Many Canadian gardeners agree that September is the busiest month in their garden. This month has a reputation of being somewhat unreliable in the weather department, with the only sure thing being that colder weather will follow. Lower light conditions, ever shortening days for many tend to instill a sense of urgency, often almost anxious exhaustion. Somehow the similar workloads of the spring season result in a much different degree of exhaustion. I for one struggle to get through September and early October with a fully accomplished sense about myself. In that I am often away from my garden for extended periods of time, the workload when I am there seems daunting, even on a good day. Perhaps energy levels are directly related and relevant to the amount of sunlight and warmth of the day! Alas the work list expands, the days shorten and enthusiasm wanes.
My garden is predominantly perennial plants and as such require minimal maintenance in September with the enormous exception of my tendency to want to re-organize, shuffle and otherwise change the look of the landscape. So as has been written previously, it is a good time to divide and move many of the established perennials in your garden. What ought not to be included is fertilizing at this time of the year. You will a fair amount of literature supporting the notion of a winter feed, fall fertilizer and so on; perhaps for lawns yes, providing that the formulation is appropriate with very low nitrogen content and higher Phosphorus and Potassium. The reasoning behind not feeding perennials, trees and shrubs in the fall is simply that they will burst forth with a surge of new, softer growth that typically will not have time to mature/harden before the frosts. However, this is a great time to give your compost a stir or forking over for perhaps that final time this season. Personally, I keep two composters going, one for the fresh materials and the other settling and working, it will be ready for use in the spring.
September is when most of the spring flowering bulbs will be on the market and for the most of Canada the time to plant them as well. Tulips, Daffodils, Crocus and Narcissus are of the most popular and sadly, favoured by squirrels. While scuffling around in your perennial boarders attempting to find just one more spot to plant a ‘few’ new bulbs, be aware that the posse of squirrels have their beady little eyes on your every movement. I have come to the conclusion that my squirrel population consider me as one, very large, old squirrel who is invading their domain. As such, every thing that I plant is rapidly torn up and usually destroyed as they must think that I am stashing away my supplies for the winter in a secret larder. Indeed, I have tried everything that is considered to work to keep these vermin away, to no avail. Suggestions welcomed!
Hosta and other larger leafed perennials will be turned to mush after the first hard frost and as such become an absolute delicacy for the fattening slugs. Best to clean those leaves up and compost them but leave the rest until spring. Lately, I am placing a marker of some sort around the Hostas so that I know (remember) that there is a clump at that spot so that I done over zealously plant something else there. If you have been gardening for as long as I have you now precisely what I mean. More recent gardeners, as in only a few years of involvement, it is still a good idea; you will thank me one day.
September is also a good inventory time for tools and equipment. If you are fortunate enough to have a garden storage shed or potting shed, that is the ideal spot to house all the accoutrements that are so essential in our craft. Sharpen your spades and other cutting tools, protect them with a light coating of either sewing machine oil or even olive oil works, just to abate any rust. Store the vestiges of clay pottery, garden lights, flats and other useful materials in order to be able to find them next spring. I like to clean up any fallen fruit from under the trees and compost it or leave it in an exposed area for the wildlife. Generally, I leave all of the seed heads and emptied flower stalks of my plants intact. The overwintering birds as well as the migratory ones and yes, even the squirrel posse use the seeds and bits ‘n pieces for food, fodder and lodging materials. In my region it is essential to capture as much snow as is possible because extreme winter conditions with little to no snow insulation is a recipe for disaster. Remember to breathe and enjoy the fall regime.