September tips to keep your annual flowers blooming another month

It can take until mid-October for a killing frost to destroy your beautiful baskets and container gardens.

Summer can end with a sizzle in Western Washington, but September is also the best month for outdoor living. This is your encouragement to keep watering and deadheading your summer annuals. It can take until mid-October for a killing frost to destroy your beautiful baskets and container gardens. Here are some September tips to keep your annual flowers blooming for another month:

• Feel the soil before you water containers and baskets. Some will now take less water as the nights grow cooler and the days get shorter. Too much water in the fall can rot the stems of soft plants such as begonias and coleus.

• Fertilize annuals even if they are going to die over the winter. This includes petunias, coleus and impatiens. If you keep feeding, they keep blooming.

• Do not fertilize plants that you want to try and “overwinter.” Some plants we consider annuals will survive to bloom another year if you protect them from freezing in a garage, basement or garden shed over the winter. They need to harden up and slip into dormancy to survive the coming dark months. Some plants that might survive with winter protection include hardy fuchsias, geraniums, phormiums, Dusty Miller, canna and some verbena.

• Snip off the faded blooms of any plant you want to keep in flower. Once it makes seed pods it is just like raising a young family and the parent plant will run out of energy, grow frumpy and go to seed.

• Get rid of plants past their prime. Life is too short to put up with leggy petunias, yellowing geraniums and aphid infested hanging baskets. We all need more compost so bury any depressing or dying bloomers .

• You don’t need to uproot the poorly performing plants in a combo basket or container. Just snip the dying plant off at ground level so the surviving plants can fill in the space. Uprooting a sad plant can upset the neighboring plants if the roots are tangled below.

• Ready for a fresh start? You can tuck fall color into summer containers. Just uproot the summer plants past their prime to make way for mini mums, dusty miller or heucheras. These are all frost tolerant plants that will take you into winter with fall color.

• Add something you cannot kill to freshen up your fall container gardens. Mini pumpkins can take the place of a petunia cut to the ground, poke the stems of dried hydrangeas into a hanging basket in the shade or collect the dried seed heads of grasses or heucheras to add spiky texture to pots and planters.

• Don’t forget that you can recycle the annuals that you cut back or uproot as cut flowers to enjoy indoors. Many petunias have a great fragrance and long vase life. The stems may be long and turning yellow but the budded tips can last for weeks indoors.

Q: I have had good luck with my first vegetable garden and now have many zucchini. Most people tell me they do not want them as they are too big. At what point should one harvest zucchini? Also should you clip or use a knife to remove the zucchini from the stem? B.G., Enumclaw

A: Summer squash like the zucchini are most tender and flavorful when young, so harvest when they are as wide as a quarter or about 8 inches long. Unlike winter squash such as Hubbard and Pumpkins, zucchini does not store well over the winter so harvest now and eat while fresh. You can cut the stem with a knife or clippers and store in a cool dry spot until ready to use. Tip: If you find yourself stuck with too many zucchini that are too large and if even the food bank refuses to take them it is best to leave them on porches in the middle of the night.

Join Marianne Binetti at 11 a.m. Sept. 9 for “Flower Feud,” a family friendly and free container gardening competition. The audience helps to choose the best fall container as garden experts create displays as the clock ticks. Prizes and planting tips for audience members. For more information, visit