AUTUMN may begin on the 23rd, but September is usually way too hot to even think about fall planting or to do much of anything in the garden but water. On still mornings you might smell autumn in the air, but don’t be fooled. Wait for consistently cooler weather in mid-October. Even then, Santa Ana winds can kick up the temperatures, but the days are short and the sun low so these dry winds seldom bother new plants.
Wind in the willows
Santa Ana winds in September can cause plants to temporarily wilt because they pull moisture from leaves faster than the plant can replace it. Wait until evening and they’ll most likely perk up -- if not, you may need to water.
But these sometimes troublesome winds can definitely damage trees, snapping young trunks and breaking branches on even the sturdiest. Make sure young plants are properly staked. Tie the trunk between two posts, about 6 inches to either side, with something flexible, so it can sway a little and build up strength (much like an exercised arm). Strips cut from old bicycle inner tubes are favorite ties. To find where to put them, slide your hand up the trunk until it stands straight. On especially thin trunks, more than one set of ties may be needed. Trees planted as larger specimens will need strong tying.
Dense trees are most likely to lose limbs, or even topple, so September is a good time to open them up with careful, selective pruning of entire branches -- what some arborists call “lacing.” Don’t let tree pruners simply stub back branches, because the resulting flush of growth will be extremely prone to breaking and there will be so much more, that those pruners will need to return sooner than you hoped. Unfortunately, badly pruned trees are one of the horticultural embarrassments of the Southland.
Brush with the law
Fierce Santa Ana winds also fan all-consuming fires, especially near the coast. If you haven’t cut back brush and weeds, do so as soon as possible. Among other reasons, it’s the law. It’s also a good idea to make sure everything is thoroughly watered, even those natives and other drought plants, so they are less likely to burn. The best way to water shrubs and trees is slowly and for a long time -- let the water trickle. Get under shrubs and trees and clean out old deadwood. The fire department would like to see all plants trimmed so they are less likely to “ladder” flames from the ground.
Spider days of summer
This unusually hot and humid summer has spawned more spiders than normal -- you’ve probably been running into them every time you go out to get the paper in the morning. They’re going to get a lot bigger in September, but don’t be too hasty to kill them. The most noticeable of spiders, generally called garden spiders -- fat and red or yellow with black stripes -- do a pretty good job of catching nuisance bugs. If they build their giant webs too close for comfort, knock them down with a hoe and they will probably build higher up the next night. They take down those webs almost every day and rebuild them each evening.
Roses do it again
Make sure all dead flowers and hips (seed pods) have been removed from roses and give them a light clipping early, then fertilize and keep plants watered. They will bloom in October or early November, when the weather is a little cooler, with flowers that can rival the spring ones.
When you buy a bulb you are getting a complete package, with spring’s leaves and flowers stuffed inside the papery husk. Tuck bulbs here and there in the garden and they will make delightful spring surprises. Some also can be massed, though it is a lot of work planting them, with the possible exception of easygoing ranunculus.
Bulbs begin arriving at nurseries late in September. The best kinds for those special spots are the ones that last from season to season in our rather warm climate. Many don’t, including tulips and many other Dutch bulbs. Even daffodils are a bit iffy, though the small-flowered daffodils and narcissus often thrive. If you stored pots of dormant bulbs in a shady place this summer, remember to bring them out into the sunshine before they start growing.