Still more gardening to do before winter

It’s the third week of September and there is still plenty to do before winter arrives with rainy boots.

This is the perfect time to dig and divide irises. All varieties including the Pacific Coast iris and the colorful hybrids will flower more if you dig up the roots, use a sharp knife to separate the knuckles or root sections then replant into amended soil. Irises enjoy full sun, well-drained soil and shallow planting. The thick roots should be just below the surface of the soil with no mulch on top.

September is also a good time to buy and plant spring flowering bulbs. Look for bulbs now at garden centers and store in a cool dry place until you can get them planted. Keep watering plants in pots and any plants stuck under the eaves of the roof.

Q. I have a question about compost. Rather than uproot my old vegetables and annuals and put them into a pile, can I just bury them in place or dig them into the soil? My soil is pretty soft from years of composting but as I get older I am looking for an easier way of doing things.

M.L., Maple Valley

A. Yes – why not imitate Mother Nature and put the miracle of spot composting to work. You can use a shovel to dig under petunias, marigolds and other plants. Just scoop up the plants and turn things upside down then chop the remains into your soil. The bumpy surface of the ground may not be super tidy and attractive but your soil will benefit from the rotting plant material and the uneven surface is actually better for trapping moisture and frost. As a bonus you may find volunteers from tomatoes, lobelia, begonias and other hardy annuals that have been known to reseed in Western Washington gardens.

Q. Is it too late to over seed the lawn? What type of grass is best for our area?

S.M. Auburn

A. September is a good month to renovate the lawn. Rough up the bare spots or aerate the entire lawn. If your soil is hard and dry you will need to add a few inches of topsoil for best results. Otherwise, rake in the grass seed then cover with a mulch or use a grass seed with the mulch already included. Keep the new seed moist. The newest grass seeds that are more drought resistant are best for our area and include perennial rye and fine fescue. When it comes to grass seed you get what you pay for. The new and improved grass seeds are paying a royalty to the breeders, mostly universities so they cost more but stay green longer with less water.

Q. One year you mentioned the best spring bulbs for lazy gardeners. I was sure I saved that column but cannot find it. I finally have a garden of my own. What types of tulips and daffodils do you recommend for beginning gardeners?

Email, Tacoma

A. Think loyal little dwarfs. Daffodils are deer and rodent resistant and the most reliable and most likely to naturalize or spread into bigger colonies each year. Two easy to find dwarf daffodil varieties are ‘ Tete a Tete’ and ‘February Gold’. When it comes to tulips (also known as deer candy) the shorter the stem the more likely it will return – but only if you plant the bulbs deep, at least 4 inches underground and grow in well-drained soil that is allowed to be dry all summer long. Congrats on your own garden and don’t fret over any mistakes you make along the way – figuring out what grows best in your garden is how we all keep growing.

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