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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


To Do List: Zone 5

Susan Wells
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September To Do List, Zone 5

Click the image to enlarge this map of the USDA Plant Hardiness Map and find the zone where you live.

Now is the time to think about planting a fall garden. In the fall, the weather is milder, there aren’t as many insect pests and the soil actually tends to be more moist, but well-draining. If you have a garden pool, you should drain it to avoid freezing. Hardy as well as non-hardy water lilies can be stored indoors at 50 degrees F in moist sand that is not allowed to dry out.

Preparing for a Fall Vegetable Garden

1.    Clean the garden of weeds and spent plants. Dispose of anything diseased, compost the rest. If this will be your 2nd planting season, make note of what was where, so you can rotate your crops as best as possible.

2.    Move existing mulch to the side. If it’s still in good condition, you can re-use it for the fall. Most likely a lot of it has decomposed already and you’ll need to add a bit more. Straw or shredded leaves make excellent mulch for vegetable gardens.

3.    Loosen the soil. If your soil has gotten compacted during the course of the summer, fluff it up with a garden fork.

4.    Amend the soil. Replenish the soil by working in some compost or other amendments. You can top dress with it or work it in while you are loosening the soil. Have your planting layout done before you add the compost, so you add it where the plants will be growing and not in the paths. If you choose to use manure, make sure it has thoroughly composted for at least 6 months.

5.    Prepare for winter, If you are planning on using any kind of frost protection, like a cold frame or hoop cover, get your structures in place now. Don’t put the covers in place yet, just the framing. Now you’re ready to start planting. Of course, if this all sounds like too much work, you can always sow a “green manure” or cover crop and let your garden tend itself until spring.


Image by audreyjm529 via Flickr

Dig up and store dahlias, gladiolus, and other bulbs until next spring.

  • Plant tag teams of perennials and spring-blooming bulbs that will complement each other or bloom in sequence next season.
  • Clean out rose beds; apply fungicide; leave hips for winter color and bird food.
  • De-head chrysanthemum plants to keep flower buds forming through the fall.
  • If you have a garden pool, you should drain it to avoid freezing. Hardy as well as non-hardy water lilies can be stored indoors at 50 degrees F in moist sand that is not allowed to dry out.
  • Carefully dig gladiola, dahlia and tuberous begonia bulbs, and leave the foliage on. Put the bulbs in an airy, protected area for two to three weeks. Cut the foliage on gladiola and dahlias at the point where the foliage emerges from the bulb. Begonia stems should be allowed to dry until they are brittle and can be broken off from the bulbs.
  • Divide and reset crowded iris clumps, but remember to keep rhizome tops exposed.
  • Divide and transplant any poor-blooming old peonies or set out new ones this month. They need sun, good drainage and only two to three inches of soil over the crowns.


Image via Ball Horticultural

Cool Wave pansies are vigorous bloomers, like Wave petunias. Their fast-growing, spreading habit makes them great to use as ground covers or in hanging baskets and other containers.

  • Remove the debris of summer annuals, disposing of any diseased plants in the trash and composting healthy plants.
  • Plant winter-hardy pansies and fall annuals (calendula, dianthus, ornamental cabbage and kale).


  • Extend the season for beets, carrots, leeks, onions, radishes, and parsnips by mulching. Light frost makes root vegetables sweeter, so leave them in the ground to harvest before the ground freezes.
  • Do you have more vegetables like potatoes, beets, tomatoes, peppers, etc. than you can eat now? Try dehydrating them for healthy and tasty winter snacks. Dehydrators are fairly inexpensive and easy to use.
  • To keep a light frost from killing tender vegetable plants, protect them with a synthetic row cover. This can work until a hard frost.
  • Clip off flowers on basil, oregano, mint, and marjoram plants to keep them producing. To preserve herbs, freeze in ice cube trays in water and put in plastic bags for the freezer or dry them in whole leaf form in a dark, cool cabinet.
  • A few garlic cloves in a pot will yield a supply of chive-like, spicy garlic greens all winter for garnish.
  • Mow back strawberry plants; remove weeds and re-mulch.

    Image by Nick Saltmarsh via Flickr

    Harvest pumpkins when the rinds are hard. Leave a short stem, but don’t use it to pick up the heavy pumpkin.

  • Let winter squash stay on the vines as long as possible for long keeping. Check for ripeness by pressing with your thumbnail, if the skin is easily broken they are not fully matured and may not keep well. Never wash them until just before using and never carry squash or pumpkins by the stem.
  • Continue sowing salad greens until October 1st. If a sudden hard-frost is predicted, and you don’t have a proper row-cover, just throw a bed sheet over the crop.

Trees and Shrubs

  • If it’s dry, be sure to water trees and shrubs now through hard frost so that they enter dormancy well-hydrated.  Evergreens are particularly vulnerable to winter-burn if not well watered before the cold and winds set in.
  • If evergreens start to show some browning or yellowing of needles this month and next, it’s normal. The oldest, innermost needles typically shed after a few years on the tree.
  • If fall rainfall has been below average, give shrubs a deep soaking after they go dormant.
  • Mulch shrubs two to three inches deep, making sure that mulch stays a few inches away from the base of the shrub.
  • Be on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune them out as discovered, but don’t  hard prune now, you’ll risk encouraging new growth.

Lawn and Turf

  • Dethatch and core aerate the lawn. Coring removes cores of soil and grass, opening holes for vigorous root growth on compacted or thatch-ridden turf. Cores will decompose on the lawn in a couple of weeks.
  • Test the lawn soil before automatically adding lime. Get a professional soil test done, which is easy and inexpensive (around $12 to $20) through your state agricultural Extension Service.


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