In the southern parts of this zone, it’s hot. You may have noticed. It also may be raining frequently, but for short bursts. Don’t be fooled by a half-hour thunderstorm. Even though a lot of water may be falling out of the sky, much of it is running off hard dry soil, rather than sinking down to the roots of your plants. Be sure your gardens are getting adequate water (one inch a week for vegetables) and that you are conserving water by keeping beds well mulched. If a hard crust has formed or the soil has cracked, cultivate lightly without disturbing roots, water well and mulch. Work outdoors only in the early morning before temperatures begin to soar. Make sure always to wear a hat and sunscreen. Wet a dish cloth with ice water and put it on your head under your hat. You’ll be amazed at how cool you will stay, at least for a half hour or so.
In the Pacific Northwest part of this zone, August is a gorgeous time in the garden. Everything is ripe and succulent. The variety of blooming perennials and annuals is stunning and farmer’s markets are overflowing with bounty.
Vegetables and Fruit
• Keep everything cleanly picked. Letting one or two cucumbers go to seed on your plant will stop it from producing. Same with other fruits such as tomatoes, melons, etc.
• Put cardboard, newspaper or hay under melons in the garden to keep them clean, dry and worm free until they ripen.
• Plant second crops of bush beans, cucumbers and squash. The squash vine borers have already come and gone, so the cucurbits have a better chance of survival now, though yields may not be as high as with earlier crops.
• Begin to plan your fall garden and start seeds for chard, collards, broccoli, cabbage. In the Northwest, successive plantings of radishes and peas directly in the garden will make before frost. Transplants of cole crops and other winter greens, such as mustard and endive, can be set out now in the NW.
• Plant second crop of potatoes (did you save any from your spring crop?). Till soil deeply and amend with compost, water in seed potatoes and mulch deeply. Try to put second crop in a different area of the garden than the first. Plant your second crop of beans where your potatoes were.
• Fertilize vegetables from which you are expecting a second crop, such as bush and pole beans and tomatoes.
• If areas of your garden are done for the summer, plant green manure such as vetch, rye, clover or cow peas. In areas where you will plant your fall garden, spread a layer of compost, rake it into the soil and water. Cover with mulch. Your soil will be nice and moist and crumbly when you get ready to plant later in the month.
• Cut back canes of raspberries and blackberries to the ground after they fruit unless they are the evergreen varieties. For those, prune the fruiting canes only.
• Move rooted strawberry runners to where you want them in the bed, or pot them up to give away or replant in the spring.
Harvest herbs for drying just before they flower.
A note on basil: Downy mildew has begun spreading in basil and can destroy your crop. To combat it, thin plants to allow good air circulation and make sure the plants get plenty of sunshine. The fungus will not harm humans, so harvesting and making pesto at the first sign of disease is an option. Signs of the disease are yellowing leaves and dark colored spots (spores) on the undersides of leaves.
Take cuttings of plants you want to bring in for the winter, such as geranium or artemesia. Strip off all but the top few leaves, dip in rooting hormone and plunge into a hole in potted moist sand or perlite. Firm the planting medium around the cutting and leave in a shaded spot. It may take as much as two months for roots to form. Make sure to keep moist. You should have a transplant ready for spring.
Divide Japanese iris. Plant lilies for next spring’s bloom. Sow pansy, columbines, daisies and veronicas. Cut back leggy, spent verbena. Sheer dianthus, lavendar and spirea of old blooms, fertilize and water. You may get another bloom.
Still time to sow portulaca. It will flower in three weeks. It’s also not too late to plant a new crop of zinnias to enjoy into November.
Mow, mow, mow. It is best to cut only a third of the height of the grass in each mowing. Sometimes, if it is raining every couple of days, this may mean mowing every week or five days. On the other hand, if the weather is dry, raise your mowing deck to 2 inches or more. The grass will shade its own roots and conserve water.
If you water your lawn, do it deeply (1 inch) once a week, not every day. Short frequent watering encourages shallow roots, which lead to disease and little drought tolerance.
Conserve water in the dry months and allow your lawn to go dormant. It will green up again when the rains come.
Trees and shrubs
Take hardwood cuttings of shrubs for rooting. Strip off all but the top few leaves, dip in rooting hormone and plunge into a hole in potted moist sand or perlite. Firm the planting medium around the cutting and leave in a shaded spot. It may take as much as two months for roots to form. Make sure to keep moist. You should have a transplant ready for spring.
In the Northwest, you may prune evergreens now. In the South, wait until January to avoid attracting pine bark beetles.