Nature’s clock is giving us longer days for weeding and harvesting. The intense light level cues plants to flower and set fruit while they can. With the heat of August, remember that water and shade are important factors for all living things. Keep a lightweight garden hat, sunscreen and insect repellant within reach. Provide fresh water for the birds, bees and the butterflies, and sit back with a cool drink during the hottest part of the day and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
• During August, our vegetable garden requires about an inch of water per week for best production if we have no rain. An inch of water is 62 gallons per each 100 square feet of garden area. Or use a tuna can placed among the plants while the sprinkler is going. When there is an inch of water in it, that’s enough.
• Tomatoes are probably our favorite vegetable (OK. Technically it’s a fruit). Pick, can, freeze, use in salads and sauces, dehydrate, share with your friends. The tomato has endless possibilities.
• Blossom end rot indicates uneven watering and a lack of calcium. Mulching and regular watering can help with that. Garden lime is a good source of calcium and tomatoes love it. Side dress with a half cup of lime around each plant if you see signs of blossom end rot. Make sure to water it in well.
• Keep weeding! Weeds rob vegetables of valuable water, light, and nutrients. Weeds often harbor insects, diseases, and nematodes that can damage vegetables and greatly reduce yields.
• Avoid the urge to feed herbs with fertilizers high in nitrogen or at every watering. Too much fertilizer will encourage a lot of foliage but the leaves will have less of the essential oils that give herbs their flavor. Instead, side dress with compost or rotted manure a few inches from the stems once or twice a season.
• Plan for your fall garden by removing spent vegetable plants, digging in a layer of compost and putting down a layer of mulch. The soil will be moist and crumbly when you get ready to plant your fall seedlings.
• If your garden has been weedy and bothered by nematodes and your plants plagued by soil borne disease, consider ‘solarizing ‘ your garden. To solarize the soil, remove garden plants, and then rake a thin layer of compost into the soil. After a light watering, cover with a heavy plastic sheeting, anchoring it to the ground with bricks or pins. In the extreme temperatures of August magnified by the plastic, the soil will heat to about 140 degrees F. Leave the plastic in place for two months to do the work. No need to worry about the worms. They’ll go deeply underground to stay cool. Next spring you’ll have a revitalized bed.
• We can continue to plant our root crops through the middle of August.
• Get your melons and squashes off the ground by using an angled trellis, that would resemble a ‘pup tent.’ It will support the fruit and can easily be put away for next season. At a minimum, slip some straw or newspaper underneath melons on the vine to keep them from being in direct contact with the soil.
• Sunflowers (the state flower of Kansas) multitask in the garden: attracting and feeding the birds and bees, offering support for our beans and morning glories, plus bringing many smiles to those who pass by. Collect and dry seed heads for bird food later. When grown commercially, sunflowers are a cash crop.
• Take cuttings of coleus and wax begonias to bring indoors for the fall and winter by cutting a stem below the third leaf set. Then place the cutting in water until roots appear. Transplant into a cleaned pot with fresh potting soil.
• You may have continued success with the planting of zinnia seeds this month. Should long periods of rain persist, watch for fungus on the zinnias. Plant them on the high side of a bed or in a well-drained pot to help avoid the fungus. Good airflow is also an important factor.
• Prune your hanging baskets. You can carefully add water polymer crystal to the potting mix to help retain some water. Follow directions using caution to not spill any onto the floor. They become slippery once they swell with water.
• To dry statice, pick when ¾ of the flowers are opened, and hang upside down in bundles. The remaining flowers will open during the drying process.
• To dry yarrow, pick when in full bloom, while flowers still are holding onto their color. Hang upside down in bundles to dry.
• Remember to use perennials with varying heights and bloom times in combination with colorful annuals to stretch the delight of your flower garden into the fall.
• Keep up with your weeding. Be stubbornly strong willed and stick to it! The pay off is great.
• Remove the yellowed leaves from irises and lilies. Pull out the stem of spent lilies, but save the seed pods for later. The irises and lilies can be cut to the ground at this point in the season. They can be hand cut with a long serrated knife and added to the compost pile. Wear gloves to protect the non-cutting hand.
• Enjoy the blooming of the ‘blackberry’ lilies. This little known, self-seeding perennial is named for its unusual black berries that form in clusters when its seedpods split open in fall. They are fascinating, resembling an orchid, and often brought indoors for a cut flower arrangement.
• Stoke’s aster is wonderful for attracting butterflies and as a cut flower. The evergreen foliage shows off the lavender blue (or pink, white, or yellow) flowers. Keep these asters in a light well-drained soil that does not dry out. Deadheading prolongs bloom time. Save those seeds! (Lovely accent with the blackberry lilies.)
• Deadhead verbenas, as they bloom on new growth.
• Spray aphids and spider mites off of perennials with a strong blast from the hose, a couple of times a week, until gone. They love hot and dry weather.
• Roses. . . .roses. . . .roses. . . . The ‘Knock Out ‘ varieties, available at your neighborhood Home Depot, are the most stunning when planted in mass. They are relatively pest resistant, and very rich in color.
• Prune roses to allow for good airflow, regardless of the variety. A bypass pruner will give you a cleaner cut than an anvil pruner. Prune down the branch to the first set of five leaves with an outward facing bud.
• Always remove dead and diseased branches when pruning. Pick off yellowed leaves and leaves with black spot. Do not add these to compost piles or allow them to stay on the ground.
• Prune back your lilacs after they finish blooming in late August, to stimulate next year’s blooms..
• Severe weather is a fact of life in Zone 6, with fire, and / or storm-related damage causing a major impediment to maintaining healthy trees. Many of us have an emotional attachment to our large trees. Ask yourself, and an arborist, if the tree is hazardous. Will it pose a threat to people, animals or property in the event of an additional strong wind? Is the tree’s present condition leaving it vulnerable to pests or disease? Damaged bark and broken branches are a good indicator.
• Hire a professional, insured / bonded tree service for large tree removal.
• If you are not under watering restrictions, in your area, try to water your trees regularly in times of drought. They will generate an abundance of surface roots to seek out nutrients and water. During dry and hot weather, they need our help. Remember you can replace a garden or lawn but not a full-grown tree.
• If you haven’t already done so, raise your mower deck up a notch.
• A healthy St. Augustine grass or zoysia lawn should be mowed no less than every 10 days in the summer. Bermuda grass is best maintained with weekly mowing or slightly less. Bermuda loves the heat!
• Most centipede grass lawns can be mowed every two weeks.
• Fescue may perform well, in August, if cut every 7-10 days. As it gets longer, the grass blades will actually help keep the shallow roots shaded. Fescue requires the most water of the above listed turf grasses. It will go dormant during the hottest part of the summer.
• Resist fertilizing in August. It will flush new growth and stress the grass in the heat.
• If you see mushrooms in the turf, watch for a fungal bloom to start and treat with a fungicide immediately. If you have an irrigation system, monitor the run time and spray heads and adjust to minimize the water accordingly.
• Mow early in the day after the grass has dried from the evening’s dew.
• If you are mowing diseased or weedy turf, clean underneath the mower deck with a mild bleach and water. Keep blades sharp, so they don’t tear the grass.
• If you plan to redo your turf this coming year, research which lawn is most suitable for your area, resources and lifestyle.