VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland

September Garden Tasks

by Vancouver Island Master Gardeners Association

September is the start of a special time on the Island when we begin harvesting food crops, planting shrubs, and looking forward to 2 ½ more months of colour and long mellow evenings.

Look Around

Take some time to pause and assess this year’s wins and losses thus far. Spots along walkways or at the edge of the patio might be bare next spring. New shrubs or pergola vines for shade might work there. Berry canes at the garden shed? In the perennial border, perhaps interplanting some quick-growing mesclun or Asian greens to make watering easier … Summer bulbs to follow the spring flush? Jot down your ideas in your garden journal, make a sketch or snap a photo then tuck all away to pass winter’s grey days more pleasantly, knowing you have good ideas growing, and won’t make the same mistakes while benefiting from all the great things you’ve done right.

Look Ahead

Plan for autumn-planted bulbs. Consider adding a few hyacinths, paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) or amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.) to the list for indoor winter blooms or a unique Christmas gift. Keep them in a dark, cool place like a shed or garage and bring them indoors when the shoots are 6.3cm (2.5 inches) tall. Some bulbs actually need the summer drought of our warming climate. Look for corn lily (Ixia sp.), or our native Camassia. When the early-blooming and hardier bulbs are planted too early they may sprout in autumn, diminishing their longevity. Keep them cool and dry, and do not plant until October or early November.

Order garlic sets and fava bean seeds. The all-Canadian Heritage Harvest Farms has reliable, heritage varieties. Heritage Harvest Seed


  • Divide and transplant summer phlox, iris, daylilies, hosta.
  • Thin late-planted greens and crowded leeks.
  • Clean houseplants, check for insects, then repot and fertilize if necessary.

Autumn Planting

  • This is the best month to establish new lawns or ground covers.
  • Direct sowing certain annuals can result in earlier blooms and stronger plants. Try English marigold (Calendula officinalis), or poppy (Papaver spp). Some perennials, like paeonies, perennial hollyhocks, and delphiniums will also reward you with earlier flowers.
  • Begin transplanting new trees and shrubs so they can grow strong roots before the soil gets too cold.
  • Sow late salad greens, winter carrots, spinach, radish, and a few over-wintering vegetables like turnips, cabbage, onion sets or scallions. Summer annual borders suit these crops as long as they get 4 hours of sun.

Harvest Tips

Cut squash from the vine, leaving a 2.5 – 5cm (1-2 inch) stem. Don’t pull or twist. A wash of vinegar hardens skins in the sun for storage, drives out insects and kill any eggs hidden in the stem ends and sugar warts. Cure in the sun and heat of the driveway or the garden shed roof.

Apple, pears, medlars and quince are ripening. If storing for winter follow the old rule, “keep the best, and freeze the rest.” Fruits do not need blanching. Simply trim the damage, core, and cut in large pieces then fast freeze on cookie sheets before bagging them for longer keeping.

Who’s Thirsty and Hungry?  

This summer’s unprecedented heat left many landscape plants weak and slow to recover, making them susceptible to winter-kill. Help them by starting your autumn feed and mulch a little early, a few shrubs at a time, using the “scratch & spritz” method:

  • Pull back mulch from around the shrub / hedge / tree.
  • With a claw trowel, gently scratch the dirt to fluff up compacted soil without injuring small feeder roots
  • Spritz with the hose, to break the “dust barrier” and wet the ground so later water and food gets to the roots.  
  • When water sinks in to 2.5 cm (½ inch), replace the old mulch, mixing in some compost, leaf mold, a little manure, old potting soil from the annual pots, some chop & drop greens from weeding, or harvesting.

Try Something New

Hardy cyclamen are an under-appreciated low maintenance ground cover for shady, neutral soils, and Cyclamen hederifolium is one of this group’s autumn-blooming stars. Its pink flowers appear above the multicoloured leaves in early autumn. A mulch of #10 turkey grit helps keep our naturally acid soil in check, and provides the minerals this deer-resistant, drought tolerant genus craves.

Bare ground in the ornamental garden will benefit from green manures as an alternative to winter mulch in areas you can easily turn under early in the spring. A concise and very helpful article can be found on the West Coast Seeds site: West Coast Seeds: green manure cover crops

OMG I Forgot!

You can sneak in the last of the summer pruning early this month. Most large trees and shrubs, though, should not be pruned in the fall as new growth will not be hardened-off enough to survive winter. Put those on your spring list. Some evergreen herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage), need pruning only once a year, either in early spring or fall. So if you haven’t yet, now is a good time. Dry the prunings for winter culinary delights.

And Finally …

Celebrate the balance of the seasons on Equinox (September 21). As the summer heat eases, gardeners too can slow down and revel in the ineffable joy of the harvest months. Our diligence since early spring has grown us a world of colour, food, and most important – pleasure.