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). Hazy, hot and humid…and plum tuckered out. But give up we must not. Every weed pulled now is a hundred you don’t have to deal with later (well, who knows the precise math of mama weed to baby weed, but you get the idea: prevention). Don’t let them go to seed. But that’s not all there is to do around here, so let’s get started on the list a day or two early:
WATERING IS another major focus; if you’re dry, don’t waste water on lawns, which will bounce back from brown in time when cooler, moister days return. Target your 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 if washed or worn away to help in the plight.
TREES & SHRUBS
DON’T FEED WOODY plants any more (better, even, to stop in July). Promoting more soft growth in high summer isn’t good; time for them to start moving toward the hardening-off phase of their cycle. No more eats 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!
VEGETABLE, FRUIT & HERBS
HAVING TOMATO TROUBLES? I know I am this year, along with much of the East. Here are some details (sorry, not so optimistic) about what you might be up against.
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.
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 rejuvenation 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).
ANOTHER SOWING of chard, radishes, arugula, 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).
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.
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 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.