my august 2010 garden chores

THE SPRINKLERS AND HOSES HERE ARE HANGING upside-down in shrubs and trees, or doing duty at the feet of the tomatoes, despite the fact that August rolled in with temperatures in the low 50s. I know that even with the respite they, like I, am feeling burned out. But onward we shall go. Agreed?

I SOMETIMES THINK THAT AUGUST, not April, is the cruelest month (though T.S. Eliot famously thought otherwise, and spelled it cruellest for good measure). It is typically hazy, hot and humid…but that’s no excuse for stopping: Every weed pulled now is a hundred (a thousand?) you don’t have to deal with later. Don’t let them go to seed.

WATERING IS ANOTHER major focus; if you’re dry, don’t waste water on lawns, which will bounce back from brown when cooler, moister days return. Target offerings to the most precious subjects, particularly recently planted things.

MAKE A PASS through each bed each week, since weeds are not just unsightly but steal moisture, nutrients and light from desired plants. Top up mulch in all garden beds to help in the plight.


DON’T FEED WOODY PLANTS another bite (better, even, to stop in July). Promoting soft growth in high summer isn’t good; time for them to start moving toward the hardening-off phase of their cycle. No more fertilizer till earliest spring.

TREES ARE ESPECIALLY vulnerable to drought, particularly the oldest and the youngest (those planted in the last few years). Water deeply, as with a Tree-Gator. Ugly…but better than not watering the kids!

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


HAVING TOMATO TROUBLES? I did last year, along with much of the East. Some best-forgotten details. This year has been hot and dry, which I hear from some gardeners is fostering blossom end rot. It’s always something with tomatoes, but who could garden without them?

LOOKING FOR RECIPE IDEAS for all that produce? The 2010 Summer Fest series will offer up lots, like these for cucumbers and zucchinis galore .

AS AREAS COME EMPTY from harvest, build vegetable-garden soil by sowing cover crops: medium red clover now, or perhaps winter rye if you don’t do some areas till mid-fall. These “green manures” will be turned under to improve soil tilth and fertility. Remember not to sow in areas reserved for fall-planted crops like garlic!

SOW ANOTHER CROP OF PEAS right now for fall harvest (and perhaps freezing for offseason use). Shelled peas from the freezer really make risotto in January taste like summer.

STRAWBERRY BEDS may appreciate renovation now, if you didn’t get it done last month.

KEEP ASPARAGUS well weeded. Let asparagus ferns grow till frost to feed the underlying crowns.

DID YOU HARVEST GARLIC? Save the best heads for replanting this fall, the ones with the biggest cloves (or order more for fall delivery). Not sure when to harvest garlic?

ANOTHER SOWING of chard, radishes, carrots, arugula, kale, spinach, turnips, beets and lettuce means succulent fall crops. With salad greens, sow small amounts now and again in 10 days. Direct-sow one more row of bush beans if you don’t have later-producing pole beans to rely on for harvest now through fall, but do it fast.

DID YOU START MORE BASIL from seed? Young, fresh plants sown immediately will be better than woody old ones for combining with fall tomatoes. Is there enough fresh dill coming for late pickles? For peak flavor, basil, sage, marjoram and oreganos, mint and tarragon are best harvested just before bloom. Harvest lavender, rosemary and chamomile as they flower, blossoms and all.

I FREEZE MANY HERBS, including parsley, rosemary and chives, or make them into pestos to freeze as well. Here’s how.


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. Remember with these fussy guys that “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 places like Klehm’s (see Sources list).

MANY POPULAR ANNUALS can be overwintered as young plants if you take and root cuttings now rather than try to nurse along leggy older specimens. Geraniums, coleus, wax begonias, even impatiens (to name just a few common ones), if grown in good light indoors and kept pinched and bushy, will yield another generation of cuttings for next spring’s transplants. Probably best to expend this effort and space on things you really treasure—an unusual form of something, not the garden variety.

MANY PERENNIALS and biennials can still be started from seed if you hurry, then set out in the fall into nursery beds.

DEADHEAD FADED PERENNIALS and summer bulbs unless they have showy seedheads, or you want to collect seed later (non-hybrids only).

ORDER BULBS to get varieties you want (see Sources). Remember our “early, middle, late” mantra when doing so. More tips about flower bulbs are here.

PREPARE NEW beds for fall planting by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top.

RE-EDGE BEDS to make a clean line and define them, and keep edges clean with regular fine-tuning with grass shears. A clean edge makes a big difference, as does topping up the mulch a bit.


IF YOU ARE IN JAPANESE BEETLE territory, handpick (as with other obvious pests like tomato hornworms) in early morning and drown in a can of water to reduce infestation. Plan to try to reduce grub population with nematodes. Beetle help is coming, by the way.

GARDENS NEED an inch of water a week from you or the heavens. Check your rain gauge to make sure they get it, and remember: Soak deeply in the root zone, don’t spritz things with a sprayer now and again like you’re washing the car. That’s a garden no-no. Pots need extra attention, especially smallish ones in sun, and they also need regular feeding. Be alert.


IF HOUSEPLANTS NEED repotting, do it now, while they’re still outside (less messy than in the house). Don’t step up more than an inch in diameter (on small pots) or a couple (on large ones). Most plants don’t like to swim in their containers.


MID-AUGUST TO MID-SEPTEMBER is prime lawn-renovation, planting and re-seeding time in the North.

DON’T BAG OR RAKE 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 things have slowed way down. Freedom!


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.

On using this list in your garden: The monthly A Way to Garden chores are based on my Zone 5B Berkshire MA/Hudson Valley NY location; adjust accordingly. If you are in a colder spot, try last month’s list. Warmer climate? Try a peek at next month’s.

  1. Barb Kerrick says:

    I was wondering if anybody could help me with a cucumber problem. Have never had any problems with them before, but this year, the cucumbers are like golf balls. They start out alright, but then change. The leaves are kind of a light green/yellow color. Too much rain maybe? Pollination has been good, lots of bees. Any ideas?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Barb. Did you by any chance save seed from a previous year, or was this from a packet (or a seedling sold in a garden center)? And where are you located/how has the weather pattern been basically? I usually try to key things out on the Cornell diagnostic site or one of the others from the big agricultural-grant universities. Tell me more.

  2. Barb Kerrick says:

    These were Burpee pickle cucumbers that I bought this year at a local store. The weather has been really nuts – raining for days on end and then hot & humid with no rain. It’s either raining constantly or drought, no in between. The humidity has been terrible. I live in the Southern Tier of NY. I’ve never had a problem with this before. I fertilized with Sea Magic, thinking that maybe they needed an extra shot of fertilizer, but that hasn’t helped. Our soil is good, we use our own compost and add aged manure when necessary. I have seen a lot of bees at work. They start out looking normal and then they just turn into balls. Not very good for making pickles.

  3. Barb Kerrick says:

    Margaret, I would have to say more wet than anything else. We’ve gone a straight 10 days in a row with rain every single day, and the humidity just goes with it. A lot of black spot on roses in spite of spraying with fungicide.

  4. monica says:

    Thanks for the list! I discovered your lovely online world a few weeks ago, and right away I committed to memory: “an inch of water a week, from you or the heavens.” I was so happy to find you here, after enjoying your editorials in MSL for a few years.

  5. Great list of chores. I’ve also added make a list of what I want to change. Thanks for the reminder to start more basil. Also, plants, at least in my area are on sale right now. I went out and bought some perennials. It takes a bit of protection from the sun and good compost, but they should make it.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Gloria, and welcome. Yes, a good time to shop for values, if you give the TLC. Thanks for the reminder. :) See you soon!

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