September 2003

Ground rules and tools for September
September 4, 2003
Victoria County Master Gardener

Fall is the typical time for soil tests. This fall the Victoria County Master Gardener Association and the South Texas Farm and Ranch Show are teaming up with Texas A&M University to co-sponsor a soil-testing program at a reduced cost of $6.50 per sample (normal cost is $10 plus shipping). Further details will be forthcoming, but this is what I have at this time.

The intent of this program is to teach proper use and management of fertilizers. Often we fertilize too casually. The real reason to fertilize is because your turfgrass, vegetable garden or flower garden needs feeding. Still though, my dear friend Louise was shocked to be told that she should NOT fertilize for three years after she did her first soil test.

This program will be offered to the general public, but it is not for industrial or commercial use.

This is for the home garden, be it lawns, vegetables or flowers. Results of your soil test will be available on Oct. 21 at the South Texas Farm and Ranch Show. Soil sample bags and information sheets can be picked up at the Victoria County Extension office and returned Sept. 20 at the Master Gardener Fall Plant Sale, which will be held at the Victoria County 4-H Activity Center at Victoria Regional Airport. Additional sites are being arranged. Follow "The Gardeners' Dirt" for further details.

Now that September is here with somewhat cooler weather, your lawn may exhibit signs of brown patch, especially if you receive plenty of rain. This is a turfgrass disease, caused by a fungus that attacks St. Augustine, Bermuda and Zoysia grass during wet weather, particularly with cool nights such as in the fall.

Brown patch usually shows up as a 1- to 10-foot circle; it looks like a discolored or dead area in the grass. The grass wilts, then turns to bleached brown, and it looks dead. The disease attacks leaves and stems of the grass, but seldom the roots. The fungus remains in the soil from year to year, attacking in the spring and fall, especially during wet periods when the night temperatures are 70-85 degrees.

Some ways to minimize your chances of having brown patch would include reducing excess tree shade and soil compaction. Avoid over-watering and watering in late evening, and go easy on the high nitrogen fertilizer. Improved drainage will help also. If it does show up in your lawn, treat with an approved fungicide according to package directions.

There's a lot to do in September. Read on!

Roses should be pruned or groomed no later than Sept. 20.

Crepe myrtles need the old seed heads removed to stimulate growth of beautiful new foliage for the fall.

Get ready to set out spring-flowering bulbs by preparing the beds now. Cultivate the soil and add lots of compost and/or humus. Bulbs will rot in the ground without good drainage.

Set in transplants of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

Plant strawberries of recommended varieties such as Sequoia, Tioga or Chandler.

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

Follow package directions.

Plant seeds of the Texas state flower, the bluebonnet, and other wildflowers like Indian paintbrush, coneflower and black-eyed Susan.

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.

Plant seeds of beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots and cabbage in the ground, along with a second set of green beans and squash.

Continue or institute a spray schedule for roses for black spot and mildew. September and October are prime times for damage due to fungus.

Mealybugs are also apt to show up. Mealybugs are disgusting soft-bodied scales that look like little bits of cotton on the stems and leaves of your plants. Treat with a product approved for scale, according to package directions. An organic option would be Neem Oil.

Geraniums and begonias that survived the hot summer should begin to put on new growth. They will thrive with a little compost or slow-release fertilizer.

These are peak growing times for vegetables. To insure a great harvest, add compost and provide plenty of water. Some vegetables such as cucumbers or eggplants will become bitter if under-watered now.

Continue to plant seeds of snapdragons, dianthus, pansies, violas, calendulas and other cool-season flowers in flats to put out in the garden in late fall.

Often the main fall pest is the looper. Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) insecticide is nontoxic and gives good control. You have to have it on the plant when critters are small. If you wait until you see a giant caterpillar, it is too late for Bt. Hand pick that one, and maybe feed him to fish.

Gardens will become more lush and lovely as the temperatures cool. It could be that this is also due to the extra time we are willing to spend in the garden now that it is cooler. The time we spend feeding and watering and weeding and grooming will pay off in blooms and foliage to thrill and enchant us even after the garden is put to rest by that first hard freeze. What we do now helps us get through the gray days of winter, and makes us want to do it all over again next year. Make your garden this fall one to remember.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association.