I was brought up in a war-torn and economical time to believe that “all things in moderation” was a good motto to live by.
For most of my life the weather has behaved according to that principle where it followed the pattern traditionally associated with each of the seasons. We could expect that Winter would have its share of snow and ice and freezing days, Spring meant some warm days and April showers, Summer the occasional bout of heat but, generally, a mixture of wet and dry days that kept things on a pretty even keel while Autumn could bring lovely calm sunny September days and a colourful October …
Climate change seems to be altering all that with the weather frequently taking things to extremes. This summer has been a prime example with prolonged scorching heat followed by grey days and torrential downpours. Gardeners are increasingly wondering what we are supposed to do about it. Is it worth paying for lawn care when the grass will often be shrivelled up? Shall we grow runner beans if they are likely to be tough with hard beans rather than soft flesh or is it ethically right to use a sprinkler when water is a precious resource, sometimes in short supply? We all have to make our own decisions and, meanwhile, we have to make the best of the gardening style that we are used to.
September can be a month of vibrant colour. Dahlias are back in fashion and should be at their best. Most of the taller varieties will need staking and tying in and watch out for minor shoots that develop around the main stem (or stems). Cut these out so that the plant puts its energy into flower production and keep dead heading, not just cutting the dead flower head off but cutting the stem down to a pair of leaves where more flowers are likely to grow. Give them a thorough watering, perhaps once a week. Michaelmas daisies come into their own in September and October and won’t need much attention beyond some tying in and seeing that they get watered in dry weather.
The general answer to the question I raised above about the use of sprinklers is that it makes much better use of water and is better for plants if they are watered individually at the base rather than having water sprinkled over the foliage. When time is at a premium it is, of course, tempting to use a sprinkler. Water in the evening or early morning when water has time to soak in rather than evaporating. Plants in containers need watering much more frequently than plants grown in open ground, which generally means daily in hot dry weather. You can stop feeding container grown plants now. Containers will often be used on patios but they can be very effective dotted around a flower bed, hiding the pot where possible with the foliage of other plants and they are useful for filling gaps. They are also good for plants that need winter protection as they can easily be brought in under cover.
Thoughts will also be turning to next year’s gardening, and this is the key time for planting spring bulbs. You may well have already ordered on-line but there will be plenty of bulbs in shops and garden centres now. Look out for the less common bulbs beyond daffodils and tulips to add variety and a range of colours and height to the garden. Remember that planting tulips is best delayed until November to reduce the risk of disease and, even if there are snowdrop bulbs for sale, it is best to wait until you can get them ‘in the green’ after the flowering period when they establish much better. Bulbs naturalised in grass can look lovely. The best effect is achieved by throwing the bulbs randomly around the area where they will be grown rather than spacing them out evenly. Choose varieties suitable for naturalising and the general rule for depth of planting is two-and-a-half times the height of the bulb.
There will always be some general maintenance to do. Keep dead-heading flowers, annuals and perennials, and cut down the stems of perennials that have flowered. Cut off flowered seed heads of plants that self-seed prolifically and that can be a nuisance where you don’t want them. Where you have harvested vegetable crops keep the weeds under control with regular hoeing when plants are small. Blanket weed may still be a problem in ponds and keep some areas of water clear by thinning plants or removing some of the oxygenating plants.