Garden Views: Don’t hang up the garden tools at the end of September

Mix sale-priced perennials like the dark heuchera (lower centre) with cold-hardy herbs like sage and parsley (lower right). Photo: Mary Fran McQuade.

By MARY FRAN McQUADE

You’re not a real gardener if you hang up your trowel in September.

The blazing hot sun isn’t beating down on you anymore. The days are sunny and cool. The pesky bugs have moved on or died off. It’s a great time to be out in the garden.

Wage war on weeds

Now that you can see without squinting and mopping your face, you may find yourself a bit more motivated to tidy up outside.

Pull out those bits of crabgrass hiding in the perennials. Cut the miserable dog-strangling vine off at the roots. (Don’t bother trying to yank it out – all the pieces left behind run deep and will start their own nasty colonies.)

If you’re a fan of bright yellow goldenrod, enjoy the flowers, but do not – I repeat, Do Not – let them go to seed. Behead them before they turn to fluff.

Goldenrod is a native pollinator plant, but it doesn’t play nicely with others in a small city garden. And, frankly, it’s a big bore all the rest of the year.

The same goes for that pretty plant with the spires of blue flowers that springs up all over the place. No, it’s not some kind of tall bluebell.

It’s Campanula rapunculoides, AKA creeping bellflower, and it will stay with your forever, if you let it. Not only does it spread zillions of seeds, it also sends out underground runners to start new plants. Be ruthless: cut off those flower stalks before they dry and exercise your upper body muscles pulling up as much of the plant as you can.

This kind of green stuff doesn’t belong in yard waste bags, by the way. They’ll just turn into some other poor sap’s problem if they become city compost.

Condemn them to the black garbage bin and hope they’ll end up deep, deep underground.

Harvest your herbs

While you have your clippers handy, you can turn to a more pleasant September activity: gathering herbs to use this winter.

If you have time and space, you can freeze many herbs in ice cubes, then toss them into soups, stews and sauces when you add water. If you’re more ambitious, you can blend them with butter or add them to oil and freeze those combos in single-use portions.

Frankly, I don’t have the patience for fiddly prep anymore. My technique is, literally, cut and dried.

Herbs with tiny leaves, like thyme, rosemary, tarragon and marjoram, can just be cut into sprigs, washed, patted dry and hung somewhere warm, dry and airy. Pinch them after a few days to see if they’re crisp. As soon as they are, take them down and store them whole on their stems, if you can, or gently remove the stems and store the leaves without crushing.

Fleshier herbs like sage and basil need to be handled differently. Cut the stalk, at the base for annuals like basil, but leaving several inches on perennials like sage. Then clip side branches from that main stalk, so you have only about a handful of fresh leaves on each branch.

That lets more air get to the leaves, so they’ll dry much faster.

Wash, pat dry, twirl the stems a bit to fluff out the leaves and hang as described above.

When you’re satisfied that the leaves are dry as can be, gently take them off the stalks and store whole.

Last-minute planting

Still longing to garden? Indulge your imagination and make your own fall planter.

Cruise the garden centres for bargain buys on perennials and grasses.

Invest in a few cold-loving flowers like pansies, heather and small chrysanthemums. Grab some kale, ornamental cabbage and parsley for their interesting foliage.

Plant them all together in a big container and enjoy until frost.


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