To Do List: Zone 4

Susan Wells
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Click the image to enlarge this map of the USDA Plant Hardiness Map and find the zone where you live.

The main focus for August, besides enjoying the fruits of our labor, is to keep up with picking, watering and weeding. Don’t let weeds go to seed. Every one pulled now is hundreds you don’t have to deal with later. Make a pass through each bed each week, since weeds are not just unsightly but steal moisture, nutrients and light from your desired plants.

Avoid overhead watering of vegetables as this tends to increase the chance of disease. Water at the base of the plants in the morning so that the foliage will be dry as it goes into the evening. A drip irrigation system will help. Mulching will help maintain uniform moisture levels.

Water plants a few hours before applying pesticides, especially during times of drought. In these conditions, plants have less water in their tissues, and as pesticides enter cells, they may burn leaves.

Now is a great time to cook some compost. Hot summer weather will break down compost fast. Begin building a new pile now, and it could be ready by fall. Keep your compost pile moist. Do not add weeds that have set seeds to the pile and avoid composting diseased plants. Also, don’t place currently cooking compost around plantings. It’s probably still too hot. Set it aside and allow it to continue composting. Or, use it as an amendment for new planting areas, digging it into soil and allowing it to compost until spring.

Perennials:

•    September is peony planting time. That means August is the month to order peony roots. You should have peonies in the ground about a month before the average first frost date.
•    Divide and transplant bearded iris.
•    Prepare beds for planting bulbs and divide any existing bulbs that might be overcrowded.
•    Deadhead faded perennials and summer bulbs unless they have showy seedheads that provide interest into the winter, or you want to collect seed later (non-hybrids only).
•    One of the easiest ways to deadhead plants with numerous small blossoms is to use hedge trimmers. You can remove the dead flowers and shape the plant at the same time. This technique works great for dianthus, catmint, coreopsis, and lavender.

Annuals:

•    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.
•    Plant fall-blooming crocus and colchicum for late-season flowering.

Vegetables:

•    Check your vegetable patch daily to stay on top of ripening produce. When fruits like beans, tomatoes, and squash become overripe, they discourage younger fruits from maturing.
•    Pick corn when silk browns and kernels run milky when pierced with a fingernail. Watery juice signals immature kernels; a pasty texture indicates corn is overly ripe.
•    Harvest tender green beans when they are about as thick as a pencil. French filet beans will be smaller.
•    Peppers grow hotter or sweeter the longer they remain on a plant. Harvest at the flavor stage you prefer.
•    When potato tops turn brown and fall over, it’s time to dig.
•    Harvest smaller squash for best flavor and texture.
•    Plant such vegetables as beet, lettuce, spinach, radish, scallions, and bok choy now for fall harvest. Choose varieties that mature in 50 days or less. Sow near taller, established plants to give seedlings some shade.
•    Tomatoes will continue to ripen after picking, but large types develop peak sweetness when left to ripen on the vine. However, many varieties of cherry tomatoes tend to split as they ripen, so pick them as soon as they show color.
•    Continue to tie up vines as you pick tomatoes; it makes harvesting easier. Remove lower leaves that are crispy or yellowing.
•    Don’t worry if your tomatoes stop producing fruit if it gets especially hot – over 90 degrees F. They will produce again when the temperatures drop a bit.
•    Avoid overwatering tomatoes because it dilutes the flavor and makes the fruits more susceptible to cracking. They need an inch of water a week, no more.

Trees/Shrubs:

•    Some shrubs need weekly deep watering now. Rhododendrons are beginning to form flower buds for next year’s show, and adequate water is vital. Fruiting plants, such as hollies and firethorn, need water to ensure berries mature and don’t drop.
•    As August arrives, stop pruning evergreens. If you prune now, you risk plants pushing new growth, which won’t harden off before winter sets in.
•    Water newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials — any plants you added to your yard last fall or spring. These plants need weekly irrigation to ensure roots establish deeply.
•    Prune summer-blooming shrubs (hydrangea, clethra, caryopteris) after flowers finish.

Lawn/Turf:

•    Raise mower height. You should be letting grass grow taller now to shade roots and cool soil. Aim for a 3-inch height for most Mountain West grasses, including Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue.
•    Don’t bag or rake clippings; let them lie on the lawn to return nitrogen to the soil. 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.

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