September in the Garden and “A Way to Garden”

     Truth be told…For South Sound gardeners, September/October is just as welcome as May/June. Both mini seasons transition us from extreme to milder temperatures and, as a result, give us renewed “garden brain” energy. Herbaceous perennials in particular get a year’s head start by dividing, planting and transplanting now.

     Time to ponder, prepare and plan.

 Ponder Your Garden’s Successes

      It’s always a good idea to take stock of what worked and what didn’t work. Observing things like, “Did the Rosemary languish or thrive? Should I really have surrounded a fertilizer hungry, thirsty rose with a Portulaca that thrives in poor dry soil? or “I had no idea I was such a talented colorist”. (You never know.)      


      If you’re a list maker, try writing down what you observe but if you’re more visual (like most of us), take a 3 minute September/October video to refresh your memory for next May/June when you wonder what you planted. Having some kind of record helps…

Prepare for What Comes Next

The Fall Cleanup…it isn’t for everybody. For instance, in perennial gardens neatness may not count. The tendency is to cut back everything and pick up every leaf but that’s not always the best thing to do. There are two schools of thought.

     First thought:  Armed with pruners and a big bucket, cut back every summer perennial to the ground, carefully clean up around them and rake up leaves. Your garden looks tidy. You are a happy, tidy gardener. You probably lowered the slug population and if you have any diseased plants, cleaning up like this really helps.

     On second thought: Back off! This is by far the easiest and laziest method. Just let the herbaceous perennials die back naturally. The left alone seedheads feed songbirds, the decaying leaves and stems protect the crowns from any future freezes and also mark where you planted them in the first place. When you wait until early spring to clean up beds, it’s a snap. Everything has pretty much disintegrated. All you need to clean up is a rake and that bucket…shortly followed by your favorite beverage and a good book like…

“A Way to Garden” by Margaret Roach

If you’re one of the bazillions of people hooked on podcasts you might recognize the book title. “Away to Garden” is also a popular weekly garden podcast by Margaret Roach, former editorial director for Martha’s Omnimedia. She chucked it all and moved to the country.

     She calls herself a woo-woo gardener but her book that guides you through seasonal gardening is filled with practicality. 

     She speaks softly on her interview heavy podcast which comes through in her book. She is a gentle writer who shares real garden experiences about her journey from corporation to country garden. It’s a how-to and memoir along with solid and carefully thought out garden advice with a touch of “woo woo” thrown in.  

Timber Press, 320 p. $30

Your Weeds Tell a Soil Story

This is reprinted with a thank you to I love this information…

Your weeds are here because of what’s going on in the soil.Every wild weed that sprouts in and around your garden is growing there in response to the current conditions in your soil.

If your soil is rich in nitrogen, you might see Chicory showing up on the scene. If your soil is low in fertility you might see yarrow popping its head out to condition the soil.

You can use this information from the weeds as you would a soil test to help you work with your soil.

The weeds themselves are processing these soil imbalances in an attempt to amend and balance the profile of the soil towards a climax ecosystem. We can read these weed signs and help the natural process on its way in our gardening.

We compiled this table of Weed plants and their associated soil conditions that might be at play.

Weed Plant Indicates possible Soil Condition
Amaranth Rich soil, high in nitrogen
Bindweed Compacted soil
Chicory Rich, sweet soil high Nitrogen
Chickweed Rich, sweet soil high Nitrogen
Groundsel Rich soil
Crabgrass Soil depleted of nutrients and low in calcium
Dandelions Poor soil, low in calcium & high in potassium
Dock Wet, poorly drained soil
Goldenrod Wet, poorly drained soil
Henbit High nitrogen
Knapweed Rich soil high in potassium
Knotweed Compact ground
Lamb’s quarters Rich soil, high in nitrogen
Little blue-stem Dry sandy soil depleted of nutrients
Moss Soggy acidic soil low in nutrients
Common mullein Low fertility & possibly soil too acidic
Mustard Dry sandy soil high in phosphorus
Common wood sorrel Low Calcium
Oxalis (Wood Sorrel) Low calcium and high magnesium
Ox-eye daisy Low fertility in acidic, possibly soggy, soil with poor fertility
Pearly everlasting Acidic soil low in nutrients
Peppergrass Sweet soil
Plantain Compacted sour soil with low fertility and often indicates heavy clay or garden path areas
Purslane Rich soil, high phosphorus
Quack grass Heavy clay or compacted soil
Queen Anne’s lace Poor dry sweet soil
Ragweed Low fertility
Sensitive fern Poorly drained soil low in nutrients
Sweet fern Sandy acidic soil
Stinging nettle Rich acidic soil
Sheep sorrel Acidic soil low in nitrogen, dry sour sandy soil, low in calcium
Yarrow Poor dry sandy soil with poor fertility, low in potassium