September Tips and Tasks
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Peak Season Soil Sample Testing Fees
If you haven’t sampled your soil recently, go ahead now to avoid the peak season sample fee. If you send your sample through the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Onslow County Center, make sure it is received by November 15 to ensure that it reaches N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services by the deadline.
Wait times are significantly shorter if you submit your samples during the off-season. It usually only takes about 7-10 days for the lab to process samples during the non-peak season; during peak season, sample turnaround times can stretch to 8 or 9 weeks.
For more information about these fees, check out the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Onslow County Center website.
There is still time to plant! In September, you can plant onions, radishes and second plantings of short-season hardy crops like leaf lettuce and spinach. Cabbage, kale, collards, Swiss chard and leaf lettuce can be set out through mid-October. Seeds of radish, spinach, turnip and salad greens can also be sown. Plant garlic cloves and onion sets until November.
Cool-season herbs like dill, parsley, and cilantro can be direct sown or set out as transplants and will stay green into winter.
Extend the growing season of tender summer crops like tomatoes and peppers by covering them through the first couple of frosts. We often have several weeks of nice growing weather after the first fall frost.
Clean up time! Remove old plants, as well as any foliage that has fallen on the soil and composts them. Do a final weeding, and mulch the bed with compost, straw, grass clippings, or chopped leaves. These mulches can be turned into the soil next spring to help fertilize next year’s crops. Collect leaves and debris for composting but don’t compost insect or disease-laden plant material or weeds that have gone to seed. As perennial beds go dormant, cut dry dead foliage back to ground level. Seed heads may be left for winter interest or to feed the birds (sedum, echinacea, blackeyed susan). Leave ornamental grasses standing for seasonal interest and to provide overwintering habitat for wildlife and beneficial insects.
Warm season grasses do not grow during late fall and don’t require any nitrogen before spring. Fertilizing with nitrogen at this time will encourage weed growth and disease problems like large patch and winterkill. Instead, opt for a September application of a potassium fertilizer on sandy soils. Potassium can improve winter hardiness while improving disease and drought tolerance.
Raise the height of your lawn mower by 1⁄2 inch in mid-September to encourage your lawn to store energy for winter and protect your grass from winterkill.
Resist the urge to overseed your permanent lawn with ryegrass. While this provides winter color, competition with ryegrass in the spring can stress your lawn – particularly centipede and St. Augustine.
If you had large patch diagnosed this spring, apply protective fungicides the beginning of September and again in October for control. Azoxystrobin is an effective fungicide for large patch control. This active ingredient can be found under the trade name Heritage G, as a generic, or in Scott’s Disease EX. Also, make sure that you are not irrigating through the fall.
Trees and Shrubs
Fall is the best time of year to transplant trees, shrubs, and perennials. Keep new plantings watered as they get established.
Prune shrubs to remove dead, diseased or broken limbs: however, save significant pruning for late winter or early spring. Spring blooming shrubs shouldn’t be pruned until after they flower, or you will lose next spring’s blooms.
Once all of the leaves have fallen, give your landscape plantings a layer of mulch over top. Three to four inches of mulch is good but excessive mulch can also cause problems so check the thickness of your mulch. Old mulch can be freshened up by raking. Don’t let mulch lie against the trunks of trees and shrubs or it will encourage pest and disease problems.
Fig bushes damaged by last winters cold may set small figs that do not ripen before frost. Consider covering your bushes for protection this winter.