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Summer is Ending, but the Growing Season is Not

Aster flowers with dozens of thin pink petals and orange centers grow in a green garden
Aster flowers are Virginia natives, and continue to bloom through the end of summer and early fall.

It's hard to believe September is here - before we know it, the first frost will be in the forecast! The end of the summer does not mean the end of the gardening season, and there are still fall-blooming plants to enjoy, and more vegetables to plant, sow and harvest.

In addition to the garden catching a second breath, the end of summer does trigger insect activity. You will find holes in leaves as well as leaf edges nibbled on in the garden and landscape. Let it go and allow the caterpillars and other insects to feed; let us just say it is their turn as they prepare for winter. Typically, by August the leaves of deciduous trees have met the need of making and storing carbohydrates/sugars for the winter. For perennials, their time is coming to an end as the first frosts approach so let the insects dine! However, I do draw the line at evergreen shrubs and trees. I monitor the insect pressure and if it exceeds my comfort zone for the plant then I will treat to reduce the population of the infestation. Caterpillars and beetles are not the only insects feasting on plants. Leaf cutter bees are cutting round holes in leaves to make their cocoon for the winter. Leaves have many uses in the insect world.

On a positive note, it is nice to have the Japanese beetle season behind us and the larvae back in the ground feeding on roots. The Rose of Sharon that I used to demonstrate how to create a standard is finally blooming, but the beetles really hit it hard this year.

An insect I do not tolerate is the bag worm. Late summer is the time to look for and remove the bags hanging or nestled in branches. The bags start out tiny and gain size as the caterpillar grows, wreaking havoc on the plant as needles and leaves are harvested to literally meet the growing demand. I found the best control is to remove the bags by hand, and then drop them into soapy water or merely step on them. Spraying with Bacillus thuringiensis will control the bag worms as well.

After a wet August, keep an eye out for powdery mildew on leaves and stems, and also for stem, crown and/or root rot on plants. At Maymont, we apply the fungicide 3336 as a soil drench or as a foliar spray to control plant rot issues and powdery mildew, and of course, we always follow the directions on the label- it is the law.

I love the sound of water in the garden, but I dislike green water. Recently I began adding a few teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide to my small recirculating fountain regularly and it has worked well in keeping the algae at bay. Speaking of water, remember to dump all containers that hold stagnant water nightly, or use mosquito dunks to keep mosquitos down to a minimum.

As the temperatures cool, the vegetable garden gets a second wind, particularly for tomatoes. The cooler temperatures cue tomato flower production and the fruit is not far behind. This winter, make a note to stagger planting tomato plants at 2-week intervals for a continual harvest all season next year. In zone 6, stop in late June, but in zone 7, continue to plant tomato transplants into July.

One thing I do not do in September is fertilize my shrubs and plants. Applying fertilizer now will initiate tender new growth that will only be killed by frost in a few weeks. However, turf grass is different - the cool season grasses grow best with fall fertilization. I encourage keeping the mower cutting blade high to allow these grasses to grow tall and thick shading the soil surface which in turn prevents weed seeds from germinating.

Finally, take time to protect your trees against deer with fencing. The male bucks use young pliable trees and bushes to rub the velvet off their antlers and for marking their area. Either enclosing a small tree or just wrapping the trunk with 4’ 2”x4” fencing will meet the need. At Maymont,  we begin in August and remove the fencing in March. Safely storing the fencing will allow you to reuse it from year to year.

As I finish this note, I am about to set my Christmas cactus out onto my screened porch. These
plants need shorter days to set flower buds. The hard part is remembering to water it from now
until the prediction of a frost, when I will immediately bring it back into the house so it will not

Happy Gardening!

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