GROOMS GARDENING: Caring for autumn gardens

Submitted PhotoSpider lily blooms.

We are entering the last full week of September. Autumn begins on Tuesday the 22nd, the autumnal equinox. 

Days and nights are equal at the equinox, which occurs twice a year, spring and fall. As we move forward, nights will grow a little longer and days will become shorter by a few minutes per day. Plants that are triggered into bloom by longer nights will soon begin to form buds. 

Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti can be fertilized with a "bloom buster" formula. That is one with a high middle number. High phosphorus promotes blooming in mature plants. Don't overdo it, it's best to feed them weekly rather than to overfeed at one time.

Pecan leaves are already falling off the trees and some pecans are falling. Goldenrod plants have split at their top and are now forming five or six bloom stems. Native astors are shooting up along the road sides as they prepare to bloom in the fall. 

Iris seed pods are mature in most species now. Check them out, if the pods have split on the end or turned beige or brown, they are ready to be trimmed off of the scape. You can let them dry out for a few days or they can be planted immediately.

Iris seed are notoriously slow to germinate. Plant them in an area where you will recognize them when they do decide to come up. I like the front of a border because their little spear-shaped foliage is usually easy to recognize. 

Your iris seed may germinate anytime between spring 2021 and spring of 2022. When they do come up, they are usually very prolific and it seems as if almost every seed has germinated.

The seed pods you pick off of iris plants contain many seed. Open the pod and you will find large brown seed in chambers inside the pod.

Dig a shallow trench along the front of wherever you plan to plant them, scatter the seed in the trench, cover them up and mark your spot.

Some gardeners nick the hard brown seed covering and soak the seeds 24 hours, in an effort to speed germination. Just letting Mother Nature do it the natural, slow way is fine with me.

Last weekend was cooler, so I attacked a spot that used to be a big garden bed. I cut, hacked and lopped toward the birdbath, haven't seen it yet, but did rescue a native azalea, liberated dozens of iris that were pale and laying over from the weight and shade of honeysuckle, a forrest of head-high cherry laurels, wild grape vines, smilax vines, privet bushes, long brier canes, wisteria vines and close to 100 cannas that multiplied from the original 20 planted four years ago. 

I am still working to find a couple of small gardinias, small camellia, amaryllis bulbs and two more species of iris. If only the desired plants had grown like the unwanted invaders, what a lovely area it would be, instead of a magnificent weed patch.

Perennials are maturing their seed for autumn; if you save seed, this is a good time to choose which ones you want to keep. Gather them as soon as mature, clean off debris, bag and ID seeds (if they are completely dry). A few days in the freezer will usually kill eggs or insects that plan to eat the seeds to survive until spring.

Store seeds in a cool dry spot until spring when it is time to start all over again.

There is still plenty of time to plant winter greens. Mustard, turnips, lettuces of all colors, shapes and tastes. Beets, carrots, radishes, arugula, kale, Swiss chard, collards and many others can be started from seed.

Transplants of Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onions of many types and cauliflower, can be bought at most garden shops. Plant a couple per week to extend your harvest time and not be overwhelmed with all the vegetables at once. 

When buying seed, go ahead and buy sweet pea seed for planting in December. They are also called English peas or garden peas. Wrinkled seed have a higher sugar content than round smooth sweet pea seed.

I am out of space, see you next week.

Susan Grooms lives and gardens in Lowndes County.


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