Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 8/26/2006 12:01:26 AM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Labor Day often is touted as the traditional "end of summer," and according to the calendar, fall officially will begin with the fall equinox at 10:03 p.m. Sept. 22. In Louisiana, however, we know good and well that our summer season extends a good bit longer.
Still, there is something going on now. When you walk out in the morning, the air feels just a bit more comfortable. The days are getting shorter, and that is beginning to have an effect. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but if you squint just right, you can almost see the end of our long and brutally hot summer.
The word "fall" commonly conjures up images of harvest, falling leaves, the end of the growing season and the beginning of dormancy leading into winter. For gardeners in Louisiana, however, the traditional fall period is not a time of winding things down in the garden but of revival and renewed effort. It’s a time when we finally can get back into our gardens and enjoy ourselves as the debilitating heat of summer starts to lose its grip on the weather.
For the next couple of months we will experience a gradual shift to milder weather. There will be cool spells followed by decidedly hot, summer-like weather, but as we move into late October, cooler weather will begin to dominate the scene. Not until mid- to late November do we generally experience the nippy cold weather and changing leaves that tell us fall has finally arrived.
You might begin to notice an increase of vigor in your warm-season bedding plants in September. Even heat-tolerant flowers do not always look their best in August.
Since shorter days mean fewer hours of intense heat, even though the daytime highs may stay about the same, plants begin to experience less stress. This encourages a "second wind" in the flower garden that may last well into October or early November. Given this, consider cutting back some of your summer bedding plants and flowers that have grown tall and leggy over the long growing season. This should be done in late August or early September – at the latest – and generally involves cutting plants back about one-third to one-half their height.
While you’re at it, it might be a good idea to impose some order on those overgrown flower beds. In addition to cutting back, groom plantings to remove dead flowers and unattractive foliage.
If plants are leaning or have fallen over onto nearby neighbors, prop them up or stake them so they will stand upright. Just about every year at this time I find the remains of some unfortunate plant that was overwhelmed when larger, more vigorous, nearby plants leaned over it.
In addition, if you haven’t done so already, cut back your everblooming rose bushes, including such popular groups as hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, miniature roses, teas, polyantha roses, Bourbons, Chinas and English roses, to name a few. On the other hand, keep in mind that many old-fashioned climbers, ramblers, Lady Banks roses and some bush roses that bloom heavily only in spring to early summer will bloom next year on the growth they made this summer. Those roses should not be cut back now.
Even though you can get back into the garden to work, it is still too early to plant hardy trees, shrubs, ground covers and vines in the landscape. Temperatures in the 80s and 90s likely will be common in September, and that is still too stressful for new plantings. Wait at least until the cooler weather of October, since the ideal planting season for hardy trees, shrubs and ground covers really is from November through February.
It also is too early to plant cool-season bedding plants, even though they will begin to show up in area nurseries this month. Even if you have an area where the flowers finished and have been removed, it is still too hot to plant most cool-season bedding plants. Mulch the area now and wait until the reliably cooler weather of October or November to plant the beds.
Spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, also become available this month, but there is no hurry to plant them. Purchase them if you like while the selection is good, but plant bulbs into the garden from mid-October through early December.
The chrysanthemum often is considered the floral symbol of fall, and you will begin to see them available for sale this month as well. Just remember, folks, it ain’t fall yet! When planted in the garden while daytime highs are still in the upper 80s and lower 90s, the flowers of chrysanthemums will rapidly wither in the heat. Wait until reliably cooler temperatures to purchase chrysanthemums, and the flowers will last longer in the garden and provide a longer colorful display.
Maybe it’s best to say that Labor Day really marks the time in Louisiana when we can anticipate the soon-to-arrive milder weather and look forward to enjoying the delights of gardening over the next few months. When the fall equinox arrives later this month, don’t get carried away. For us, summer will still be lingering for a while longer.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.