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What To Do In Your Vegetable Garden This September (Early Fall)
September is a great time to reflect on your vegetable garden successes and what didn’t go so well. Think about what changes you want to make next year, and how you can repeat your successes. It’s also a gentle reminder to get things done in the garden before the ground freezes.
Take time to walk through your garden and make notes. What would you like to add?
- More early spring vegetables so you can grow your own spinach salads?
- Plants that attract pollinators like monarchs or painted lady butterflies?
- More of your favorite cherry tomatoes that almost never made it out of the garden because you couldn’t stop eating them while you were harvesting?
Whatever your goals may be, plan now.
September is a time for planning, and for doing. Here’s my list of what to do in your vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens this month.
The checklist is geared toward growing zones 5 & 6, but you can adapt it to whatever zone you garden in by shifting it a couple of weeks either way.
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- Over the next 4-6 weeks, you’ll have an abundance of produce. Check your vegetable garden every day and harvest vegetables as they ripen. Pick warm-season crops like peppers and tomatoes as soon as possible. If an early frost threatens, cover these plants with frost fabric or light blankets. Don’t use plastic sheeting for frost protection.
- To encourage your green tomatoes to ripen, pinch off the growing tips of the plants 30 days before your average first frost.
- Harvest unripe tomatoes before the nights get cold. And ripen them indoors.
- Harvest late-season squash and early pumpkins near the end of the month.
- Harvest any cool-season lettuces, spinach, peas, radishes, or swiss chard you planted in August.
- Maintain good sanitation in your vegetable garden. Remove diseased and spent plants immediately. Compost only healthy plant matter. Don’t put diseased plants or weed seeds in your compost pile.
- Cut away any leaves covering your pumpkins or squash to help the skins ripen in the sun.
- Cure pumpkins and winter squash for 1-2 weeks in a warm location. After curing store them in a dark, cool, and dry spot.
- Allow collards, kale, and Brussels sprouts to be “kissed” with frost before harvesting. Frost improves their flavor.
- You can still plant radishes this month.
- Remove the lower leaves of Brussels sprouts to encourage bigger sprouts.
- Plant saffron crocus bulbs (Crocus sativus), so you can harvest your very own saffron this autumn
- Lift potatoes, dry them off and store them in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place.
- Harvest and dry hot chile peppers by threading them onto strong cotton string or wire and hanging them up to dry. If all of the peppers are ripe, you can harvest the entire plant and hang it up. (This can get messy when the pepper foliage dries).
- Sow hardy greens, such as kale, spinach, winter lettuce, cress, pak choi, mizuna, and mustard, for winter use.
- Save seeds from your best non-hybrid beans, tomatoes, squash, and melons.
- Sow a fall cover crop such as buckwheat, winter rye, or cowpeas in vacant vegetable beds. Turn buckwheat or cowpeas under before they set seed, or after a killing frost, whichever is first. Winter rye will survive the winter. Turn it under about ten days before planting in the spring. Don’t allow it to go to seed.
- Consider cutting back on watering your vegetable garden this month. Cool season vegetables need less water than heat lovers do. Monitor your soil moisture and adjust your watering schedule if this September turns out to be wetter and cooler or hotter and drier than usual.
- Harvest melons when the melon easily pulls away from the stem.
- Sort through recently harvested garlic and shallots and set aside enough to plant next month.
- Season extension. It’s time to think about how to protect your vegetables over the winter if you’re planning on a four-season harvest. Do you have the cold protection you’ll need – cold frames, frost blankets, hoop houses, etc.?
- Slugs make a comeback in cooler weather. Stock up on iron phosphate slug bait if slugs are a problem for you.
- Sow overwintering vegetables if you don’t have especially harsh winters. This will give you a head start next spring by providing the earliest possible harvest. Choose overwintering types of carrots, spinach, lettuce, fava beans, and snow peas.
- Pick apples and pears before the wind blows them down, and store, can, freeze, or dehydrate undamaged fruits if you can’t eat them fresh.
- Interrupt the lifecycle of overwintering insect pests to get good control over them. For example, preventing apple maggot infested fruit from sitting on the soil will stop them from leaving the fruit and heading underground.
- Ever-bearing raspberry bushes will produce their fall crop on the top half of the canes. After the harvest, prune out the top half of the plants. The lower half of the canes will produce fruit early next summer. After harvesting the summer crop, prune the canes to the ground.
- Cull your existing June-bearing strawberry beds. Remove extraneous runners, so new plantlets are appropriately spaced. Pull them or root them in a pot until you can transplant them in a new location.
- Pick figs as they soften and turn downward.
- Harvest grapes as they sweeten.
- Continue to snip herbs to use fresh, to dry, or to freeze. If any herbs have gone to flower or seed, stop harvesting. The flavor will be sharp, bitter or non-existent.
- Pot up rosemary, chives, thyme, and marjoram you dig from the garden and grow them indoors this winter. These will do best in a south-facing window or under a grow light.
- Rather than digging up the entire plant, you can also take cuttings of herbs to root in water and then pot up to grow indoors in a south-facing window or under a grow light.
- Start seeds of herbs like basil and parsley for growing indoors. These will do best in a south-facing window or under a grow light.
- Allow dill and cilantro to self-sow in the garden if these are some of your favorites.