September Stepping Stones

Fall is an ideal time to plant. Take out the notes made during the summer on editing bed compositions. Make these adjustments. The home improvement centers (not the nurseries) start to fill with plants again, and many times their plant selection improves in the fall. With one exception. Be careful of the plant’s cold hardiness and tight, root bound plants. This is also the time for growers and nurseries to dump their stock before winter. Beware of Spanish lavenders, some grasses and non cold-hardy perennials. Yes, Amarillo is in Texas, but we’re still not Houston’s Zone 8 or 9. I wish the New York corporate heads knew that.

Weeks One and Two

Plan and Design

When starting a new bed in a Bermuda grass or very weedy area, now is the time to apply the second spraying of Roundup, or other glyphosate. The Bermudagrass and weeds need to be actively growing for the best kill. If it’s been dry, consider watering the area several days before spraying. However, this process is best started in August or even July.


The first half of September is a good time to re-seed, or seed, cool season fescue turf, or cool season turf blends.

It’ll be OK anytime in September and October to aerate and top dress the lawn with compost (insure the compost is free of persistent synthetic chemicals, see Maintenance, Composting, Killer Compost). I personally like to wait until the second half of September or October to top dress. Many people are attracted to the idea of a weed and feed product for their turf. A safe weed and feed to use is corn gluten meal. This will prevent the winter weeds from progressing immediately following germination. You may want to apply again after 3 weeks to prevent another crop of weed seeds from germinating. Corn gluten meal will not kill weeds that have already germinated and grown, nor will it kill plants that spread by rhizomes or stolons. It does not kill bindweed. Corn gluten meal is a good organic soil amendment. And again, if seeding or re-seeding a lawn, do not use corn gluten meal as an amendment until the grass seed is up and growing well.

Appropriate Plants

September is a good time to seed perennials. Follow depth instructions for planting. Mark the seeded locations in some manner to avoid inadvertently disturbing them later.

Dig up and divide lilies or buy more at the annual daylily sale.

Fall Vegetables

Begin fall vegetable planting by seed or plant in earnest after the heat of summer breaks, normally around Labor Day.  Average date of the first frost is around October 20th.

  • At one to eight weeks before the average date of the first frost (ADFF), you can plant radishes.
  • 6 weeks before ADFF, plant garlic.
  • Lettuces, mache, spinach, kale, bok choy, broccoli raab, turnips, beets, onion sets can be planted now.

Consider succession planting lettuce to be harvested throughout winter. Choose a winter growing variety from a seed catalog. I find it helpful to cover the lettuce bowl (bed) with a light row cover or frost blanket to shelter the seedlings from sun, wind and birds.


There is always a little tidying up of the garden to do, some deadheading, even some dividing and moving of spring blooming perennials. The fall bloomers should be blooming, so wait until they’ve finish for that.

Weeks Three and Four

Plan and Design

This late in the season, if a new bed area has Bermuda grass, you may want to rethink the timing and wait until next year to kill the Bermuda grass when it’s actively growing. Otherwise, working the soil in most other areas can be started from now until February.

Amend the Soil

For non-Bermuda grass areas, if using the smothering technique, or lasagna method of preparing a bed, do so now. Place a layer of 4-6 newspapers overlapping over the new bed area. Shovel coarse sand 1 – 3 inches deep, or other inorganic amendment (follow amendment instructions) on top for clay soil. Follow this with 3 inches of compost. Let this set until next year. Then work the soil with a garden fork, mixing in the material. Add another 3 inches or so of compost, depending on the type of plants chosen. Mix in again.

When I prepare a new bed using the lasagna method, I start in the fall, and work the soil after the top growth is killed a minimum of two times before planting, three is preferred. Preparing the ground properly is a very important factor in gardening success and quick establishment of plants.

Appropriate Plants

Begin to plant any new beds now. There is a short list of plants to avoid planting in the fall. High Country Gardens website has the list. These are mainly fall blooming perennials that need hotter days to establish. However, I called and talked with Santa Fe Greenhouse about this last year (2004). They said their caution on planting these heat-favoring plants was aimed mainly at Midwest and Northern gardeners where winter comes early, is wet, and stays long. HCG noted that, for our climate, as long as we provide proper drainage, they should winter over. If in doubt, however, plant in mid September for better success.

When should one plant pansies, violas, kale, dianthus, snapdragons, ornamental cabbages, mums and asters, the traditional fall plants? After the summer heat has broken. Sometimes we don’t know when that is until the end of September, looking back. Mums asters, snapdragons and dianthus should be planted before pansies and violas, as pansies, violas, kale and cabbage prefer sunny, but cooler conditions. Care for them as needed until establishment. Winter annuals can also be planted in the large insulated foam containers that look like stoneware. The insulation allows them to winter over, most winters. They are high maintenance and need to be watered regularly and fed with “Pansy Food” for continued blooms throughout the winter months.

A perennial ornamental herb that provides terrific foliage into the winter is Rumex sanguineus, red sorrel or red veined dock. Red sorrel can be cut back in September (and/or spring) to rejuvenate its appearance. Other ornamental vegetables to consider are ‘Bright Lights’, ‘Ruby Red’, and ‘Pink Passion’ Swiss chard, and ‘Red Giant’ mustard. Cut back bronze fennel to show new fall growth.

Monitor nighttime low temperatures. Protect tropicals from lows below 55º, and sub tropicals for temperatures below 40º.


Maintain the fall vegetable garden with timely irrigation and mulching. Benefits of a fall vegetable garden are fewer insect pests, fewer weeds and gradually cooler temperatures and less frequent watering. The fall vegetable harvest should be underway.


Along with the return of a new school year, formal gardening classes, workshops and seminars begin. Enroll in one. Southwestern states may offer xeriscape or water conservation conferences you may find useful and enlightening.

Be a Plant Explorer

Grasses play a dominant roll in the flora of the Great Plains. Grasses native to the short grass prairie region predominate the Texas Panhandle region, with tiny pockets if mid and tall grasses scattered about in micro-niches. Tallgrasses in the Panhandle typically reach a height of 4 – 5 feet, their mature height depending on rainfall. This is small by Great Plains standards.

Less than 1% of tall grass prairie stands today. Several preserves within a day’s drive are the Konza Prairie and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve with the Flint Hills Preserves to the southeast of them. For those seeking the Lewis and Clark experience of breaking upon the ocean of grasses, these are good locations to embark on your journey. Together they comprise hundreds of acres of head high stands of big bluestem, Indian grass, switch grass, prairie cord grass, sunflowers and other forbs. View and study the prairie ecology of grasses, forbs, insects, mammals, birds, and butterflies. By October, green is replaced by golds and russets, and the biting insects are usually gone, as well. In 2004, Peterson Field Guide series released their newest guide: The North American Prairie, covering 18 states and provinces, including Texas. The prairie guide profiles 48 major prairie preserves and 120 smaller ones, including the best time to visit.

A different trip of the month is to the north or northeast for the fall foliage tour. It’s probably spectacular again this year. A shorter trip to the west will take you into the Rockies for viewing mountainsides of golden aspen color.

Keep it up

  • Mulch mow
  • Irrigate if necessary
  • Replenish mulch
  • Weed
  • Turn the compost pile and moisten if necessary
  • Update the gardening diary or journal
  • Keep visiting your gardening angel project.

Don’t or Oops!

  • Do wait until next May to seed or re-seed warm season turf grasses. September is too late.
  • Spring blooming bulbs have probably arrived in the mail by now. I wait until November to plant them, usually around Thanksgiving when I’m dying to do something outside.
  • Don’t perform fall clean up chores just yet, plants are still actively growing. But you can always tidy up the garden and deadhead to avoid flowers going to seed.
  • If your roses are the type that put on rose hips, don’t deadhead after the fall blooming. I’m not a rose specialist, but I’ve found it helpful to prune back the roses no later than the fifteenth of September if they are without buds.

Angie Hanna

Other Stepping Stones Articles