Coastal and Tropical South
If your in-ground irrigation system is one of the dinosaurs that still doesn't have a rain shutoff valve, this summer has been expensive. Watering while rain is plentiful makes no sense and should be avoided for philosophic, as well as monetary, reasons. Even with the latest in water conservation equipment, you should monitor the zones carefully this month. Poke around under the mulch to find out for sure whether the soil is staying wet, dry, or just right. Adjust mulch depths and system run times to suit each plant group's needs.
Citrus trees everywhere need their final fertilizing of the season now. Trees in fruit, such as satsuma and lemon, may only need a compost blanket to keep their leaves green as ripening proceeds. In the tropics, give citrus and shrubs a complete fertilizer formula now, but on the southern coasts, shrubs and trees need no nitrogen this month.
Let Us Plant Lettuce
There's no excuse not to grow leaf lettuces in the fall garden, whether you grow any other vegetables or not. In a container or garden bed, clear an area 2 feet square for each person you want to feed. Plant seed or four transplants in one-quarter of each square, and continue weekly until the box is full. By then it will be time to thin the first seedlings and fertilize the first fourths of each square. Let the ultimate consumer -- spouse, children, neighbors -- pick the varieties from a selection that includes at least these: mesclun, buttercrunch, and oakleaf lettuces. For more adventurous tastes, include endive and arugula.
Prevent Ant Outbreaks
Fire ants are awful and dangerous, but other ants can be more than annoying, too. In wet weather, little black ants, or what your grandmother called sweet ants, can bother more than picnickers. Often these pests get into your kitchen through the drainpipes. It seems that the ants can get through even well-caulked openings, but a dusting of boric acid at the vulnerable pipe junctions can greatly reduce their entry. Wipe food preparation surfaces with a spray of vinegar and water, then wipe dry to further discourage them.
Save a few bucks and show off your creativity when it's time to decorate for fall holidays. Hydrangeas will dry on the plant, or they can be dried while fresh. Clip the thin stem right under the flower and lay each cluster on a newspaper in a place where it will be undisturbed for a week, such as on top of the refrigerator or a high bookshelf. Once dry, attach a floral pick to each thin stem so its wire can hold the flowers secure on wreaths, swags, or bunched at the base of a glass candle holder. Long ago my kids spray-painted dry hydrangeas to glow in neon orange and stuck them into the crown of a jack-o'-lantern. The curly-looking result was known to us as "Jill-O'-lantern."