September begins the transition from summer to fall. Autumn officially begins Sept. 22. But two important fair events are coming up before then: The Crawford County Fair Sept. 7-15 at the Fairgrounds in Mulberry and the Arkansas/Oklahoma State Fair Sept. 21-29 at Kay Rodgers Park in Fort Smith. Both are opportunities to celebrate gardening (vegetables and flowers) in this area.
Also coming up is the annual Pollinator Festival on Oct. 6 at the Learning Fields at Chaffee Crossing, hosted by River Valley Master Gardeners. The festival is expanding to include arts and crafts booths in addition to horticultural and pollinator education. University of Arkansas entomologist Sherrie Smith will be at the festival to diagnose your sick plants. So, look around, and plan to take specimens to the festival.
This month is also the time to start putting your garden to rest and preparing your plants for dormancy. Here is the September gardening “to do” list:
• Continue to monitor plants for water needs, insects and diseases.
• Finish up fertilization of outside plants by mid-month.
• Now is the last chance to plant fall vegetables, including lettuce, spinach and greens.
• It is a good time to collect soil samples for your lawn, gardens and shrubs and have them analyzed by the University of Arkansas. Take your sample to the county extension office. Your soil sample report should be back within two weeks. If it calls for lime to reduce soil acidity, apply it in the fall. The lime will have several months to work before spring growth begins.
• Start acclimating your house plants for the trip indoors for the winter. Move plants to a less sunny area. In a couple of weeks move them again to a location that simulates indoor light conditions. This will reduce plant shock when they are moved indoors next month.
• Dig and divide spring blooming perennials.
• Replenish mulch around trees and shrubs.
• Save seeds from annuals and perennials for next season’s planting.
• Plant cool season fall fescue lawn in the shade or overseed an existing fescue lawn.
• Prepare your compost unit for the influx of fall cleanup which is just a few short weeks away. Clean out units and store compost in trash cans for fall gardening.
• Collect leaves as they fall. A heavy covering of leaves entering the winter months can actually smother a lawn. People often wait until it turns cold to rake leaves, but a covering of leaves on the lawn prior to the first frost may prevent dormancy. Then once the leaves are raked, the growing grass is exposed to cold weather and may suffer winter injury.
• Christmas cactus initiates flower buds by being exposed to cool nighttime temperatures, beginning in September. Moving your cactus outdoors in an area with plenty of indirect sunlight and giving it one more feeding of houseplant fertilizer later this month will cause your cactus to bloom late fall to early winter. While outdoors, limiting water will encourage flower buds to open at the same time. Bring the cactus indoors when danger of frost is predicted and place in a well-lit area until buds pop.
• Later this month bring new life back to your landscape by planting pansies, ornamental cabbage or kale, snapdragons, dusty miller and dianthus. Pansies planted by mid-October survive winters best and will put on a tremendous show this fall.
Matt Fryer is a Crawford County Cooperative Extension agent. Have questions about lawn, garden or other horticulture related issues? The Crawford County Extension Service can help. Office is located at 105 W. Pointer Trail, Van Buren. Call (479) 474-5286 for answers to horticulture questions.