A great resistance emanates from my heart as I type these September gardening thoughts. In particular, my increasingly autumnal reflections consider the chilly air prevalent at each sitting for such compositions over the past months. Why so cold this year? Of course, such a question does not necessitate much logical deduction; one can only record daily temperatures on the kitchen calendar and glance back at such routines next year to compare varying states of being.
Given that our garden equals our income here at Fair Mountain Farm, it is rather telling when we decide not to place row cover over various things; we are literally willing them to perish, releasing our minds from summer as obviously as the crisp breezes have released us from any potential for heat. And after a moment or two of such seasonal fatalism, it's time for practicalities and what hope may exist in this beautiful month of life in Idaho.
Despite being jipped out of solid summer reveling, glorious warm days await us. The drama of a freezing night temperature or two during the last week of August ensures exaggerated pleasure in any September day exceeding 70 degrees. Plant life is equally as excited, and now is the time to capitalize on your hard-earned garden stamina.
The valley's garden stores are already offering great sales. Snapping up three perennials for the price of one, for example, is an incredible opportunity, and likely to be more brief than a summer hail squall. This is the time to play the long game—plant now and enjoy later.
Remember that some of these plants will look a bit bedraggled from their prolonged abode in containment. Planting them as quickly as possible, to allow for the maximum root establishment before successive harder freezes (in October), will help ensure their survival through to colorful glory next year.
The roots will likely be snarled about each other in the ultimate cat's cradle. Before placing plants in the ground, gently try to disentangle the bottom third or so of this mess, spreading them out to increase airflow and improve their ability to expand more quickly in the soil. If you can't pry them apart, use a sharp garden spade or shovel (for larger shrubs) to cut four slits in the bottom, again hitting roughly a third of the root bottom area.
Despite your tummy's tendency to start packing in more comfort food in the chilly temperatures, do not feed your perennials this fall. Ideally, you will have fertilized them lightly at monthly intervals or so during the summer. This fall, consider top-dressing or gently spading in a compost layer. For new plantings with the goodies gained at nursery sales, do put compost in with the root area. Generally speaking, the compost shouldn't be as big a nutrition kick as more specific fertilization products, but it will add good organic matter and air to the soil's composition.
After the foliage of perennials has died down, remove dead leaves, stems and spent flowers. These materials often harbor insects and disease-causing organisms.
And although the late morning light convinces us all to stay in bed some extra half-hours these days, your perennials don't want to go to bed yet. They shouldn't require protective mulch until late fall. Play this one by temperature; placing mulch too early will provide a false layer of warmth that could lead to growth. This, of course, would die back from the cold temperatures and weaken, if not kill, the plant.
We are not as subject to the heaving of soil here as other regions. When our soil freezes, it does not tend to thaw and freeze repeatedly. Mulches remain an idea to consider solely because of the potential for erratic snow cover during our coldest temperatures. Last December saw this very situation; many perennials perished that normally survive, due largely to a lack of snow cover during a week of very cold temperatures. It's up to you whether to do the extra work of covering beds with leaves and such or not. In anticipation of hard-earned dollars spent at the fall nursery sales providing some pleasure next year, I'll be in for some cautionary covering work.