Garden checklist for September: Compost, prune, plan
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The Dry Garden: Checklist for September
In a crowded world, original observations are few. One of mine is that beets taste good with everything -- provided that you like beets. Another is that the good people of Los Angeles might be struck dumb if denied the phrase “you should,” with a close second being, “you shouldn’t.” It took less than a week in a new home on a particularly house-proud street for relatives and friends to impart:
“You should get sprinklers.”
“You should use my lawn service.”
“You shouldn’t use her lawn service.”
“You should plant Carolina cherries.”
I didn’t get sprinklers, I hired a lawn service and then fired it after digging out all the lawn. I did plant Carolina cherries -- a mistake, because they burn in heat waves and I should have used native plants.
Thirteen years later, at a second home, this time in a loosey-goosey unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, the flow of unsolicited advice wasn’t nearly as bad, but it still happened.
“You should plant your John Dourley’s there.” “You should call [someone] about water trapping.”
“Whatever you do, do your driveway last.”
“You should cut the sucker off that fruit tree.”
“You should have planted your corn in blocks.”
I did plant my John Dourley manzanita where the neighbor suggested. I didn’t call the friend about water trapping because I plan on doing it myself. I took up the old asphalt driveway as soon as the heat radiating off it became intolerable, and I replaced it with cooler, permeable decomposed granite. I did cut the sucker off the fruit tree and I hand-pollinated the corn, though I won’t bother growing it again. Too much water, not enough enjoyment.
Instead of recommending that you do as I do this week, it seemed marginally less bossy simply to impart a few of the things that I am currently telling myself to do:
Vegetable beds. The fig beetles and this year’s baby lizards are out. This means that the compost is clearing of its most delightful denizens. It’s safe to begin ripping out the corn that I regret having planted and topping the vegetable beds with finished compost so they’re ready for winter lettuces, herbs, broccoli and chard. I must make sure to plant some of the delicious Mexican herb papalo. Note to self: Don’t plant any more cabbage. It looks pretty but you don’t eat it. Ditto: radishes.
Citrus. Rake up the old leaves and any rotting fruit from beneath the trees and put them in the compost. Make sure ground is still mulched but not right up to the trunk. Leave six inches to a foot around saplings, a foot and a half to two feet around big, established trees.
Grapevines. Prune the vine to get more light to ripening fruit but not so much that it scalds. Strip the leaves from the trimmed vines, but save the stems and green wood. They turn a beautiful red as they dry and weave nicely to make folksy trellising and borders.
If it gets too dry and difficult to handle, cut it up into manageable lengths, trimming nubs as you go, and soak it in the bathtub.
Fruit. Drape any tomatoes or fruit with burlap if they looked like they’re getting scalded by the sun. If I notice burned wood on any of fruit trees, consider painting it with a strongly diluted white emulsion in the winter.
Pruning. Do not hard prune any shrub or tree until the fiercest summer sun is over to prevent scalding fruit, particularly avocadoes and persimmons. If my persimmons are still splintering under the weight of the fruit, support or lighten the tree, but prune in a way that the upper branches still shade remaining limbs and fruit.
Artichokes. Cut dried artichoke flowers (pictured at the top of the post) that are still standing. This plant, like it’s more noxious cousin, cardoon, becomes invasive. Harvest and store seeds to start along with other winter vegetables.
Sunflowers and sages. Leave old seed heads on sunflowers and half the seed heads of sages for finches. Prune the other sages for a good winter reflowering. Set aside your favorite tomatoes to rot in the sun. Once dried, harvest the seeds and store in a cool dry place.
Nozzles. Make sure every hose has a nozzle so I’m not gushing water as I walk around watering by hand.
Shade. Never go outside without sunglasses or a hat. Midday sun is ruining my eyesight.
That will do it for now. I feel henpecked, albeit by myself.
-- Emily Green
Green’s column on sustainable gardening appears here on Fridays. For an easy way to follow future installments, join our Facebook gardening page.
Persimmons draped from the sun.