Ground rules and tools for September


September 2, 2004


Victoria County Master Gardener


With the several small cool fronts we have been so fortunate to receive over the past couple of weeks, it really puts one in the mood to start sprucing up flowerbeds and preparing vegetable beds for the fall. I quickly went outside to my raised bed last week and started the process of getting the soil ready to plant fall vegetables. For those of you who have beds with all of those dreadful weeds, you may want to start the "solarization" process now. I prefer preparing my vegetable bed this way because I do not like to use harsh chemicals (weeds/unwanted grass that have been treated with commercially prepared substances may not be approved for feeding to my animals! - be sure to read all labels).


First you need to till your soil and rid it of as many weeds as possible. Next place clear plastic over the entire bed. You can buy this garden plastic at any of the local garden centers - it comes in a roll. You will need to place semi-heavy items around the edges to keep air from getting in and to keep the plastic from blowing up. I used firewood, unused pots and anything else I could find to place around the edges. You should leave the plastic over the bed for at least four to five weeks. The heat from the hot sun will assist in killing any future, unwanted weeds and grasses in your bed. I'm sure we have a few more of those hot, sultry South Texas days left before fall actually arrives. Backing up and doing this 30 to 45 days ago would have provided even greater solarization time.


Now, what to plant in September: seeds to be sown in the garden would be beets, carrots, Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage, collard, endive, lettuce, mustard, onion, parsley, English pea, Irish potato, radish, shallot and turnip. Be sure to save empty seed packets until your crop has matured as you may need to refer to them during the growing process.


While seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and celery can be planted at the end of September and into October, transplants of these do best planted in October to November. Transplants can be more successful if a starter solution is applied to each plant, using either a commercially prepared product or one you make yourself by mixing 1 cup of fertilizer granules, such as 5-10-5, in 5 gallons of water. Pour the liquid into the hole where the transplant will go, allow it to soak in, then set the plant in and fill the hole with whatever potting soil you choose and then water the plant.


Other tips for your garden include keeping a garden checklist for the purposes of crop rotation. Avoid planting related types of vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, etc. where any similar family members were planted last year. Some soil-borne diseases that affect them can be carried over year after year in your garden unless you rotate your crops.


Now, some of you may have noticed those circular patches of dead looking grass in your lawns. It probably is brown patch caused by a fungal disease and enhanced by over-fertilization and too frequent watering. Brown patch usually shows up as a 1- to 10-foot circle and looks like a discolored or dead area in your grass. The grass wilts, then turns bleached brown and looks dead. Brown patch rarely attacks the roots of the grass but does attack the leaves and stems - thus it will grow back after a couple of months. Spring and fall are the most common times that brown patch appears in lawns. The best ways to avoid brown patch are:


1) Avoid frequent watering or applications in the early or late evenings.


2) Reduce excess tree shade and soil compaction.


3) Make judicial applications of fertilizer, preferably following a soil test.


If you notice brown patch on your lawn, don't panic - it is treatable with fungicides such as heritage, bayleton, terraclor, fore or rubigan, available at your local garden centers.


Are winter weeds always a problem for you? Now, before the seeds sprout, is the best time to tackle them. An application of a pre-emergent weed killer applied in mid- to late September will prevent these seeds from ever coming up this season. Check and read up on products such as dimension, balan, princep or gallery to see if these will control your major weed pests. Remember, most weeds sprout due to a weak and thin turfgrass - so manage your lawn so you get a solid cover of grass.


Other "to do" items for September are as follows:


Do not prune your roses past Sept. 20. Crepe myrtles need the old seed heads removed to stimulate growth of new foliage for the fall.


Cultivate your soil and add lots of compost and/or humus.


Apply a fertilizer recommended for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant when fruit is marble size.


If you want a Bermuda lawn, this is the latest period for sowing the seed to make sure the grass is established before cool weather gets here.


Continue your spray schedule for roses for black spot and mildew. September and October are prime times for damage due to fungi.


Mealybugs also like this time of year. They look like little bits of cotton on the leaves and stems of your plants. Treat mealybugs with an insecticidal spray soap or any product that is approved for scale. Wooly aphids have been reported infesting ash trees. Homeowners reported to the Extension Office recently that it is snowing from their trees. These aphids emit a white fluffy substance that resembles snow that falls on outside vehicles, tabletops, etc. If the infestation is extensive, an application of insecticides such as neem oil, malation or acephate (orthene) may be beneficial.


One last item that should be on your list of things to do in September is to attend the Victoria County Master Gardener fall plant sale and gardening symposium to be held on Saturday, Sept. 18, at the Officer's Club and Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens at the Victoria Regional Airport. These events are being held on a Saturday to accommodate the general public and our readers who work during the week and cannot attend functions on workdays.


Do not miss the popular plant sale for healthy plants at bargain prices - as well as a full gardening training day coming up on the third Saturday in September.



Symposium registration will be accepted through Sept. 15 on a first-come, first-served basis. Look for more information in this column or call the Extension Office at 361-575-4581.


I hope everyone enjoys the cooler months ahead. The first day of fall is just around the corner!