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Time to catch a second wind for gardening

“Departing summer hath assumed an aspect tenderly illumed. “

— William Wordsworth, September 1819

If your enthusiasm and energy for gardening has waned from August triple-digit temperatures and recent smoky haze, then September may be just what you need to capture a second wind.

Average temperatures this month drop about 7 degrees, and chances of cooling rains increase, so now is the time to get out in the garden to transplant starts for fall and early winter and to sow seeds for over-wintering vegetables.

First, though, attend to late-summer crops by pinching off blossoms from tomatoes, peppers, squash and eggplant, and prune growing tips from tomato plants. This will allow the plants to focus their energy on bringing remaining fruit to maturity before killing frosts set in. This is also the time to cover your sunflowers with paper bags or cheesecloth (no plastic bags, though) to protect the seeds from hungry birds.

Before planting seeds or transplanting starts, be sure to rejuvenate the soil by removing leftover plant debris, moisten the soil, and use a garden fork to lightly work in a mixture of compost and a balanced fertilizer. Adding a soil inoculant, such as mycorrhizae, to the planting holes will further support the development of healthy roots.

Vegetable seeds to plant this month include arugula, daikon radish, garden cress, kale, leaf lettuce and mustard and turnip greens. All of these will be ready for harvesting by wintertime. Sow the seeds twice as deep as recommended for springtime planting because late-summer heat can dry out the top layer of soil, preventing seeds from germinating. A mulch dressing will help retain moisture and keep the soil temperature cool enough for optimal sprouting.

Overwintering vegetables that can be direct-seeded this month include onions, radishes and spinach. In addition, starts for fall varieties of broccoli can be transplanted in the garden this month, along with sprouting types of broccoli that will be ready for harvest in winter. Other overwintering vegetables to transplant this month include cabbage, cauliflower, celery and garlic.

Also, don’t forget about your flower garden this month. Look around and note gaps you want to fill with new annuals and perennials. For example, my front-yard berm looks great in the spring and early summer, but I need to add some late-summer and fall-blooming flowers for longer-lasting color. I might also want to add some evergreens for garden interest during winter.

The best time to transplant is on an overcast day or in the cooler morning hours. Gently untangle rootbound starts with your fingers, moisten the rootball, and then fan out the roots in the planting hole. Also, be sure to keep an eye on the temperatures in September. You may need to protect vulnerable young plants from temperatures that are higher or lower than average with shade cloth or floating row cover.

Let’s take advantage of what 19th-century poet Helen Hunt Jackson called the “lovely tokens” this month offers. Hunt wrote, “September days are here, with summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.”

— Rhonda Nowak is a member of the Jackson County Master Gardener Association and teaches writing at RCC. Email her at rnowak39@gmail.com.