The peak month of summer is also the pivotal month in the gardening year. Although a tradition has developed that puts spring as the time to get your garden going, a far better time is fall. Warm ground, the return of rain, and time for new plants to establish themselves so they can make an energetic push in spring – all these factors mean that fall is the time for real action. With that season just around the corner, August is the time to think ahead.
While the heat and humidity of August may not exactly inspire us to get out and start digging, sitting in the shade with a cold beer is an ideal time to start planning. Time to take stock of the spring and summer seasons coming to an end, and to see how they can be improved when they roll round again next year.
Looking back, how was your garden this year? Was there a steady flow of color and interest, with early flowering bushes and trees neatly followed by others, so that there was always something interesting to see? If not, that should be your primary goal. Where your memory is fresh, make a list of all the things that bloomed, when, and roughly for how long. Doing this on a calendar is perfect, since you can see the gaps immediately.
Depending on your level of plant knowledge, you might be able to think of plants that would fill them, but more likely you will need to do some research or ask neighbors. A good way to improve your own garden is to see what is going on in other ones. Maybe it is a bit late now, but in future, when you see something interesting that you think would work for you, stop and ask what it is, and make a note. Gardeners are a friendly bunch, and most people will tell you (if, of course, they haven’t forgotten!)
Now you can make a shopping list, and you can do some thoughtful buying that will really improve your garden.
Think Foliage and Long Flowering Seasons
A big bonus of recent years has been the arrival of many plants with colored leaves. Gold, purple and red has been added to the different tones of green, plus there are many blue and silvery evergreens available as well. Foliage is around for months, while flowers generally come for at most a few weeks, so it’s a way to add lots of color. For early spring there are lots of deciduous plants with bright and colorful new leaves, and increasingly they hold that color all summer long. Evergreens of course really come into their own in winter, so don’t forget to include them on your shopping list. You can get a lot of color-mileage out of foliage, so put it at the top of the list.
There have also been developments in breeding that have extended the flowering season of many important shrubs. Encore Azaleas and Knockout Roses immediately come to mind, and there are hydrangeas too that now bloom on old stems and then again on new ones, at least in warmer areas. These keep color coming too.
This is the time when nurseries have bargains, so armed with your ideas for when you want plants, you can make some significant savings. This doesn’t mean you have to plant them now – in fact it is probably better not to. Planting into dusty dry earth is not a very welcome arrival for your new plants, and it can set them back. No, instead put them into a spot with some afternoon shade, and water every two or three days, depending on the weather. Then, when things cool down, and after some fall rain, you will be able to get right out and plant where you have – of course – already marked the spots for them. You did also take some careful measurements and consideration, so that there will be room for them when they mature – of course you will. . .
Don’t Forget to Water
If you don’t have water restrictions in place, August is often the driest month, so watering, particularly plants you put out in spring, or ones that need more water (hydrangeas for example) will always need some help in August. It can be fun to stand with a spraying hose on a hot day, but it certainly isn’t the best way to water. Much of the water evaporates before reaching the ground, and it flattens the soil surface too, making it harder for water to penetrate.
Instead, use a slow-running hose, preferably with a diffuser on the end (this can be as simple as a cloth bag tied around the end of the pipe) and lay it beside the plant(s) you want to water. Let it run for maybe half-an-hour, depending on how big it is and your soil, so that the whole area is well-soaked. Not only do you save water, but you water deeply with this approach, so you won’t need to be doing it so often. Even among your flowers, a winding trickle hose will save water and do a much better job than watering from above.
Don’t be fooled by a thunderstorm. The heavy rain over a short time will mostly run off the surface and into drainage, not penetrate the soil. If you don’t believe it, go out an hour or two later and scrape back the soil. You will be surprised to see how dry it still is underneath, particularly if the storm has been brief. It will certainly revive your lawn, but beyond that you should still water shrubs and trees.
Be Careful what you Trim
Speaking of lawns, it is usually best to give your mower a rest this month. Unless there is a lot of rain and your lawn gets very long, mowing is the ideal way to kill a dry lawn – which is probably not your goal. Cutting the leaves means they lose water faster, and if the soil is dry this can begin to kill the crowns and roots, so whole parts of the lawn die. Much better to leave it alone, even if it does grow a bit and begin to look a little untidy. If you must mow, water well straight afterwards.
The same goes for hedges and trimmed bushes. Trimming can seriously weaken them at this time, so if they are looking untidy, that is just a message to trim earlier next year, not a demand for attention right now. Like the lawn, wait until there is some substantial rain, and then trim in early fall, so that there is enough time for new growth to make it look good, and harden off enough before the real cold weather arrives.