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.
It’s best to avoid overhead watering of vegetables as this tends to increase the chance of disease. An irrigation system can help. Water in the morning so that the foliage will be dry as it goes into the evening. 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 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.
• Top dress perennials with compost or slow-release mineral fertilizer for spring bloom and foliage. Microbes will break down these organic materials through autumn and winter.
• Siberian, German-bearded, and Japanese Iris are entering dormancy. Late summer through Labor Day is an excellent time to plant new and to divide-to-transplant crowded irises. Plants will develop new roots and get established before winter cold.
• As daylilies finish blooming and begin to look ragged, cut or mow the foliage. The plants are sturdy enough to produce new foliage that looks fresh and clean throughout the fall season. Perennial geraniums also benefit from a haircut in late summer to produce some bloom and new foliage.
• This is the month for transplanting peonies, bearded iris, and Oriental poppies. Dig peonies and separate into clumps with at least two “eyes” each. Replant so the eyes are between one and two inches below ground. Deeper or shallower planting may cause poor blooming.
• Flowers such as zinnias, cosmos, Mexican sunflower, black-eyed Susan, garden phlox, annual phlox, daisies, celosia, amaranth, and tall ageratum benefit from being cut above an emerging flower bud. Immediately plunge cut stems into a bucket of water to keep flowers fresh.
• Many popular annuals can be overwintered as young plants if you root cuttings now. Cuttings from geraniums, coleus, wax begonias, and impatiens, if grown in good light indoors and kept pinched and bushy, will yield another generation of spring transplants.
• Cucumber vines that wilt and die are likely infected with bacterial wilt disease. Remove infected vines and discard in trash, not compost bin.
• Protect melons and squash from rotting before they’re ripe. Don’t leave them directly on the soil. Slip straw or cardboard or tiles under them until they’re ready to pick and enjoy.
• If early blight appears on tomatoes, you can keep the disease at bay for a while by carefully removing all diseased leaves — those that are spotted and yellowing. Destroy the leaves by putting in the trash or burying them deeply away from the garden. Don’t put them on your home compost pile.
• As soon as you see any signs of disease on peppers, eggplants or tomatoes, pull the fruits and discard the plants to avoid spreading the problem. Blossom end rot on the bottoms of fruits indicates uneven moisture, so be sure to pull mulch around the plants and water deeply once a week.
• Plant fall crops such as green beans, broccoli and cauliflower (transplants), carrots, mustard greens, spinach, lettuce, kale and radishes. For lettuces and greens, plant in shaded areas since the weather is still hot. You can seed them behind or under crops that will be finished by the end of September.
• As Brussels sprouts begin to form their tiny heads, remove the lower leaves. This will produce taller plants with more “sprouts.” Side dress with compost, and consider covering with lightweight row covers to prevent their being feasted on by cabbage moths.
• As areas become empty from harvest, sow cover crops. These “green manures” will be turned under to improve soil health and fertility. Remember not to sow in areas reserved for fall-planted crops.
• This is peak time for butterflies and a diverse planting of flowers, shrubs, and trees will assure a bounty in your yard. A birdbath full of wet sand is ideal for watering them, and providing plenty of shelter for roosting at night will keep them in your landscape.
• Prune summer-blooming shrubs (hydrangea, clethra, caryopteris) after flowers finish.
• 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.
• Stop feeding woody plants. It’s time for them to start moving toward the hardening-off phase of their cycle. Wait to fertilize until early spring.
• Once the summer blooms have gone, it is a good time to shape shrubs such as spirea (a good candidate for hedge shears), ninebark, shrubby dogwoods, and potentillas.
• Be on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune them out as discovered along with suckers and water sprouts.
• Mid-August to mid-September is prime lawn-renovation, planting and re-seeding time in this zone. Do your research now to find out which grass seed is best for your area. Consider some of the new no-mow turf mixtures to reduce your water and mowing.
• Don’t bag or rake lawn clippings – let them lie on the lawn to return nitrogen to the soil. Mow higher if it’s hot and dry, or don’t mow at all if possible.
• 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.