These last few weeks of summer, we can let our land and bodies rest. But we can also prepare for fall, which starts Sept. 22. Scattered thunderstorms should refresh our yards soon. The following ideas can make our Middle Tennessee landscapes more natural and sustainable:
Mower blades should be set to a high level. They should never cut down more than a third of the leaf. Higher levels will prevent grass from turning brown(er), preserve moisture, and keep roots intact.
Consider leaving the clippings on the lawn. “Grasscycling” returns nutrients to the soil. It saves the trouble and expense of bagging, and it reduces landfill waste.
Now is the time to pull stray weeds that will multiply, suck moisture from the lawn, and plague our yards next year. In mid-September, some types of grass can use an “overseeding” (sowing grass seed onto an existing lawn), followed by an organic lawn fertilizer, preferably a starter.
Perennials & Shrubs
In late summer, we can stop fertilizing and pruning shrubs until early spring. We don’t want to promote new growth that will die in winter. Deadheading (cutting back) flowering plants like roses will prolong blooms until October’s frosts (around Oct. 15 in Nashville but earlier in some Midstate places). Perennials and annuals—in the ground and in containers— can all be deadheaded. Heavier pruning should wait until late winter. Leave in place some bird-friendly native blooms like sunflowers, purple coneflowers, and brown-eyed Susans. Goldfinches and other songbirds will devour their seeds. (See Audobon’s 10 Plants for a Bird-friendly yard.) Also, this month, consider which fall bulbs to plant for spring flowers.
Like shrubs, most trees don’t need fertilizing or heavy pruning in late summer. But trees need deep watering so they’ll thrive next spring. Mulching around trees will insulate roots from extreme heat and cold. Learn about organic mulches like compost and shredded bark. Fall and spring are the best times for planting trees. See the Nashville Tree Foundation’s guidelines for choosing the right tree, and how to plant and care for a tree. Visit one of Nashville’s 26 arboretums. They include more than 6,000 trees and shrubs (and 190 species) on the Vanderbilt campus, and the new Betty Brown Tree Trail at Riverfront Park.
Fruits & Vegetables
Fall gardens start now. Plant organic, non-GMO seeds for cool-season vegetables and flowers, and find veggie and herb seedlings at a natural garden center.
Use the Fall Planting Calendar (PDF file) from the UT Agricultural Extension Service. For those who can get to Crossville on Aug. 30, UT’s Plateau research center will hold its free Fall Gardener’s Festival. It’s also time to:
- Learn to ID insects that destroy gardens. Control them with organic pesticides we can buy, or make at home.
- Plant cover crops to enrich soil between plantings. See Matt’s video about sowing buckwheat and cowpeas to improve soil organically and on the cheap.
- Water fruit trees deeply. Compost fallen fruit that attracts pests. Fertilize potted citrus trees for the last time this year.
- Harvest and dry leftover herbs and flowers indoors for later use, like DIY fragrances.
- Dry seeds for next year. The Nashville Public Library’s Seed Exchange has a free Beginners Seed Saving Workshop on Sept. 17.
- Donate fresh produce to groups like The Nashville Food Project. Its volunteers prepare and serve 1,100 meals a week to people living on the margins. For monthly task lists, visit the UT-Knoxville Gardens, and Organic Life magazine (Zone 7).
And remember, our Garden Center at the Nashville Farmers Market, and our Landscaping Company are always here to inspire and educate!