September 2012
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?


Dig and divide lilies when they become crowded, every 3 or 4 years, to keep the planting vigorous and making big blooms.

Divide Bulbs and Perennials Soon

When daylilies, agapanthus, iris, amaryllis, crinums, hostas, lilies and other perennials begin to yellow and die back for fall that is their signal you can disturb the roots to move them. It is also the time to thin or divide overcrowded plants and give away the thinnings. Use a fork or shovel to gently lift plants from the ground. Separate the bulbs or clumps. Throw away damaged ones or those looking old and woody. Replant younger pieces with strong roots, crowns or the largest bulbs adding a little bulb booster fertilizer when you plant. By next summer, the divisions will be well-established and ready to bloom again.

Fall Vegetable & Herb Planting Tips

When setting out cabbage transplants, it’s okay to bury the plants so that about an inch of the stem is below ground. This will help keep the developing heads from flopping over. Just the opposite, plant onion transplants so they are shallow. If buried deeply they won’t make good bulbs. Just cover the roots and the fattened part of the base, leaving the neck above soil level. If you like salsa, this is the best season for cilantro, which would go to seed quickly in the spring. In fall, it stays low and leafy. Cilantro withstands frost, so you can harvest it into winter. Keep new vegetable transplants well watered in the hot and dry days of September to make sure your efforts pay off.

Kale is one of the most cold-hardy and nutritious crops for the fall garden.


Start Fall Vegetables

Bonnie transplants began shipping recently, so look for your cool-season favorites at your local Quality Co-op. Broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, onions, kohlrabi and lettuce are a few good items to start from transplants. Sow seeds of Swiss chard, beets, carrots and turnips; cover them with a board if needed to help cool the soil until they germinate. For a good guide on timing of fall vegetables throughout the state, download Planting Guide for Home Gardening in Alabama (look at the planting calendar) and Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination from the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.

Fall Color

For a different kind of "fall color" give your garden a spark with seasonal plants you find at the garden centers in full glory this month and next: late-blooming salvias, ornamental grasses, swamp sunflower, mums, fall sedums and asters. You can also add any of these to an existing flower bed or container. Many are perennials; so, even if they start out in a pot, you can plant them in the ground later.

Gather Leaves and Mulch

Gather fallen pine needles to use as mulch in the garden. Also be on the lookout for bags of pine needles often put out on the curb by folks who don’t use them. It will make good, clean mulch for your shrubs, flowers and vegetables later when you need it. This also keeps it out of a landfill. As leaves begin to fall, chop them up with the mower and spread them over garden beds with poor soil. If you make a habit of this easy practice, you will improve the soil over time.


Left, Red fountain grass, Black Pearl ornamental pepper, trailing verbena and Diamond Frost Euphorbia combine for a nice late-summer and fall show in a container. Above, variegated yucca punctuates the landscape year-round, remaining green and pretty after all the flowers around it are gone.

Time for Landscape Changes

Fall is the ideal time to remodel the landscape because it is such a good time for planting. In fact, it’s better than spring because trees, shrubs and perennials will have months in the ground to encourage roots before the tops of the plants start growing in the spring. There is little stress as long as you keep plants watered. The roots can grow while the top is quiet. Items you don’t plant now are tropicals and half-hardy plants like palms and hibiscus which are damaged by winter.

Variegated Yucca

Variegated yucca is truly a low maintenance plant once it gets established. There are various versions of this plant (Yucca filimentosa) sporting different shades and widths of variegation. The leaves tend to be soft and flexible, and a lot less dangerous than they look in this picture. Deer aren’t likely to chew on this plant either which is good news to many folks. Variegated yuccas can grow up to 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. In summer, they sport a tall spike of white blooms. They are pretty for containers, too. Plants are evergreen, although they can look wilted during a long and severe freeze, but they will recover.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.