On the calendar, December is the end of the year. In the garden, in many ways, the year ends in August. A new cycle begins with the cooler weather of September, an ideal time for planting shrubs and evergreens, so that they become well established in the warm earth, freshly watered by the rains that typically mark the turning of the seasons. In warmer areas this time is more likely to be October. Those months are also ideal for moving young shrubs that you planted, and then had an, “Oh, oh!” moment when you realized that was not an ideal spot after all. But we get ahead of ourselves – this is about August, the end of the cycle, not the beginning of the new one.
Remember the plants when on Vacation
With the kids off school, August is usually holiday month, but before you pack the car and head out, see if you can arrange a watering-swap with a neighbor who is staying home. Unless you have fully-automatic irrigation, there are sure to be watering duties in this hottest of months. If you can, have a neighbor drop by every two or three days, especially to water containers, while you do the same when they are away. That way you won’t come home to a scene of desolation and dead flowers.
Speaking of watering, there are few places where August is not a time for watering, but if you live in many areas there are often fixed-hose bans in place – or even full watering bans. If you can arrange for the waste water from your washing machine to flow into a pipe, then that water can be used to soak trees and bushes. The same is true for baths and showers too – a bit of inventive plumbing can be the difference between ‘dead and thriving’.
An even better plan if you live in areas where water is at a premium, is to plan your garden around ‘water-wise’ principles. You can call it, ‘xeric’, ‘drought-tolerant’, or ‘Mediterranean’, the principles are the same – and very simple – with a few core ideas.
- Choose plants that are drought tolerant. We have made this easy for you, by making drought tolerance a key-note feature of every plant in our lists. Choose plants listed ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’ and you are off to a great start conserving water. There is an idea that this means native plants, but there are dry places everywhere, and, for example, plants from southern Europe are almost all very drought tolerant, such as Italian Cypress, or Olive and Fig
- Prepare the ground well by digging deeply and adding organic materials to lower levels. Many trees and shrubs are drought tolerant because they send down deep roots to find water reserves. Give them a hand by making sure the lower levels of your soil are broken up, and if you can add long-lasting organic material like coarse compost to it, all the better.
- Use mulches to slow down evaporation and cool the soil. Keeping water in the soil means slowing down its loss. Cool soil loses less water, so mulch acts as shade. It also creates a humid zone above the soil surface, so water moves out more slowly. You can use just about anything for mulch, but coarser materials that don’t hold a lot of water are best in low-rainfall areas, otherwise the rain you get just wets the mulch, and doesn’t pass through into the ground.
- Water-wise doesn’t mean no water, and a shift from sprinklers to drip-irrigation will reduce your water usage by up to 75% – a big reduction. The danger with drip-irrigation is not running it for long enough, so that only the upper layers get wet. Then the roots stay shallow, and they are more prone to drought damage.
Take Stock of Your Garden
Since this is the turning point of the year, it’s a great time to take stock. Take a stroll around your garden and see where you can make improvements. Maybe it’s just a few gaps that need filling, or maybe it’s time to overhaul an old bed. Fall is the perfect season for that kind of work, so do your planning now.
Place Your Orders
Once you have your plans, it’s fine to go ahead and order new trees and shrubs right away, while they are in stock. They can live happily in their containers until you plant them – just remember to water regularly. If they are going to sit for a while, undo all packaging and ties so that they can continue to grow, and put them in the right light conditions. A spot with some afternoon shade will make watering a bit easier. Pick up supplies, like composts, fertilizer and mulch, so that you are ready to plant as soon as the time is right.
Order spring bulbs
Nothing says ‘spring’ like daffodils, tulips, and other spring bulbs. For many – daffodils in particular – early planting is key to success. Suppliers have most of the stock in by now and ordering early means you will receive them with lots of time to plant. Spend a pleasant day or two in August ordering for September delivery. In most areas daffodils and many others will come back each year. Plant them beneath your deciduous shrubs for an early show and extend the flowering seasons in your garden.
August is often the time when your raspberry and blackberry bushes have finished blooming. You will see lots of new stems coming, which will carry next year’s crop. Now is the time to cut out all the old flowering canes and tie back the new ones, if you aren’t growing dwarf varieties. If you have wisteria vines, trimming back new, long stems will tidy them up, and also stimulate flower buds at the base of those shoots. Trim back to a few inches from the older stems. If you haven’t already pruned climbing and rambling roses, do it now, and organize the new stems for a great show next year.
Keep up your dead-heading too, or the garden will start to look tired before its time. Some hydrangeas will be over, and if you have repeat bloomers, they will be getting ready for a September display. Old, dying flower heads will just spoil the show, so trim them away, cutting back to the first fat buds on the stem – those will become next year’s flowers.
You can see that there is plenty to do in August – just choose the cool times of day, keep water handy, and avoid any heat-wave periods – gardening should be fun!
***If you want to check the availability of any of the plants mentioned here, go to our Home Page, click on the ‘Search’ button in the upper right, and type in your choice – both common names and botanical ones will work. If, sadly, you find the item sold out, click on the ‘notify me’ box beside the size you want, and you will get an email the moment that plant is available again – it’s easy.