The September checklist
Dahlias are at their best, but continue picking to keep plants in good condition. Cooler nights and heavier dews mean Botrytis fungus is waiting in the wings, so deadhead flowers as they go over. Rain, wind and growth mean you need to keep an eye on staking.
Apples and pears
Keep picking autumn-fruiting raspberries to stay ahead of the botrytis. Shake plum trees over a taut sheet to stop the fruit bruising. Freeze excess for jam or purées. Cup apples and twist gently. If they are ripe, they will come away with a satisfying snap. Leave pears to sap every ounce of sun, but pick them before the wasps get to them. They say you plant a pear for your grandchildren, but I wouldn’t let that put you off. Cordons and espaliers make easy picking.
If you are growing squash and pumpkin, you will have been fighting to keep them within bounds. Take excess growth back, but leave foliage to keep the nutrition flowing. Wait until the first light frost before picking.
Check seed daily for ripeness if you plan to harvest your own. Spread on a sheet of newspaper, separate seed from chaff and package up in labelled envelopes in Tupperware. Refrigeration will help prevent seed from degrading. Wild rocket does best for me from self-sowings or autumn-sown seed, which comes to fruition before the flea beetle hatches and decimates the foliage. Let a few plants seed and treat it as an opportunistic vegetable where you have odd corners.
September and October are the optimum months for sowing grass or meadows. There is warmth still in the soil and the guarantee of moisture ahead. Rake out bare patches of ground in lawns and broadcast a mix of seed and compost. New blades will grow through in under a fortnight. If possible, rope off newly sown grass to protect the young seedlings over winter. If you have more than three inches of growth, make a last high cut to promote tillering.
Warm, moist ground makes perfect planting conditions. Container-grown perennials, woody plants and evergreens will be rooted in and able to deal with winter better if you plant them now. Establish bulbs early, too – their roots will grow as soon as they make contact with the soil. Tulips are the exception and prefer a late planting so save them until November.
Bulbs should be planted about two and a half times their own depth. Winkle them in among perennials still going strong. Plant them as if you had thrown them into the air and let them land. Remember the words of William Kent – nature abhors a straight line – and get into the spirit.
Read this article on the Observer website
Photograph courtesy of Jason Ingram for the Observer