fruit and compost if not diseased; spent vegetable plants can also be added to the compost pile. Fertilize flowering annuals, perennials and roses. Renew mulch around roses and cut spent blossoms. Later in the month and into October are good times to divide crowded clumps of perennials such as daisy, penstemon and daylily.

Garden beds can be prepared now for cool-season vegetable planting, and for wildflowers. Since weeds restrict growth of wildflowers, soak the prospective wild flower bed and allow weed seeds to germinate. Once the weeds have sprouted, pull or hoe them down and repeat the process before sowing the wildflower seeds. For faster germination, alternately freeze and then thaw the seed.



For winter vegetables, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, radish and spinach can be planted now. Germination charts are available on our Master Gardener website, which offer more specifics for planning when to plant. The charts are for both warm-season and cool-season crops, and are based on optimal soil temperature for vegetable seed germination. The Master Gardener’s recorded workshop on growing cool season vegetables in the foothills is also available on the website under the link, “Workshop Recordings.”

Preparing soil is also critical in planning for future garden beds or areas. Understanding how to build healthy soil includes consideration of structural, chemical and biological components, and then how they work together for soil health. Structural components include the texture of the soil – or the size and portion of the particles that make up the soil. For example, clay, silt and sand are all descriptions of how soil is made up- or, the way the elements are bonded together to form aggregates. Many local gardeners may be all too familiar with clay soil while others may have sandy loam.



The second component contributing to soil health is chemical – as in soil fertility. This is where a soil test can be beneficial in predicting how to amend soil for maximum health. The soil test can tell a gardener what nutrients are readily available in the soil, in addition to pH. Nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) are the main, or macro nutrients of the soil – and each has a specific purpose in terms of soil chemistry. Some soil tests will also reveal the micronutrients within the soil sample.

The biological features of the soil are quite interesting – these include, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes among other living creatures within the soil. Without these biological benefactors living and thriving within the soil, the nutrients are less likely to be retained by the plants. Bacteria are primarily decomposers and feed on organic matter and plant exudates. Fungi are also considered decomposers and feed on more complex organic matter. Thread-like filaments within the soil layers are often evidence that the fungi are improving the texture of the soil which then helps with the absorption of nutrients and water.

To learn more about this complex, but fascinating aspect of the science of gardening, join the Master Gardeners at the “It’s Alive! Soil Building” workshop to be presented via Zoom on Sept. 11 at 9 a.m. Go to the website (http://ncmg.ucanr.org/) for access to the Zoom link. Other upcoming events for September include the workshop, “How to Become a Backyard Carbon Farmer” (location to be determined) on Sept. 18, and our fall plant sale, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 25 at 9 a.m. at the Demonstration Garden (1036 W. Main Street in Grass Valley). The plant sale will feature Master Gardener-grown perennials, some native plants as well as cool-season veggie starts. Watch for further details on the website.

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener

Late summer blooms of dahlia and marigolds.
Photo by Ann Wright
A strawberry tree at Master Gardener Demonstration Garden in fall.
Photo by Ann Wright

 

 


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