Central Plains Gardener's September Checklist

I am a teacher, and college always starts in August — way too premature. From the Central Plains, that usually means you’ve got about a month of perspiration on your casual dress outfits and being totally confused about what season it is, particularly when your pupils are wearing sunglasses and shorts. But this seasonal double life is a blessing, because in September you can take whole stock of everything failed in the summer heat and what is working today, filling in the gaps. It’s maybe the best gardening month of them all.

Get digging and plan for 2013

September, particularly later in the month to October, is fantastic digging weather — for you along with the plants — because the cool air and rain reunite. Perennials, shrubs and many trees planted in autumn have time to root before the ground freezes, providing them a head start on the next year. Some trees like honeylocust overwinter best if planted in late summer, so don’t wait too long to plant these.

If you’ve asters, goldenrods and blue sage getting ready to blossom, keep in mind that in the event you pinch them back about once a week before July 4, then you will have more blooms in the autumn. Did you?

All sorts of pests will be migrating through the area and looking for pleasant nectar — monarch butterflies summit on September 20 in oriental Nebraska. Hibernating insects also will be enjoying a last meal. Since you rejuvenate the autumn garden, think of the colour that insects bring too.

Enjoy September. My favourite season is upon us, when cool mornings give way to warm afternoons and you’ll be able to take your students outside while pretending it is not because you needed some design ideas.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

Spikes of Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutan) and Liatris seed heads poke up through mounds of purple asters and snowy Boltonia. Who says autumn is boring in the garden? Does this look tired and spent?

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

Do not cut down it. Plants like bee balm (Monarda spp) are inclined to look scraggly by late night, and deadheading doesn’t necessarily bring back new blooms. Think about leaving the unique seed heads that will be finely manicured by summer months, making the garden that much more pleasing on the successive days.

Now’s the time to think about what to plant one of early bloomers like bee balm so the garden still looks new in autumn.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

Plant now for next fall. Low-growing blue mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum) is a fantastic filler for late-season blooms after early plants have fizzled out. It will take medium to moist soil and slowly spread, bringing in butterflies on the way.

Another late-summer filler plant is Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp), which will not give any Susans you know a black eye.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

Insects are hungry for blooms too. Hibernating bumblebees enjoy the nectar on Wichita Mountains goldenrod (Solidago). This dry-loving clumper is roughly 3 feet wide and tall and functions as a beacon for you and insects as the sun gets lower. Consider planting goldenrod at the middle and back of beds for colour well into October.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

Blooms into late October. Shrublike perennials like Purple Dome New England Aster (shown in front) and forests blue ‘October Skies’ (Aster oblongifolius) are teeming with butterflies. New England aster enjoys medium to moist soil; wood blue enjoys it drier.

To the left is a seed spike of liatris. Leave these liatris seeds for the birds, particularly goldfinches, who devour them. In fact, leaving everything up — as in, do not “clean” the garden until spring — is a fantastic idea. All those dead plants will catch snow, insulation their origins, and will provide cover for wildlife. A lot of flock of juncos has socialized under snow-laden blossoms and asters in my garden.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

A hummingbird reaches blue sage (Salvia azurea) an hour before sunset. The seeds of this plains native are easy to sow indoors or out, and the blooms are an actual autumn-sky blue. Its compact footprint also means that you can place it among other plants.

Hint: Speaking of seeds if you would like to grow anything indoors over winter, gather seeds once the stalks dry out. If you would like to place some outdoors in hopes of fresh plants, place them on the ground surface and securely seat them in with your foot so they germinate in spring.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

Sunflowers are the bee’s knees. This bee is loaded with pollen that he’ll bring back into the nest so that the queen could endure the winter. Sunflowers are a wonderful addition to the autumn garden because of their wildlife value and because, well, they are neat to check out.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

Snacks for you too. You can let the birds have the sunflower seeds, then bake them on your own or store them in a paper bag over the winter in a cool place like a basement or shed. It’s almost a shame to ruin the beautiful design above, however I did, giving out the seeds to kids in the spring.

What are you going to add in the autumn garden for next year?

More: Guides for your Central Plains garden

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