Back to school time signals many changes in the garden as the days grow shorter. It seems to me things are not as they once were in September. I always looked for the Japanese anemones to bloom, along with the morning glories, when school started. Now, they are in full bloom in August.
Also, the hostas that also were known as August lilies now always bloom in July.
I guess we are all getting older.
We are fortunate in Ohio to enjoy fall weather for several weeks if things follow their usual pattern. Most annuals still are blooming and complement the mostly golden perennials in the flower beds. Ornamental kale and cabbage are fun to grow at this time. Impatiens (regular and the New Guinea varieties), cosmos, snapdragons and celosia should still be blooming.
They do need dead-heading and trimming, however, to keep their cheerful color in the garden for as long as possible.
It is time to plan for the over-wintering of tropical plants in the house. This year, mine have somehow multiplied and I have two very large hibiscus, a begonia, two fig trees, a papaya, a banana, a bay and an olive tree, as well as my old mandevilla.
All these, as well as some perennials from the fairy garden, will need a place in a bright window. Time to move the furniture again!
The mandevilla will be clipped back severely after a rather poor performance this summer, and all the plants will be treated to a good session in the shower with some insecticidal soap. Last winter, I lost a fig tree that was completely smothered with white flies, and I hope to avoid that problem this year.
As the ground clears for the winter beneath deciduous trees, consider planting some small bulbs there. Before the trees leaf out, there is enough sun for squill, snowdrops and crocus, and they are lovely in the spring.
Cleaning up messy, weedy and generally untidy areas now will reward you in April.
I love to look at my vegetable garden as I pass every day and see the clean brown earth resting under its covering of manure and compost with the paths clean and neat. It is almost enough to make me forget all the weed-pulling, digging and raking it took to achieve that look. Almost.
September is a good time to take stock of the flower beds and plan for next summer's display. Look at color, size and shape and make notes about changes to be made. It is easier to pull out old perennials that have had their day now, while they are showing their age, than in spring when the new green shoots appear.
I have some monkshood that never blooms until late September, by which time the lower leaves are unattractively browned and wrinkled. They grow too tall and are really unsuitable for their location by the front door.
So, even though I like their bright blue color, they will move on this fall to the compost pile.
As bulbs appear in the stores, plan for spring. The smaller bulbs will do best if planted about now, giving time for some root formation before their early appearance in 2014. Larger bulbs such as daffodils and tulips can wait a bit yet.
There is some sadness in getting down to these fall tasks, but the eternal optimism of the gardener reminds us of all the joys of the spring that is just around the corner.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.