As we enjoy the fruits of our labor in August, we might want to consider ways to extend the short growing season:
- Cold frames have no internal heat source, are warmed by the sun, and allow you to grow cool season vegetables and flowers early in the season, as well as into the winter.
- Row covers can provide protection to 28 degrees while allowing sunlight, water and air to pass through to promote growth. They can be cut to fit any garden area, and often are termed “floating” row covers because they float on plants as they grow. Others are spread over a structure of some sort.
- Grow tunnels are made of plastic or fabric stretched over chicken wire or wire hoops, and their edges can be secured to the ground by pins, rocks or soil. Unlike floating row covers, an enclosed grow tunnel prevents winds from circulating under the edges of the cover.
- Hot caps are cones of paper that you can purchase or make from newspaper or other materials. Many fast food containers and milk cartons can be recycled to provide short-term frost protection for small, tender transplants early in the spring.
- Greenhouse umbrellas are large individual plant covers that resemble a high-crowned umbrella with transparent plastic sides. The sharp center stake is anchored in the ground over the plant and the sides drape around it. Avoid use where high winds are a problem.
• Daylilies can be dug and divided as they complete their bloom cycle. Older varieties of daylilies can usually go for many years without needing division, but newer hybrids perform best when divided every 4-5 years.
• Peonies are best divided and transplanted in late August through September, if they need it. Remember – the “eyes” must be buried no more than an inch or two beneath the soil surface.
• Refrain from feeding your roses for the rest of the season. This will enable them to slow their growth and prepare to harden up for the cold winter weather ahead. Do a hard pruning on the roses late in the month and add an extra six inches of mulch.
• Order spring bulbs to force indoors. Consider different varieties so that you have something blooming throughout the spring.
• Pull annuals that are past their prime and aren’t likely to recover. Cover bare soil to deter weeds.
• Take cuttings of plants you want to overwinter. Choices may include fuchsia, scented geranium, coleus, or wax begonia. Stick 3- to 4-inch green stem cuttings in soil. Place pots in a shaded spot, and keep soil moist. Bring inside before cold weather starts.
• As summer crops finish bearing, sow a cover crop to help protect soil over the winter and add organic matter. Annual rye and oats are good choices that usually die over the winter in our region.
• Pinch off blossoms on pumpkin and winter squash vines so that the plants direct their energy into fruits already on the vines.
• Sow seeds of lettuce, spinach, kohlrabi, and turnips for fall harvest. Put spinach and lettuce seeds in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks before planting to prevent hot summer soil from inducing dormancy.
• Let your last planting of annual herbs such as dill, cilantro, caraway, and chervil go to seed. The flowers will attract beneficial insects and the seeds that fall to the ground will self-sow, giving you a new crop of plants to harvest from early next season.
• Keep basil plants pruned or pinched back just above a set of leaves to prevent leggy plants and excessive flowering that can diminish its sweetness. Pinching encourages more branching and leaf production. Add the fresh trimmings to summer meals, and you will be blessed with plenty more leaves for a batch of pesto later in the season.
• When night temperatures drop below 55 degrees, fruit set on tomatoes will be interrupted. High daytime temperatures exceeding 90 degrees early in the day (before 10:00 a.m.) will cause tomato blossoms to abort or fall off. Shading with a row cover or shade cloth may be helpful.
• Stop feeding woody plants. Promoting soft growth in high summer isn’t good. It’s time for the plants to start moving toward the hardening-off phase of their cycle. Save the fertilizer for early spring.
• Young (first growing season) and old trees are especially vulnerable to drought. Water deeply once a week or use a “Tree-Gator” or other watering system if rains don’t provide.
• Be on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune them along with suckers and water sprouts.
• Mid-August is prime lawn-renovation, planting and re-seeding time in this zone. To get the most benefit for the turf and avoid polluting nearby waterways, put down fertilizer by September 15 in northern parts of the zone and by October 15 in southern parts.
• Mow frequently so you are cutting no more than a third of the blade length, but don’t bag or rake clippings. Let them lie on the lawn to return nitrogen to the soil. Mow higher if it’s hot and dry.
• Now is the time to check lawns for grubs. Cut and lift several one-foot by one-foot sections of turf around your yard and inspect the roots for small (1/4-inch), white, C-shaped grubs. If you see fewer than 7-10 grubs on average in each section, you don’t need to treat for them; a healthy lawn will tolerate some grub feeding. If your lawn is heavily infested, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service office for treatment recommendations.
• If your lawn is doing poorly, check for excessive thatch. This is the layer of living and dead grass roots and stems that accumulates above the soil surface. Proper watering, fertilizing, and mowing practices will help to prevent build-up of thatch. Core aeration is the best way to control thatch. As weather cools down, use an aeration machine that removes soil cores and breaks through the thatch layers.
• Do not use weed and feed fertilizers whenever possible. Continual use of these materials stunts the growth of turf, affects soil microbes, and is generally not strong enough to kill perennial weeds. Though it takes more time, consider hand pulling and digging weeds or, if necessary, spot-treating weeds.