What to Do in the Garden in August

 

Indeterminate tomatoes will keep growing and fruiting even after temperatures fall!

Indeterminate tomatoes will keep growing and fruiting even after temperatures fall!

August is a month of transition in many northern climates, whereas in southern and western climates, it is often the peak of the summer. But wherever you live, there are some key garden activities that make August a great month for your outdoor and indoor plants!

If you live in zones 3 to 5

To Do in the Vegetable Garden . . .

Continue to harvest all vegetables still producing: squash, tomatoes, peppers, etc.

Seed tapes are available for cool-season crops from carrots and beets to radishes and lettuce.

Seed tapes are available for cool-season crops from carrots and beets to radishes and lettuce.

Many vegetable plants are stimulated to bear new buds when fruit is picked, so keep your late-season veggies harvested promptly, and continue to water and feed them until the weather turns cold and the plants stop producing.

Direct-sow lettuce and root vegetables such as carrots, radishes, beets, and turnips.

It’s time to sow cool-season crops! Lettuces of all types are ideal for sunny to partly shaded garden beds and containers, while root vegetables thrive in the cooler weather of fall. If you haven’t tried seed tapes yet, now is a great time to experiment with these easy-sow, easy-grow biodegradable tissue strips.

If there are still 12 weeks before the first anticipated fall frost, start seeds of cabbage, kohlrabi, mustard, cauliflower, and broccoli indoors.

Zone 5 gardeners may still have time to sow Brassica (Cabbage) family seeds in the Bio Dome for transplant. The seedlings need a few weeks of outdoor growth in warm weather, so if you have less than about 3 months before first frost, follow the steps below instead:

If there are 8 to 11 weeks before the first anticipated fall frost, try direct-sowing speedy varieties of fall veggies outdoors.

Ready in less time than others, Candid Charm is a quick fall crop that doesn't mind a hint of frost.

Ready in less time than others, Candid Charm is a quick fall crop that doesn’t mind a hint of frost.

By skipping the transplant stage, you can get a quicker crop of fall veggies. Remember that fewer seeds will germinate and grow outdoors compared to indoors in the Bio Dome, so sow extra seeds and plan to thin the seedlings. Choose quick-maturing crops such as Cabbage Katarina, Kohlrabi Express Forcer, Mustard Savanna, Chinese Cabbage Kaboko, Cauliflower Candid Charm, and Broccoli Castle Dome.

As the vegetable garden empties, sow cover crop seeds to improve the soil and keep pollinators in the garden.

First, chop up and till back into the soil any legume (bean and pea) plants. Legumes are nitrogen fixers, and they are among the very best soil builders in the garden! Add some Nature’s Aid to hasten the process, and you will have better soil by next spring.

Nature's Aid helps legumes fix nitrogen in the soil, improving fertility for all plants.

Nature’s Aid helps legumes fix nitrogen in the soil, improving fertility for all plants.

Prune roses to remove any broken canes and diseased foliage. Then clear the debris away from the plant and mulch well for winter.

Prune roses to remove any broken canes and diseased foliage. Then clear the debris away from the plant and mulch well for winter.

Next, plant a cover crop of seeds to be tilled back into the soil in late fall. Even if you only have a few weeks of growing time left in the season, it’s worth growing the beneficial grains and grasses in Park’s Organic Cover Crop Seed Mix, for instance. Growing a vegetable garden takes nutrients from the soil, and you can replace many of them naturally with these plants.

To Do in the Flower Garden . . .

Prune roses to remove any dead or diseased canes and foliage.

Now is the time to put the roses to bed for winter. Look carefully and remove any canes that are snapped or bare (no longer producing leaves). Then look at the foliage on your roses, and remove any stems with leaves showing blackspot or other foliar diseases.

When you prune your roses, don’t put the prunings into the compost heap; throw them away!

If you live on the northern edge of the hardiness range for any of your roses, mulch them in heavily for winter.

Save seeds of any open-pollinated annuals and perennials.

There are two ways to get new seedlings from old plants: either to let them self-sow in the garden (see below) or to collect the seed yourself. Self-sowing is effortless, and may be just what you want for plants that you want to fill in a big empty area, or in a meadow setting where a happy disorder reigns. But if you want to sow the seeds in specific areas, or if you want to share seeds with other gardeners, you should collect them yourself before they fall. Here’s how to do it:

Beautiful Evening Primrose will come true from seed every time!

Beautiful Evening Primrose will come true from seed every time!

First, choose open-pollinated varieties. Hybrids may “come true from seed” (meaning that the seeds will grow plants that look like their parents), but they probably will not. So look for varieties that just have a species name, not a cultivar name as well. For instance, Echinacea paradoxa is just the native yellow Coneflower, so its seeds will bear plants that look just like them. Echinacea purpurea Powwow Wild Berry, on the other hand, is a cultivar. Many, many plant crosses were made to breed the seeds that produce these flowers, and chances are the seeds it produces will not look like PowWow Wild Berry, so it’s best to leave those seeds for the birds and buy another packet of seeds when you want more plants!

Butterfly Weed brings pollinators into the garden and grows readily from saved seed!

Butterfly Weed brings pollinators into the garden and grows readily from saved seed!

Here are some good open-pollinated flower varieties to harvest seeds from:

Echinacea paradoxa

Evening Primrose

Joe-Pye Weed

Poached-Egg Plant

Dahlberg Daisy

Prairie Sunflower

Butterfly Weed

To harvest the seed, simply tie a paper bag over the entire flower, securing it around the stem with a string or rubber band. Leave it in place for a week or two, testing it every few days by giving the bag a slight shake. When the seeds have dropped, you will hear them rattle, and you can remove the bag and store or sow the seeds. That’s all there is to it!

Leave spent blooms and seedpods on any variety you want to self-sow in the garden.

This is the quickest and easiest way to grow new plants from old! You may see seeds sprouting in fall, but chances are they will not appear until spring. If you want them all to grow around the parent plant, lay down a mulch after the flowers pass and try to leave the area undisturbed.

Snapdragon is a lovely cool-season flower, and as a relative of the bean, it's a good soil builder, too!

Snapdragon is a lovely cool-season flower, and as a relative of the bean, it’s a good soil builder, too!

In Zone 5, sow seeds of cool-season annuals and ornamentals.

It’s the perfect time to sow seeds of Pansies, Snapdragons, and ornamental mustard, cabbage, and kale indoors, in the Bio Dome, for transplant outdoors in fall.

To Do in the Herb Garden . . .

Harvest herbs for drying and grinding into spices.

Most herbs are intolerant of even light frost, so harvest them now, before an unexpected cold snap nips them back. For annual herbs, cut the entire plant, then remove the leaves for freezing, chopping, or drying. For perennial varieties, cut the plants back (see below), harvesting only the foliage you cut.

Cut back perennial herbs to overwinter in the garden.

Shear lavender back fearlessly for even bushier growth next spring!

Shear lavender back fearlessly for even bushier growth next spring!

Perennial herbs such as lavender, sage, rosemary, oregano, and thyme will be back for another fragrant, delicious performance next year, so simply trim them down to overwinter (or die back) in the garden.

To Do in the Indoor Garden . . .

Order countertop mushroom kits.

Keep the fresh vegetables coming all winter long with these super-easy kits. You can grow mushrooms in the kitchen, in the office, or any other indoor location. It’s so nice to have fresh additions to salads and entrees during the fall and winter. Our mushroom kits always sell out quickly, so order today for fall delivery.

Who can say goodbye to blooms like these? Root cuttings and enjoy Maverick all winter indoors!

Who can say goodbye to blooms like these? Root cuttings and enjoy Maverick all winter indoors!

Root cuttings of annual Geraniums and Begonias.

You don’t have to say goodbye to your favorite annuals! Some types, such as geraniums (Pelargonium) and begonias, are super-easy to root and grow indoors during fall and winter, then either transplant in spring or continue to enjoy as houseplants. Here’s how to do it:

Prepare pots or a tray with moistened perlite or, in a pinch, ordinary potting soil. Then take cuttings of your plants, neatly cutting a stem with at least 3 sets of leaves along it. Remove the bottom leaves and sink the cut end of the stem into the perlite or potting soil.

Place the pots of cuttings in a warm, dry area away from direct sunlight and mist the leaves frequently for about two weeks, until the cuttings take root. Then move the new plants to a sunny indoor spot and water and feed as you would any houseplant, turning the pots every week or so to expose all sides of the plants to the light, and pinching the center of the growing stems to produce better branching.

Cut and dry flowers, foliage, and seedpods for everlastings.

For dried arrangements lasting for months, rely on Paper Daisies!

For dried arrangements lasting for months, rely on Paper Daisies!

Many flowers make excellent dried cuttings in indoor arrangements, and a few are grown primarily for that purpose! Early one morning, harvest long stems of newly-opened blooms of Paper Daisies, Gomphrena, Statice, Bells-of-Ireland, Rudbeckia, Florist’s Poppy, Cockscomb, Eucalyptus, Hydrangea, and Lavender from your garden.

When you get the stems indoors, group them together in small bunches, tie the base of the stems with a rubber band, and hang them upside down from a clothes hanger or other support in a warm, dark, dry area of the house. (Closets and pantries work well!) Hanging upside down will cause the flower color to remain in the petals while the stems dry.

When the stems feel light and brittle, untie them and use the everlastings in dry vases, keeping them out of direct sunlight or bright light if possible.

Sow seeds indoors of kitchen herbs for winter.

Basil Minette is a small-leaved variety that grows beautifully in a kitchen pot!

Basil Minette is a small-leaved variety that grows beautifully in a kitchen pot!

The Bio Dome is ideal for sowing your kitchen herb garden! Now is a good time to get started on your indoor winter crop of dwarf basil (Minette and Dolce Fresca are good choices), Tabby Cat Grass, chives, Stevia, sage, and more.

To Do in the Whole Garden . . .

Reduce regular watering of trees, shrubs, roses, and perennials to prepare for winter.

As the weather cools, your permanent landscape plants need less water. Prepare them for winter dormancy by gradually reducing irrigation.

Place Easy Tunnels or row covers over any plants needing frost protection.

It just takes a few minutes to set up an Easy Tunnel over sun-stressed plants.

It just takes a few minutes to set up an Easy Tunnel over sun-stressed plants.

Most plants can survive a light frost, but an unexpected cold snap could trigger the end of your vegetable, herb, or flowering crop. Protect vulnerable plants ahead of time by having Easy Tunnels or other weatherproof supplies ready to go.

Mulch tender plants.

All of us have a few plants that we have “pushed” a little out of their hardiness range (that’s part of the fun of gardening!). For these, as well as for other plants that cannot withstand the most severe winter weather, a good deep mulch is a great first step toward keeping their roots protected no matter what happens aboveground!

Dig holes and prepare planting sites for any bulbs and plants to be received in fall.

It is so much easier to dig holes in the warm August soil than the semi-frozen earth of October! Plan and dig your new garden now, mulching or placing tarps over the open holes until your bulbs and plants arrive in fall.

If you live in zones 6 to 8

To Do in the Vegetable Garden . . .

In zone 6, direct-sow lettuce for fall crops.

Ready in no time, lettuce can be sown every week from late summer to mid-fall!

Ready in no time, lettuce can be sown every week from late summer to mid-fall!

This quick-to-finish crop is just perfect for the cooler days of fall. If you don’t have any of those yet, start the seeds indoors in your Bio Dome. You can always transplant the seedlings or just grow them on in pots!

In zone 8, start Brassica family seeds indoors

Now is the time to get those seeds of Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, and Mustard growing in your Bio Dome. The trick is to transplant them while the weather is still warm. They need warmth to start with, and then they will continue to mature in the cool fall weather.

In zones 6-7, direct-sow Brassica seeds outdoors.

No telling how soon the weather

Mustard finishes fast, and you can pick it leaf-by-leaf or wait and harvest the whole plant!

Mustard finishes fast, and you can pick it leaf-by-leaf or wait and harvest the whole plant!

will turn chilly for good, so skip the indoor sowing and plant your Cabbage family seeds directly into the warm late-summer soil. Just for good measure, choose quick-maturing and frost-tolerant varieties such as Cabbage Katarina, Broccoli Castle Dome, Cauliflower Candid Charm, Mustard Savanna, Kohlrabi Express Forcer.

As vegetables harvest and garden soil becomes available, sow cover crops.

Growing vegetable crops really depletes nutrients from the soil, so make fall your soil-building season. First, chop up and till any plants of beans, peas, and other legumes right back into the soil, adding some Nature’s Aid to speed the nitrogen fixing process. Second, sow a cover crop mix such as Park’s Organic Cover Crop Seed Mix. Let it grow until frost, then chop up and plow under the plants. Your spring garden will be all the richer for it!

In zone 8, direct-sow quick-finishing cucumber, squash, and beans for fall crops.

Do you have time for another crop of Provider beans? Ready in 50 days, it's super-fast . . . and so good for the garden soil!

Do you have time for another crop of Provider beans? Ready in 50 days, it’s super-fast . . . and so good for the garden soil!

Believe it or not, in the extended heat of your climate, you can squeeze in an entire second crop of these veggies! Choose quick-finishing pattypan and crookneck summer squash, baby cukes, and both pole and bush bean varieties. The good news about the beans is even if an early frost cuts short the crop, you can use the plants to build the soil! (see above)

Order garlic for fall planting.

Garlic can sell out fast, so order now for fall delivery. This perennial will last for years, and it makes a great natural pest repellent in the garden as well as a delicious seasoning!

To Do in the Flower Garden . . .

Sow seeds indoors of cool-season flowers and ornamentals for transplant in fall.

Got an empty hanging basket left over from summer? Fill it with cool-season pansies!

Got an empty hanging basket left over from summer? Fill it with cool-season pansies!

Keep these beautiful blooms coming by dividing Tall Bearded Iris every 3 to 5 years.

Keep these beautiful blooms coming by dividing Tall Bearded Iris every 3 to 5 years.

Dust off the Bio Dome and fill the sponges with seeds of pansies, snapdragons, and ornamental mustard, cabbage, and kale for transplant outdoors in fall.

Harvest flowers and, for varieties that bloom into fall, cut the plant back to encourage new bud formation.

Especially in warmer climates, an entire second season of blooms may be waiting for you if you ruthlessly cut back your fading summer bloomers now! Many plants are stimulated to set new buds when old stems are cut, and if the warm weather holds, you might enjoy armfuls of fresh flowers well into September!

Divide any Bearded Irises and Daylilies that have not flowered as well this season or that have not been divided for 5 or more years.

The old gardening adage is that Iris and Daylily should be divided between Memorial Day and Labor Day (presumably while you are wearing your white shoes!). It’s just a rule of thumb, but it means that you should divide these perennials when the weather is still warm, so the newly cut plants have a chance to recover before winter dormancy.

How can you tell when your plants need dividing? If they are not flowering as well as they did last year and you haven’t divided them for at least 4 years, it’s probably time. They won’t die if you don’t, but their flowering will continue to diminish.

Fragrant Stocks are just waiting to pop up in spring from a fall sowing!

Fragrant Stocks are just waiting to pop up in spring from a fall sowing!

In zone 6, direct-sow perennial seeds for spring.

Have you tried direct-sowing perennials in fall? Many need a period of winter cold (vernalization) to germinate. Give it a try this season by setting aside a small place in your border. Sow the seeds, then mulch them in and/or cover them with row covers or Easy Tunnels until winter sets in, to keep the seeds from washing out or being eaten by birds. (But count on many not surviving — sow thickly and know that you can always thin them in spring if you get a bumper crop of seedlings!)

Good candidates for fall sowing include poppy (California and Oriental), bachelor’s button (and other Centaurea varieties), Dianthus, Verbascum, Sweet Pea, Pot Marigold, Stocks, Lupine, and Primrose.

To Do in the Herb Garden . . .

Continue to harvest herbs for fresh and dried use.

Long-lived rosemary loves a good trim at the end of summer!

Long-lived rosemary loves a good trim at the end of summer!

Pinch off any flowers as soon as the buds appear, to maintain the rich flavor of the leaves. And if your herbs are looking rather long-stemmed and leggy, consider cutting most of the stem instead of just the few leaves you may need. This will stimulate better branching. If the weather holds, you may have many weeks of new growth ahead!

Direct-sow seeds for fall harvest.

Quick-maturing annual herbs such as cilantro and dill can be sown outdoors now and harvested before first killing frost. If they flower, let them go — pollinators really appreciate all sources of late-season nectar, and you will attract beneficials into your garden with the blooms.

Mushrooms are easy and quick to grow indoors, and make a nice way to keep fresh produce on the table all fall!

Mushrooms are easy and quick to grow indoors, and make a nice way to keep fresh produce on the table all fall!

To Do in the Indoor Garden . . .

Order mushroom kits.

Our countertop mushroom kits are very popular. Plan ahead for Thanksgiving and other fall/winter feasts by growing some spores in the kitchen or even the office! It’s easy and fun, and you get to toss the growing medium onto the compost pile when you’re done.

Stop watering potted Amaryllis.

If you are growing Amaryllis indoors or outside, is time to stop watering and place the pot in a dark, dry place such as a closet. This will trigger its dormancy, which you should break in 6 to 8 weeks or so. Then you can repot the bulb (or freshen the potting soil in the same pot) and begin feeding and watering for holiday blooms.

Take cuttings of annuals for winter houseplants and/or spring transplants.

The Whopper Bio Dome has sponges big enough to hold and root the cuttings of Geraniums and Begonias!

The Whopper Bio Dome has sponges big enough to hold and root the cuttings of Geraniums and Begonias!

Annual geraniums (Pelargonium) and begonias are two of the easiest plants to root. Here’s how to do it:

Prepare pots or a tray with moistened perlite or, in a pinch, ordinary potting soil. Then take cuttings of your plants, neatly cutting a stem with at least 3 sets of leaves along it. Remove the bottom leaves and sink the cut end of the stem into the perlite or potting soil.

Place the pots of cuttings in a warm, dry area away from direct sunlight and mist the leaves frequently for about two weeks, until the cuttings take root. Then move the new plants to a sunny indoor spot and water and feed as you would any houseplant, turning the pots every week or so to expose all sides of the plants to the light, and pinching the center of the growing stems to produce better branching.

Cut and dry flowers, foliage, and seedpods for everlastings.

Many flowers make excellent dried cuttings in indoor arrangements, and a few are grown primarily for that purpose! Early one morning, harvest long stems of newly-opened blooms of Paper Daisies, Gomphrena, Statice, Bells-of-Ireland, Rudbeckia, Florist’s Poppy, Cockscomb, Eucalyptus, Hydrangea, and Lavender from your garden.

Who can say goodbye to blooms like these? Root cuttings and enjoy Maverick all winter indoors!

Who can say goodbye to blooms like these? Root cuttings and enjoy Maverick all winter indoors!

When you get the stems indoors, group them together in small bunches, tie the base of the stems with a rubber band, and hang them upside down from a clothes hanger or other support in a warm, dark, dry area of the house. (Closets and pantries work well!) Hanging upside down will cause the flower color to remain in the petals while the stems dry.

When the stems feel light and brittle, untie them and use the everlastings in dry vases, keeping them out of direct sunlight or bright light if possible.

To Do in the Whole Garden . . .

Add compost to any area of the garden where plants have finished for the season.

As soon as you begin to clear out the vegetable patch and annual beds, work compost into the soil to prepare for your cool-season plantings.

When beans finish harvesting, chop up the plants and till them back into the soil.

There is no better soil builder than these nitrogen fixers. And don’t forget the Nature’s Aid to hasten the process along!

Direct-sow seeds of cover crops in any area of the garden that needs soil improvement.

If you have an area of the garden not targeted for a cool-season planting, don’t just mulch it — build soil fertility and feed the pollinators with a healthy mix of grains and grasses. Park’s Organic Cover Crop Seed Mix is a great fall crop to chop up and plow under after first frost. Next year’s garden will be all the better for it.

As temperatures peak, increase watering and identify any plants that may need temporary shade.

The best way to do this is to walk the garden at about 3:00 pm on a sweltering August day. You will see wilted foliage and thirsty stems. Move any container plants you can to shadier spots, and increase watering as much as possible. For permanent plants, provide temporary relief from the August sun using tarps, Easy Tunnels, landscape fabric strung between tomato cages, etc.

About Sappho Charney

Sappho Charney is a garden writer living in Lubbock, Texas.

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