September is a good time for early planting

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September, though still hot and humid is very much the “last of the summer wine” season with growth still active, however the usual problems are ever with us. Insect activity, fungal problems and “storm” damage are the primary areas of concern, with action being a priority in controlling the issues.

As temperatures start to ease, consider planting to catch enough growth before the temperature and daylight are such that growth slows dramatically; this can start to be seen after the clocks fall back next month.

If plants have died or need replacing, newly planted material should have enough time to become established before the onset of autumn, but will still need attention to ensure good healthy growth. Remember to always have a reason for buying the plant and check its health before purchase; if a plant has died or needs removing because it is “finished”, consider replacement type in the existing location. This is advisable as when first planted, growth is not as fulsome as it will be. If plants were previously planted too close, this is an opportunity to allow more space between larger plants while filling in the gaps with, with, for example, ground cover or similar plants which will not be in conflict with its neighbours.

Overplanting is a common problem. As well as reducing “visual impact” due to the mass of growth, it also can add stress from the point of view of water and nutrient needs with larger plants often benefiting to the detriment of smaller plantings. With many ground cover plants such as Pentas and Lantana, regular dead heading of old flowers will encourage new growth and perhaps a late flush of bloom!

New growth is always an invitation to insects in their several forms of attacking plants; aphids or green fly are usually found on soft tips of growth or in ‘curled’ foliage, whereas caterpillar damage is seen on young foliage in the form of leaves being eaten often completely with only the midrib remaining.

Red spider mites are found on the under not very visible to the naked eye surface of the leaf developing a web-like construction and giving a mottled effect which can have a fairly devastating effect if left untreated. Scale and mealy bug are found on branches and will cause major problems if not treated and controlled when first seen; whilst thrips can cause leaf damage identified by ‘silver’ patches or spots on foliage. Regular inspection to contain all the above should be carried out to control future infestations. St Augustine grass will suffer from a fungal problem at this time of year if grown in a shady spot when moisture ‘hangs’ on foliage during the early morning.

Fungal problems are more likely during wet weather or late in the year when morning ‘dewy’ periods are present. Symptoms include lesions or spotting on leaves or a white powdery appearance on foliage; when identified, immediate action should be taken to avoid fungal spores spreading to surrounding plants. Spraying will assist in the initial control process, but with badly infected plants the diseased area should be cut away and immediately burned to avoid spore distribution.

Ongoing maintenance is critical in the husbandry of the garden as pest and disease problems can attack “weeds” which then become the host and source of spreading same. Weeds are always in constant competition for moisture and nutrients and usually grow faster than ‘garden plants, therefore their removal is paramount in keeping a clean and healthy garden. Removal of all dead or fallen foliage reduces the risk of same being used as hosts for breeding pest and disease problems; this also includes clippings after pruning.

Lawns, unless given due attention, will revert to an untidy mix of weed and lawn grass. For a lawn to create visual appeal it should consist of mostly grass, specifically the chosen lawn grass, i.e. Bermuda, zoysia or St Augustine Floratem. Mixed grass lawns are more difficult to manage as invariably the height of cut does not suit all grass types. Many weeds have a prostrate habit, spreading and crowding out the lawn grass especially when height of cut is high with the end result the mowing itself encourages weed growth. Thatch a build-up of old grass below the active growth is a constant problem in all lawns if not tackled regularly, causing uneven cuts and scalped appearance on fine leaf grasses. In established lawns thatch is often prominent especially in zoysia and to an extent Bermuda which gives the feel of sponginess when walking heavily infested lawns. Zoysia once established is difficult to eradicate/control if allowed to spread into unwanted areas, but when controlled makes a beautiful lawn. In St Augustine type lawns physically rake dead grass and fertilise to encourage growth to fill in, dethatching for all lawns should be carried out in April in time for the start of the growing season. Active growth will then fill ‘gaps’ and reduce/arrest introduction of weed growth. Consider applying a low nitrogen fertiliser in the next month to encourage hardening up root growth in time for the less active growing season.

September into October is the transition period when heat becomes bearable and even plants get some relief; it is also the time for thinking about planting annuals for fall flowering and colour in the garden.

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