September - What's in Steve's Garden?


In My Garden (Zone 9-10)

Steve Asbell
Steve Asbell is an illustrator, the author of Plant by Numbers and blogger of The Rainforest Garden.

August wasn’t a big month for the veggie garden, but I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. After all, it’s a miracle that I was able to grow tomatoes through summer in the first place and it’s not like I really have too many vegetable beds prepared yet anyways. That will be my priority for the cool season garden! It was, on the other hand, a very productive month where ornamental plants are concerned. In the front yard I was blown away by the performance of my summer annuals and in the back yard I managed to dig a whole new garden bed in the shade of three maples. Best of all, I made a lot of headway in coming up with a vision for my garden’s design. A good plan might not have any permanence where plants are involved, but at the very least I’ll have the peace of mind of being better able to visualize a finished product.
While I didn’t really harvest too many veggies this month, I got by with enough cherry tomatoes to mix into our salads and stir-fried dinners every week. Mostly I just had the satisfaction of having tomatoes in the heat of a Florida summer, especially since they usually seem to fizzle out by now. The Sun Gold and Super Sweet 100 were the best performers by far, but they had a little help from me. To keep them going through summer I planted them among roselle plants so that they’d have extra support and shade. I also planted them in a spot where the soil stays moist for longer periods and watered them by hands when the soil began to dry out at the surface, and I fertilized according to label instructions as well. So there you have it: Extra shade, regular water and fertilizer during the hotter months lets you harvest tomatoes from the dog days of summer to fall.
It was an unusually dry month for my garden, but surprisingly enough my plantings in the front yard didn’t seem to mind. Well, it’s true that the Heuchera and few other plants fizzled out in the heat and beating sun, but they were quickly overtaken by performers like lemongrass, thyme, purple lantana, tibouchina, and my favorite performer of the season, Angelonia. Also known as summer snapdragon for its profusion of upright spikes of lightly fragrant purple blooms, this annual thrives in heat, drought and humidity. Today we had a high of 102 degrees and it wasn’t fazed a bit.
Digging and planting an entire garden bed in the middle of summer seems a bit crazy, but I’ve been told that I seem a bit crazy as well. Despite the blazing heat, I planted the largest bed in my garden yet - right in the shade of three maple trees. There I combined Florida native plants; evergreens like cast iron plant, mondo grass and mahonia; and tropicals like bromeliads, gingers and ferns. Right after planting this garden I learned that one of those maples is dying and will have to be removed since the previous owners wrapped a chain around its base, but I just look at it as an opportunity. Once the tree surgeon cuts down the tree I’ll have a stump for mounting bromeliads and ferns!
Next month I’ll have even more to do in the garden, but at least it will be slightly cooler. I’ll be clearing out the side yard to plant veggies and planting a privacy screen of about eight native Simpson stoppers (Myrcianthes fragrans) along the side of my yard for privacy and a sense of enclosure. Eventually I’ll plant ferns in their shade, but for now I can grow vegetables while I wait for them to fill in! I’ll suppress the weeds and keep myself fed all at the same time. This summer was particularly tough on my veggie garden (mostly because I haven’t been able to keep on top of weeds), but my cool-season garden will be amazing. Well, at least by my standards.





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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Gardeners may have trouble with clematis as transplants are often unable to tolerate the ravages of harsh spring weather. Plants arriving in early spring may not survive if developing shoots are frozen or dried by cold spring winds. If you've lost plants in the spring, try planting them in the fall. Simply plant spring-purchased clematis in six-inch pots and protect them from freezing weather and dry wind. Keep the plants potted through the summer, then set out in their permanent locations in late September. Next spring, the plants will bloom in all their glory!