Willamette Valley, Oregon, USDA Zone 8b
September, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
- Your nights are cool, bringing me the sleep I treasure.
- Your evening breezes refresh my soul.
- My morning work in the garden is pure pleasure.
Summer harvest frenzy should begin to slow down this month. Hopefully your cool weather starts are growing well. They can go out in the middle of this month. Also, let’s start thinking about harvest storage, garden cleanup, and winterization plans.
Warmth Loving Crops
September is usually the last hurrah for these warmth loving plants. When temperatures begin to drop below 50 degrees at night, it’s time to call it. Remove warm season fruits and chop and drop their vines and leave them on the bed to return their nutrients to the soil.
- Nightshade Family:
- Tomatoes. If there is even a tiny bit of color they will ripen. If not, enjoy some fried green tomatoes. Try cutting the plant at the base and hanging upside down in a sheltered indoor area (garage?) and see if they will vine-ripen.
- Cucurbits: These guys might start showing signs of powdery mildew. You can spray a 50% milk and water solution to help slow the spread, but it’s also OK to do nothing. It happens like clockwork this time every year. Drop diseased vines in your yard debris bin, unless you can get your compost cooking at 135-160 degrees for three days.
Fall Crop Planning
The second half of September is ideal for transplanting cool-tolerant fall crops. Make sure to work in a nitrogen rich fertilizer as fall soil is generally depleted of this important nutrient.
Direct Sow (abbr title=”plant seeds directly in garden bed”) There is still time to sow:
- Carrots (Light on the fertilizer for these guys.)
- Onion (An overwintering variety, harvest late spring or early summer.)
- Garlic – Harvest will be next July.
The rain should return around the second half of this month. We average about 1.4” in September. Keep an eye on your Weekly Watering Number and read Six Ways to Water your Garden for more tips.
To Clean Up or Not to Clean Up?
As your August jungle plays out it’s tempting to just rip it all out and get tidy. However, the only necessary clearing is to make way for your fall crops. Otherwise, here are some eco-friendly options that save you time, as well as room in your yard debris bin.
- Chop and Drop: Chop your spent crops to the soil line using a hoe or pruners. Then cut a few times with your pruning shears (or not) and drop on your bed. Benefits:
- Activates insects and microbes to do the work of decomposition to return the nutrients to the soil.
- Leaves roots to rot in the soil, which feeds microbes and creates pore spaces for microbe habitat, water storage, and air pockets. (Helps create good soil structure.)
- Protects from rain. Unprotected soil becomes compacted and leached of important minerals.
- Leave crops to finish flowering and going to seed. (This looks messy but provides insect habitat, which provides food for beneficials, as well as food for pollinators and birds.)
- Sow Cover Crops: Chop to the soil line then broadcast some winter cover crop seed to enrich and protect your soil through the winter. Some good choices are winter rye, fava, Austrian field pea, daikon radish, and winter oats. My favorite is a cold hardy mix from True Leaf Market.
Exceptions: As much as I love to capture nutrients and return them to the soil, there are some things that gotta go in the bin and off the property. Unless you are a composting guru and can get it hot enough (135 – 160 degrees for three or more days) to cook the pests and disease.
- Diseased foliage. My cucurbits always get powdery mildew late in the season.
- Diseased and rotten tree fruits and cane fruits. These attract unwanted pests and help perpetuate their life cycle.
- Fruit tree leaves go too. Many fruit tree pests and diseases overwinter in leaves.
- Weeds with seed heads.
Seed Collecting and Saving
Want to feel like a garden expert? Try saving your own seeds. Some super easy ones to start with: sunflower, nasturtium, calendula, garlic, potatoes, and spinach. Collect, spread out on a tray, screen, or cardboard flat to dry thoroughly. Then label and store. Read my Seed Saving Primer for more tips and tricks.
Check out this article for my favorite methods of crop storage.
Fall Leaves: Don’t let this important resource go!
- Start Winterizing your beds
- Build a leaf mold pile
Winterizing Your Garden
The only wrong way (I know this from experience) is to leave your garden soil bare all winter. The rain will compact the soil and leach out important nutrients and minerals. It will take significant effort to get your beds in shape for spring planting. Instead, put your garden to bed for the winter by following these easy steps and your soil will be ready to welcome your spring starts with minimal effort and adjuncts.
- Aerate & dethatch.
- Spread compost or add a dusting of lime.
- Overseed once it begins to rain reliably.
Birdbaths: Scrub and flush at least once a week to prevent algae and spreading diseases . If you don’t love being out in the cold/wet it’s OK to take it down for the winter.
Bird Feeding: Suet is a great way to provide energy through the winter and is not messy. (Rodent control.) If using a seed feeder, get the good stuff, birds are choosy and will fling out the stuff they don’t like. Then mice and rats will clean up the discarded seeds and maybe set up camp under your house. I put out black sunflower seeds in a tight cylinder feeder. I also bring the seed feeders in at night.
Hummingbirds: Some of our Anna’s hummingbirds choose to overwinter and rely on nectar feeders to make it through. Clean and refill at least once a week. I have a glass feeder and like to pour the nectar in while it is still very hot to help sanitize the feeder. I also have extra flowers that I pop out and run through the dishwasher.
Bugs and stuff: Leave the leaves, wherever you can. (Except in the fruit orchard–those ones have to go.) Cover your beds and bare soil. Leave flower stalks and seed heads and such until early spring. Most of our insect friends overwinter in the soil as larvae, eggs, or in their adult form. They need shelter and food and will thank you by coming back in large numbers in the spring. (E.g., as soon as the aphids show up–I find ladybug eggs and larvae everywhere.) I always leave spider eggs sacs too. Spiders are voracious consumers of pest species.
Feeling guilty? If you’re feeling bad about leaving your yard messy for fall and winter, read this article from the Audubon Society and you will feel much better about it. To Help Birds this Winter, Go Easy on Fall Yardwork.
Hope your dehydrator is blowing, your canner bubbling and whistling, and your kitchen looks like a hurricane blew through it. BTW, if you’re wondering if I’d like a sample of your homemade salsa. Yes. Yes I would.
- OSU Extension: Grow Your Own Tomatoes
- Seed Savers Exchange: Seed Savers Chart
- OSU Extension: Collecting and Storing Seeds from your Garden
- Washington State: Compost Fundamentals
- Yellow Garden Spider