Northern California

What to do in your garden in September
Lauren Bonar Swezey

PLANTING

Bulbs. Sunset climate zones 7-9, 14-17: Early fall is the time to plant spring-blooming bulbs. Less common types start appearing in nurseries this month, including baboon flower (Babiana), corn lily (Ixia), grape hyacinth (Muscari), harlequin flower (Sparaxis), Homeria, ranunculus, Tritonia, and species tulips such as Tulipa clusiana and T. saxatilis.

Cabbage and kale. Zones 7-9, 14-17: Although not actually flowers, ornamental cabbage and kale provide striking midwinter color in the garden. Look for seedlings of the most popular kinds at nurseries. Or grow more unusual varieties from seed, such as Color-Up Mix cabbage (available from Park Seed, 800/845-3369), a smooth-leafed type with pink, red, or white centers, and Pigeon Formula Mix kale (available from Johnny's Selected Seeds, 877/564-6697), which has slightly wavy green leaves accented with purple, white, or white and pink.

Carrots. Zones 7-9, 14-17: If your soil is heavy clay, consider planting carrots in pots. Fill a 9- to 14-inch-deep container with potting soil, moisten the soil, then lightly scatter seeds on top; cover the seeds with 1/4 inch of potting soil, then gently sprinkle with water. Keep soil evenly moist. When seedlings have several leaves, carefully thin to 1-2 inches apart. 'Sweetness II' can be harvested at the baby stage (4 inches tall) or full size (8 inches). 'Thumbelina' is a small, round short-season variety. Both are available from Nichols Garden Nursery (800/422-3985).

Edible-pod peas. Zones 1-9, 14-17: If you can't get your kids to eat their green vegetables, plant snap peas; they're tasty enough to eat right off the vine. Trials in Sunset's test garden rated 5- to 6-foot-tall 'Super Sugar Snap' as one of the best for flavor, production, and mildew resistance. Seeds are available at nurseries or from Renee's Garden. Train vines on a trellis.

Native plants. An unused corner of the garden, away from sprinklers, is often a good place to grow native plants. Try Arctostaphylos, blue-eyed grass, bush anemone, Fremontodendron, Heuchera, mahonia, monkey flower, Pacific Coast iris, Penstemon heterophyllus purdyi, Salvia clevelandii, and Western columbine. For plants or seeds, try these nurseries: Intermountain Nursery in Prather (559/855-3113), Larner Seeds in Bolinas (415/868-9407), Mostly Natives in Tomales (707/878-2009), and Yerba Buena Nursery in Woodside (650/851-1668).

A salad bowl. Zones 7-9, 14-17: In a low pot at least 18 inches wide, plant gourmet lettuces such as 'Lollo Rosso', 'Rouge d'Hiver', or 'Sweet Valentine'. Interplant greens (arugula, red mustard, spinach) and edible flowers (calendulas, violas).

MAINTENANCE

Reseed lawns. Zones 7-9, 14-17: Late September is a good time to repair bare patches in cool-season grasses (such as fescue).