We’re fortunate that predicted high winds and rainfall from Hurricanes Laura and Sally did not materialize. We can’t let our guard down now, however; we still have months left in hurricane season. But we can at least allow the extreme anxiety produced by Sally to subside.
One factor that might help to soothe us is that, in the middle of hurricane season, we are also seeing a gradual transition to milder temperatures. Cool fronts begin to move through the state this month, bringing welcome relief from extreme heat and humidity. A cool front was expected to moved in Saturday to produce nighttime temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s and daytime highs around 80 over the next few days.
Summer is not ending — we will likely see more days in the 90s, and temperatures in the 80s linger well into October. But we are through the most intense heat of the summer.
For the next six weeks we will experience a gradual shift to milder weather. There will be cool spells followed by decidedly summerlike weather, but as we move into late October, cooler weather will begin to dominate. Generally, not until mid- to late-November do we experience the frosty cold weather and changing leaves that tell us that fall has finally arrived.
Much of what we do in the garden over the next couple of months is influenced by the coming changes.
Because we have had so much rain this summer, you may not be in the habit of watering your landscape regularly (hasn’t that been nice). We saw record amounts of rain in July, and abundant rain also fell in August. With high temperatures and rain keeping the soil wet, however, root rot was fairly common and led to the loss of fruit trees, young shade trees and shrubs.
Since late August, however, conditions have been relatively dry, and irrigation is needed now. When watering a landscape, you must apply the water slowly and over a long enough period of time to allow it to penetrate at least 4-6 inches into the soil. You can best accomplish this by using sprinklers, soaker hoses or even drip irrigation.
After a thorough irrigation, don’t water again until the soil begins to dry out. You can even wait for the plants to show slight drought stress. Deep watering should be necessary for established plants only once or twice a week, even during very dry periods.
Newly planted bedding plants and vegetable transplants will need more attention and will likely need more frequent watering. Irrigating two or three times a week, possibly more frequently, may be necessary while they get established.
There are a few other things you may need to attend to this time of the year.
Here at the end of the summer growing season, it might be a good idea to impose some order on those overgrown flower beds. In addition to cutting back plants where needed, groom the planting to remove dead flowers and unattractive foliage. If plants are leaning or have fallen over onto nearby neighbors, prop them up or stake them so they will stand upright.
When it comes to pruning, don’t forget that it is too late to prune back fall-, winter- and spring-blooming trees and shrubs, such as sasanqua, camellia, azalea, Indian hawthorn, gardenia and hydrangea. These plants have already set their flower buds, and any pruning done from now on will diminish the floral display.
Make a plan
It’s still early to plant hardy trees, shrubs, ground covers and vines in the landscape. Planting while temperatures are still high is stressful for new plantings. Wait at least until the cooler weather of late October. The ideal planting season for hardy trees, shrubs and ground covers is November through February.
That makes this an excellent time to start planning landscaping projects, like adding a shade tree or flowering tree, dressing up the front of the house with new shrubs or planting a ground cover under a tree where grass won’t grow or a hardy vine on a trellis.
Spring flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, also become available this month, but there is no hurry to plant them. Purchase them if you like while the selection is good and store them indoors. The time to plant spring flowering bulbs into the garden is from mid-October through early December. Tulip and hyacinth bulbs should be stored in your refrigerator until late December or early January and planted then.
The chrysanthemum is often considered the floral symbol of fall, and you will begin to see them available for sale this month as well. When planted in the garden while daytime highs are still in the upper 80s and lower 90s, the flowers don’t tend to last as long. If you wait until temperatures are cooler to purchase chrysanthemums, the flowers will last longer in your garden.
Although generally not known for blooming this time of year, azaleas that bloom during seasons other than spring are becoming more available and popular. Particularly notable are some of the Robin Hill azaleas such as Watchet and the popular Glen Dale cultivar Fashion. The Encore azaleas bloom from August through November and again in spring, and include many wonderful colors. You will find azaleas in bloom at your local nurseries now through December.
Replenish mulch layers with fresh material to maintain the appropriate thickness. Around shrubs, mulches should be 2-3 inches; around trees the mulch should be about 4 inches. Simply spread the new mulch over the old mulch.
Ideally, use what you can get for free — such as leaves (chopped or whole), dry grass clippings or pine straw. If you prefer the appearance of a purchased mulch, put down an 1 or 2 inches of something free (leaves, dry grass clippings or pine straw), and then top-dress with 1 inch of your favorite purchased mulch. This will save you money and still give you the look you like.
For us, summer will still be lingering for a while longer. But let’s anticipate the soon to arrive milder weather and enjoy the delights of gardening over the next few months.
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