As the summer begins to wind down, many of you may be growing tired of tending and harvesting your vegetable garden. Before you pack up your hoe and rake, there are a few things you can do to extend your harvest and prepare for next year's garden.
September in Augusta is a time of change, and sometimes unpredictable weather. On the first of September, our average high is 89 and the average low is 67. By the time we reach the end of the month, 82 is the average high and 58 is the average low. Some days will feel like July or August, and others feel like a fall day.
These fluctuations in temperature can affect your summer garden.
If diseases and insects have not carried your garden away, the shorter days and cooler temperatures will begin to signal your plants to go to seed. You can extend your harvest up to the first frost if you pay a little more attention to the plants' needs. Last year, I harvested tomatoes until the middle of December.
FIRST, SCOUT THE garden carefully for severely damaged or diseased plants. Remove any failing plants to give the healthy ones more room and energy. Plants that have quit producing should be removed and sent to the compost pile.
Carefully run a tiller between the rows to remove the competition of weeds and help remaining vegetables. Depending on the distance between the rows, you might even spray Roundup (except near tomatoes), or a similar product, to help battle weeds. Be sure to not let any drift on the vegetable plants. You can use a sprayer with a shield cone on the end or a large piece of cardboard to shield the plants.
Diseases and insects are usually at their peak this time of year. Continue to harvest early and don't leave mature vegetables on the vine or they will attract problems. Use organic alternatives when available to combat diseases and insects. Use chemical controls only when problems are severe.
Water is another key issue this time of year. The soil tends to be hot and dry in September, so more frequent irrigation may be needed to fill out vegetables. Soaker hoses are always best because they are efficient and help prevent diseases by keeping the foliage dry.
Pay particular attention to your tomato plants. You may need to pick or prune off up to half the plant to remove damaged or diseased branches. At this time of year, it is also a good idea to harvest tomatoes while they are still green or close to turning red and allow them to fully ripen indoors. The quality of your harvest will be much better.
You should be able to continue to harvest most vegetables until the first frost, which normally occurs in early to mid-November.
FALL IS A great time to divide perennials for next year's garden. By planting in the fall, your plants do not endure the stressful summer heat during establishment and have time to form sufficient root systems before the onset of winter dormancy.
When planning next year's fall garden, consider the versatile and carefree daylily as a source of fall color to complement chrysanthemums. There are several varieties of daylily that will bloom in September.
Clean up any fallen leaves on ornamentals. They can harbor disease and insect pests over the winter.
Slugs are always a problem when we have an abundance of rain. You can use grapefruit rinds as slug traps. Place them cut side down in the garden. Slugs will hide and sometimes die under the rinds. Simply turn them over, remove the slugs and put them back. The rinds take a long time to decompose so they can be reused over and over.
Fall is generally the driest time of the year, so if we get into dry times, water shrubs every week to 10 days. Many plants, including azaleas, camellias and hydrangeas, are setting buds for next season's blooms.
POWDERY MILDEW disease attacks many ornamentals, most often during late summer or early fall, when days are warm and nights are cool. Some mildews are also increased by high humidity. Prevention by proper cultural practices is the first line of defense.
Have your butterbeans or stringbeans been dropping from the plant this summer? Unfortunately, these vegetables shed pods whenever stress comes along. This would include dry or hot weather, poor fertility or even too much water. Also, watch for stink bugs and other plant bugs that cause beans to shed.
You can spruce up geraniums that have lost lots of leaves to Botrytis (Grey Mold), which makes them look a bit pathetic at this time of the year, especially with a lot of rain. This is especially true if tall, scraggly stems are all that remain. Prune tall stems back to a point just above the short side shoot. This will force the side shoots into new growth.
REACH SID MULLIS, THE DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA EXTENSION SERVICE OFFICE FOR RICHMOND COUNTY, AT (706) 821-2349 OR SMULLIS@UGA.EDU.