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September in your garden: time to switch gears.

As warm days linger into fall, so do summer garden chores: snipping spent flowers from blooming annuals and perennials, and harvesting such crops as melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes.

But September is also a transition month, when gardeners switch gears and think about fall planting. Nursery bins are filling with bulbs, and soon it will be the year's best time for putting in trees, shrubs, and ground covers. If you've decided to convert part of the garden to drought-tolerant plants, make plans now so you'll be ready to plant in October.

After another long, dry summer in this fifth year of drought, valuable landscape plants may be showing signs of stress; as necessary, deep-water them and renew mulches.

In hill country, conditions could be very dry, creating real fire hazards. Last winter's freeze created an abundance of dead branches and brush, and late rains in March cloaked hillsides with lush grasses--now turned golden and crackling dry. Both provide dangerous fuel. Clear combustible materials from at least a 30-foot-wide zone around the house; don't let vegetation touch the house.

Portable drip saves water

If your trees are suffering after a dry, water-rationed summer, the portable drip system shown at right may help save trees and water. Owen Dell designed this system to deep-water trees when landscape water use is restricted. He connects the system to a hose and runs it at the trees' drip lines. Last summer, he watered drought-stressed trees growing in clay-loam soil 10 to 14 hours a day for several days in a row; the system delivers 30 gallons of water per hour.

To make the system, he spaced 30 1-gph k emitters 3 feet apart along 100 feet of 1/2-inch polyethylene drip tubing. He closed off one end of the tubing with a figure-eight end clamp. The opposite end, attached to a hose, is equipped with a basic drip setup, including a pressure regulator, Y-filter, and fittings. A hose-thread vacuum breaker is screwed into the faucet to prevent backflow. Total cost of supplies was roughly $50. When not in use, the drip line is coiled for storage.

Another use for row covers

A California gardener recommends to us another use for floating row covers, most often used as blankets to trap heat and speed plant growth. He uses 17-inch squares of the spun-bonded polyester type to cover rose flowers. "It protects them from insects, dew, sunburn, deer, and wind damage," he says.

The effect isn't pretty. But if you're trying to produce a perfect rose, or you've been plagued by nibbling caterpillars, beetles, or deer, covering flowers (or entire plants) might be the ticket. A 6- by 20-foot roll of fabric costs less than $10.

Homeria . . . for a spring color splash

Planted in the fall, homeria--native to southern Africa--will brighten your garden next spring with 2-inch-wide yellow or orange flowers. Stems up to 2 feet tall bear numerous buds, which open in succession over several weeks in March, April, or May. The poisonous grass-like leaves die back during the summer, when the plants are dormant (plant where dying foliage won't be an eyesore).

For a strong display, plant in well-drained soil in a sunny location (part shade in hot, inland areas), spacing corms 2 to 3 inches deep and about an inch apart. In proper conditions, with no summer water, plants naturalize by seed and cormels (baby corms). Be sure to water if not enough winter rain falls.

Starting ths month, you'll find homeria in nurseries. Yellow and orange H. collina (often sold as H. aurantiaca and H. ochroleuca) is the most common.

Homeria also makes a good cut flower. Look for corms at the nursery, or try one of these mail-order sources: Anthony J. Skittone, 1425 Eucalyptus Dr., San Francisco 94123 (catalog $3); or BioQuest International, Box 5752, Santa Barbara 93150 (catalog $2).

Garden sage for edible color

Variegated garden sage (Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor') is mor ethan just a staple for the cook's garden. Its preference for dry soil, along with its beautiful white and green foliage (new leaves are tinged pink), has eased this plant into many flower gardens.

Tricolor sage has all the culinary qualities of its all-green counterpart but also makes an unusual garnish on meats, salads, and vegetables; you can dry it for a fragrant addition to a potpourri, or grow it just for its good looks. In the garden, combine it with other perennials in borders, containers, or rock gardens.

It grows 2 feet tall and bears spikes of fragrant violet-blue flowers (good for cutting) in early summer. Place in full sun with well-drained soil; heavy soils should be amended with organic matter. Cut back after bloom and fertilize during growing season fi sprigs are cut frequently for the kitchen.

Clumps become overgrown and need dividing every three to four years. 'Tricolor' sage is available at nurseries in 2- or 4-inch containers; prices range from $2 to $4. Or try mail-order sources such as Taylor's Herb Gardens, Inc., 1535 Lone Oak Road, Vista, Calif. 29084; (619) 727-3485.

Curing ornamental gourds

If you grow ornamental gourds such as bottle, penguin, or turban, here's how to preserve them. First, harvest them at the right time--when the stem dries and begins to turn brown, and leaves start to die (where winters are cold, harvest before frost).

After harvest, wash the fruit, using a mild chlorine bleach solution (1 ounce bleach to 2 quarts water), and dry with a soft cloth. Throw out any bruised, diseased, or damaged fruit. Place dry gourds on slatted shelves or in open-mesh bags such as onion bags, making sure they don't touch one another. Cure in a warm (50 [degrees] or higher), well-ventilated area out of strong sunlight (sunlight can discolor bright gourds).

Curing can take six weeks to six months, depending on the type and size of gourd. The outer skin can harden in two weeks (but may take longer); internal drying takes at least another month. Poking a small, wire-size hole in the blossom end will speed drying Check fruit periodically for uneven drying or soft areas. If mold appears, scrape it off with a wire brush and bleach again. When you shake the gourd and hear the seeds rattling, it's cured and ready to use for crafts or decorations.

New brochures on tree care

As part of its Consumer Information Series, the International Society of Arboriculture has published three new brochures providing answers to questions about basic tree care. The free brochures present easy-to-read, concise information accompanied by helpful diagrams, covering basics such as inspections, fertilization, pruning, planting, diseases, and insect problems.

Look for Planting a New Tree, Insect and Disease Problems, and Care of the Mature Tree at displays in participating garden centers. Or write to request a set from the International Society of Arboriculture, 303 W. University Ave., Box 908, Urbana, Ull. 61801.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Sep 1, 1991
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