my garden chores for august 2014

Margaret's garden clogs and trowelTHE JAPANESE BEETLES are subsiding, or at least focusing their energies to activities other than chewing leaves, but the rabbits? No such luck. I’m tempted to list my top August 2014 chore as, “Trap rabbits,” but that would make for one very frustrating month. Instead, I’m doing what amounts to a headstart on fall cleanup (one floppy, holey or yellowing plant at a time) and planning for fall-planting opportunities.

In the Northeast, where I garden, mid-August through mid-September is prime lawn-repair time, for instance. Many favorite spring bulbs go into the ground in autumn, too—meaning I’d better get my orders in. I’m eyeing big, old clumps of certain perennials and thinking about where divisions from them might go next month.

Now as for those untidy bits: August chores are like spot cleaning—a headstart on fall cleanup, one blemish at a time. I can’t fix everything, turning brown leaves green again, or sewing up holes. I can (and must) try to trick the eye with targeted trimming, deadheading, mulching and edging—because visitors will be arriving soon, for Garden Conservancy Open Days on August 16. (Details, if you can join us.) It’s not just cosmetics, either, since editing reduces hiding places for pests and disease.

weeding and watering

WEED! Make a pass through each garden bed each week, since weeds are not just unsightly but steal moisture, nutrients and light—and many may set seed shortly, meaning ongoing troubles. Top up mulch where needed.

FIRST: Learn to identify your opponents. Here’s help with weed ID. I am loaded with this prolific one—called clearweed. Look familiar? I have a whole archive of weed stories at this link, from prunella and mugwort, to bindweed and spotted spurge, to galinsoga and commelina, to garlic mustard and more.

IN THE WEEDIEST SPOTS: Time for more than hand-pulling, perhaps? Will you solarize (lay down plastic sheeting, and use summer heat and sun to cook weeds to death), or to spray? I say no to chemical herbicides, so there are sheets of plastic here and there, and the scuffle hoe is in action. I also smother weeds with cardboard and mulch, like this—good for making new garden beds, too.

GARDENS NEED AN INCH OF WATER weekly from you or the heavens. Check your rain gauge. Soak beds deeply in the root zone; don’t spritz with a sprayer like you’re washing the car. Containers, especially smallish ones in sun, need daily attention, but don’t waste precious resources on the lawn, which will bounce back when cooler, moister days return.


JAPANESE BEETLES? If adults are still in evidence, handpick each morning and again later, drowning bugs,. We can’t eliminate them; we have to manage them. Consider a biological (non-toxic) control to reduce overwintering grub population with nematodes or one of the other biologicals covered in this government bulletin for homeowners (pdf).

WITH OTHER OBVIOUS pests like tomato hornworms, squash bugs, Colorado potato beetles or imported cabbage worms, I do the same: handpick early each morning.   I’ll do a very serious fall cleanup, removing all debris to a distance. I compost it at my office, where there is no vegetable garden.

ARE SLUGS AND SNAILS your issue? Some tactics.

trees & shrubs

NO MORE FERTILIZER! Promoting soft growth isn’t good after July, when it’s time for woody plants to start moving toward the hardening-off phase of their cycle. No more feeding until late winter or earliest spring.

TREES ARE ESPECIALLY vulnerable to drought, particularly the oldest and the youngest (those planted in the last few years). Water deeply.

ALWAYS be on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood and prune them out as discovered. Ditto with suckers and water sprouts. The pruning FAQ page may help.

vegetables, fruit & herbs

SEND IN SOIL SAMPLES for testing if you’re seeing poor results in some beds. Contact your local cooperative extension on how to sample.

CONTINUE SOWING carrots, beets, radishes, lettuce, arugula, dill, spinach, turnips, if like me you are up North (I am in Zone 5B). I re-sow kale, too, for eating young in fall. If soil is baking hot, I cultivate lightly, moisten well and shade it under hoops with Reemay clothes-pinned on to cool it down first.  Planning the fall vegetable garden, and how to get an extended harvest in every region.

KEEP ASPARAGUS well weeded and watered, too. Let asparagus ferns grow till hard frost, when they are fully browned—or even leave them up till spring cleanup.

GARLIC should be curing in an airy, sheltered place. Read all about growing garlic, and storing your harvest–and order bulbs now for October-ish planting.

HAVING TOMATO, CUKE OR SQUASH TROUBLES? There is a range of possible problems with tomatoes, but who could garden without them? If your issue is cucumbers or summer squash, start here. Peppers can be tricky in some seasons; pepper tips and recipes and storage tips.

AS AREAS COME EMPTY from harvest, build vegetable-garden soil by sowing cover crops. These “green manures” will be turned under to improve soil tilth and fertility. Don’t sow in areas reserved for fall-planted garlic.

I FREEZE MANY HERBS, including parsley, rosemary and chives, or make them into pestos to freeze as well. Here’s how. All my canning, freezing and otherwise preserving articles are at this link.

flower garden

DAYLILIES can be dug and divided as they complete their bloom cycle, right into fall, if needed.

PEONIES are best divided and transplanted in late August through September, if they need it. Their “eyes” must not be buried more than an inch or two beneath the soil surface. Want more peonies? Now’s the time to order from specialists like Song Sparrow or Peony’s Envy (see Resource Links list).

ORDER FLOWER BULBS for fall planting. What bulbs I like to grow to discourage bulb-hungry animals. More tips about flower bulbs are here.


IF HOUSEPLANTS NEED repotting, do it now, while they’re still outside (less messy than in the house).


MID-AUGUST TO MID-SEPTEMBER is prime lawn-renovation, planting and re-seeding time in the North. (Always overseed bare spots at once when they occur, to limit weedy opportunists.) Paul Tukey offers expert advice.

DON’T BAG OR RAKE clippings; let them lie on the lawn to return Nitrogen to the soil. Mow higher (longer grass) if it’s hot and dry, or don’t mow at all if things have slowed way down.

compost heap

DON’T LET the heap dry out completely, or it will not “cook.” Turning it to aerate will also hasten decomposition, but things will rot eventually even if not turned. Begin sifting finished material to top up beds after fall cleanup.

(On using these chores: I garden in Zone 5B, in the Hudson Valley, NY-Berkshires, MA region, where frost stays till May sometime and returns in early October or sooner some years. Adjust accordingly to your zone.)

  1. cheri says:

    Can you layer the magnolia water sprouts? Btw I have some wonderful young willows from the willowman. Not all of them sprouted but I did get some that until then had never heard of so thanks

  2. Maxine says:

    This is a great list of things to do this August and into fall. Thanks for the tip about letting clippings lie on the ground — my husband keeps telling me to bag them, but I’ve always known I can just leave them where they fall in the lawn. I love gardening and I love your site and I am contemplating a big project soon — a green roof! I’m inspired by what I’ve read about it.

  3. Sounds like you have your hands full for the rest of the summer! I have a quick question about cabbage worms. I’m battling them for the first time — I went away for 5 days, came back + realized they had arrived, laid eggs, and were having a good ‘ol time for themselves. I ended up pulling + tossing two cabbage plants because they had too many eggs. However, just yesterday I spotted another cabbage worm on a broccoli plant, but no eggs yet. Should I continue hand-picking these worms off? Or is this a bad sign of soiled crops that should be pulled?


    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Caitlin. I always have some cabbage worms, and never toss crops unless things are really out of control. A few eaten holey does not mean the end to the plant typically. Try to be aggressive with twice-daily inspection and then plan to do a VERY serious fall cleanup this year, removing the debris (not composting it).

  4. We have lots of rabbits on our currant allotment too, probably because it is closer to a small wood. Even though we have a fence and inspect it often, they always find a way in. So, sadly this year, all my bush beans and edamame soya were eaten and asparagus seedlings are seriously damaged. I hoped it would become less later in the year, but apparently not.
    I very much enjoy your informative blog!

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