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my august garden chores

chores-logoI 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!

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.

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.

LOOKING FOR RECIPE IDEAS for all that produce? The 2008 Food Fest series had lots, and so does this month’s Summer Fest, which began with this story.

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.

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. 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.

GENERAL

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.

HOUSEPLANTS

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.

LAWNS

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!

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.

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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.

Categorieschores by month
  1. Jayme says:

    A wonderful list for the garden! I tend to ‘peter out’ in August and September, and I’m always regretting it in the spring!

    Thanks for a great list of chores. :-) (like I really need more……)

  2. Kelley says:

    Margaret, I keep meaning to try that cardboard/compost method of making new garden beds but I’ve always wondered: how long does it take before you can dig in there and expect to find the weeds/grass dead and gone?

    1. Margaret says:

      @Tammy: Tricky question, especially in a year when so much rain here has leached and leached and leached nutrients again and again. You can use chemical slow-release (like Osmocote type of stuff) or fish emulsion or seaweed extracts (diluted as a liquid) or the dreaded blue liquid (I don’t). Only the middle two are organic. Read the labels carefully.

  3. Mary Ahern says:

    Thanks for the push. I needed that.
    Now is the time I start to reorganize my color sequence. I tag the perennials as they bloom, take photos for documentation and then, on cooler August days, I reposition them. This hopefully gives me the optimum color balance for my eagerly awaited garden next summer.

  4. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    August is the perfect month, in the upper Hudson Valley to redo your garden, if you need to. In 2001 I redid my back boarder. It is one hundred twenty five feet long, and fourteen to sixteen feet deep. I started on August 15, and worked every evening and weekends for a month. I made a diagram, broken it down into four foot segments, and figured out where I wanted plants, and bushes to be placed. I then stabbed in bambo stakes every four feet to know which location I wanted plants to be placed in. I dug up every plant , and divided what I wanted more of. Being FULL SIZED, I knew just how the plants would look in any location, where I placed them. After everything was planted, I let them stay in place for a while, and then cut the plants down. August is the best time do divide hostas, and other plants. Who cares if they look ratty at that time of the year. The main thing is that the plants get into the ground, and have a month or so to set new roots, and get ready for winter. By September, even if a plants look, “NOT so good”, they will be gone soon. Next year they will emerge perfectly.

  5. chris says:

    i tested some corn gluten meal on a portion of my lawn this spring (i always try to do new things a little at a time), and the results were fantastic…strong growth, deep blue green color, as compared to where i didn’t glutenize…now my question, should i lay in my 150lbs of gluten over the whole lawn this fall, or should i wait until the spring? what say you marvelous margaret?

  6. Lauren Starkey says:

    Maragaret, your site has turned a solitary pleasure into something that feels shared…thank you! I am on a small garden tour Monday night, and have been away all week! Is it ok to move a few things even though today will be sunny and in the 80s (with—more rain—expected tomorrow?). Specifically a small hydrangea and some monarda that grew crazily to over 5 feet.

    1. margaret says:

      @Lauren: No way a 5-foot Monarda (even in cool spring) will like being moved (having roots disturbed). As for a shrubs, if there is soft green growth that will probably wilt. I would wait, unless you are willing to cut the Mondara down and move just the rootmass.

  7. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Thank you Margaret for posting the garden NO-NO list again. (above in green) I came up with a lot of no-nos, and some remedies. I wish my computer was not so old, for I can not tab or space to good , when writing a comment. My no-no list looks like I wrote a chapter in a book.

  8. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Lauren Starkey… The best time to move a hydrangea, or any kind of bush, or tree is when it has dropped it’s leaves, (when it is still asleep) late winter, or REALLY early in the spring. BEFORE it has leafed out! The main thing, when planting , or moving any shrub, bush, or tree, is to first dig a good hole, then fill the hole with water. Wait for the water to go into the soil. After that plant the bush, shrub, etc. Take your foot and step around the bush, to compress the dirt, so as to push out any air pockets. Then water again. When you water a new plant, you want to NOT just sprinkle the water, but let it soak in for a while. Think about it, you want the water to make it down to the bottom of the whole root mass, NOT be just on top. ALSO water every day, or two for at least two weeks. When a plant is moved it is like a person after an operation. I have moved lilac bushes WHILE they were blooming, and they lived. My aunt was going to a home, and wanted me to have them, and that was the only time to take them. My neighbor has moved hydrangeas at all times of the year. She has taken pieces off of the big white ones, and placed them wherever she wants. Being that they are free to her , she does not care, it they don’t make it. ALSO, if the hydrangea was just planted this spring, and the root ball is intact, it PROBABLY did not send out to many new roots. Always try to move things on cloudy- cool days, if at all possible.

  9. liz says:

    Many writers suggest newspaper as a mulch but is all that ink really OK to put into the soil? I have just “inherited” my parents little house in Brooklyn and had the soil tested. I have always been a bit doubtful about the soil despite the fact my father had harvested many pounds of fruit and vegetables over the years from the small backyard.
    Anyways, the soil has some lead and heavy metals in it. So, it’s raised garden beds from now on and I hate the idea of adding any more suspect ingredients to the soil.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Liz. I have read studies at both West Virginia University and Ohio State, among others, and seen those quoted in Organic Gardening magazine as well, that state that newsprint is safe for animal bedding and garden use, but to avoid glossy inserts and other sections that use substantial colored inks. I am not a soil scientist or chemist or anything, obviously, so I try to keep up with sources I believe are ethical and unbiased and go from there, and do recycle my newsprint and cardboard for this purpose in the garden.

      However, just as a preference, I will say that I like chopped straw for use around my vegetables…rather than paper…just because I can move it around easily as the crops come and go. I pull the mulch back and remove spent crops, and tuck in new ones, and so on. Very flexible, literally.

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