THE 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.
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.
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).
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 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.)