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Some call it fall, but in Louisiana we call it like we see it

Story by Dan Gill

Have you noticed? You might have to use your imagination a little bit, but the weather is changing. When you walk out in the morning the air feels just a bit more comfortable (OK, like I said, use your imagination). The days are getting shorter, and that is beginning to have an effect. We experienced our longest day of the year back in late June, and since then the days have been getting progressively shorter. Around about early September we often start noticing that the sun is coming up a little later and it’s getting dark earlier.

Labor Day is often touted as the traditional “end of summer.” Maybe up in Maine it is. In fact, according to the calendar fall will officially start at the autumnal equinox on September 22 at 3:02 p.m. We know good and well that our summer season extends a bit longer. Still, there is something going on now. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but if you squint just right, you can almost see the end of our long and brutally hot summer.

When the fall equinox arrives in late September, don’t get carried away. For us, summer will still be lingering for a while after.

The word “fall” conjures up traditional images of harvest, falling leaves, the end of the growing season, and the beginning of dormancy leading into winter. But, this really does not apply to us.

If you’ve read my book Month-by-Month Gardening in Louisiana you are familiar with my idea of the Louisiana gardening year, where winter, spring, summer, and fall are called the cool season, first warm season, hot season, and second warm season. For us the, traditional fall period, the second warm season, is not a time of winding things down in the garden, but of revival and renewed effort. Finally, we can get back in our gardens and enjoy ourselves as the debilitating heat of the hot season loses its grip.

Over the next two months we will experience a gradual shift to milder weather. There will be cool spells followed by decidedly hot summer-like weather. But as we move into late October, cooler weather will begin to dominate the scene. Not until November, however, do we generally experience the nippy cold weather and changing leaves that tell us that fall has finally arrived. But now is when we begin to see the first hints of what is to come, and much of what we do in the garden over the next few months is influenced by the coming changes.

Now, we are just entering our second warm season (the first warm season runs from mid-March to mid-May). There are similarities between the first and second warm seasons. This is readily apparent when you look at our vegetable gardens. In April, it would be typical to see crops that prefer cooler weather, such as broccoli, turnips, and mustard greens, along with vegetables that like it warm, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and snap beans. Those are the very same crops you will see in a vegetable garden in late September.

There are, however, important differences between the two seasons. During the first warm season, the growing season for trees, shrub, ground covers, and lawns is just beginning and will continue into the coming months, which makes it an excellent time to fertilize landscape plants. During the second warm season, trees, shrub, lawns, most herbaceous perennials, and ground covers are at the end of their growing season. As the growing season ends and the dormant season approaches, fertilizer should not be applied.

Primary pruning of spring-flowering trees and shrubs is done during the first warm season, but pruning spring-blooming trees and shrubs now will remove flower buds and reduce the display next spring. So, fertilizing and pruning need to be carefully considered as to whether or not they are appropriate this time of the year. In many instances, it is too late to do either at this time.

Fertilizing some plants this time of the year is appropriate. All of the vegetables being planted now will benefit from fertilizer. You may also apply fertilizer to perennials that are in active growth from October to May, such as Louisiana irises (I. brevicaulisI. fulvaI. giganticaeruleaI. hexagona, I. nelsonii), Acanthus, Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum), and calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica). As you begin planting cool-season bedding plants next month and in November, it would be entirely appropriate to fertilize them.

So, let’s anticipate the soon-to-arrive (we hope) milder weather and enjoy the delights of gardening over the next few months. But when the fall equinox arrives in late September, don’t get carried away. For us, summer will still be lingering for a while after.

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