Grow-How: Your September Gardening Checklist

by Isabel Vinton

Can you feel that the seasons are changing? Insect voices are filling in the space where birdsong used to be. Leaves are starting to get a ruddy tinge. Plants--both wild and here on our farm--are going to seed. We're not exactly sure how it got to be September so quickly, but we do know that your garden still has lots to offer you both for this season and for spring if given the proper love and attention. Here's what you you can do this month to make the best out of fall's return.

SOW FOR FALL: You can still plant a number of seeds for harvest in late fall and early winter. Think root vegetables and greens, like spinach, arugula, lettuce, Asian greens, turnips, carrots, and radishes. You can find our top September sowing picks here. Got a cold frame or hoop house? Plant these crops mid- to late-September for fresh young greens all winter long.

SOW FOR SPRING: Any seeds sown after October 15th or so have little opportunity to grow before the dormant period of too-little light sets in. Many of these crops will begin growing again come February, when the daylight increases. In fact, the only way to have fresh greens from a cold frame during February, March, and April is to sow seeds from October through December, so go for it--and don't think about them much until the days start lengthening again. Many of these seeds can be sown right out in the open before the ground freezes; they'll get a much earlier start than spring-sown crops and will be ready a month or so earlier. And of course don't forget about bulbs! Garlic, shallots, and many flower bulbs will need to be sown in the fall in order to enjoy their bounteous and beautiful rewards the following season. They too will remain mostly dormant until spring when they'll wake up and get growing.

GIVE BACK TO YOUR SOIL: Fall is the time to sow cover crops. Beyond protecting your soil from the elements like an organic duvet, cover crops are the equivalent of sending your soil to a spa for the winter. Think rejuvenating massage, detoxing juice fast, mineral bath soak, and a five course farm to table dinner. After the hard work of growing for you for three seasons, give your soil a spa package, by growing a cover crop to renew and revitalize nutrients, texture, and add vital organic matter. It's the least you can do!


PROTECT YOUR PLANTS: Even the most cold-hardy crops will benefit from some shelter from the cold. One easy way to insulate is with row cover. Your soil (and the plants growing in it) will feel cozy under just one layer or you can double up for colder days, extending your growing season by two to four weeks. Cold frames, windowsills with grow lights, and greenhouses can also work well for those who have those options available to them.

Although the approach of fall may seem rapid, it's important to remember that plants naturally germinate and grow more slowly in these shorter days and cooler temperatures. Keep your expectations in check and your view long. Big harvests and beautiful blooms are in your future!