August Garden Tips

is the right time to prune hydrangeas?
It’s a great question, and the answer is simpler than you think.  If your hydrangeas bloomed in June and are pretty much finished now, prune immediately.  These plants are blooming on “old” wood — last year’s new branches.  Cut the stems that had blooms down close to the ground.  Leave others to continue to put food into the roots.  New branches will begin growing quickly and will set buds before winter (which is why they may not bloom at all if we have a very hard winter).

Hydrangeas that do not bloom until August or later are blooming on this year’s new wood.  Do not trim them back until late in the winter (March) because they will set their buds on the new wood next year—making them later, but more reliable bloomers after bad winters.

Oakleaf hydrangeas (our only native hydrangea) also blooms on old wood so cut them back as soon as blooming is finished, for most of us that is soon.

Finally, if you have “endless” blooming hydrangeas, deadhead throughout the summer, cutting the stem just a couple of inches below the spent flower   For maximum flowers, do not prune the stems back to the ground until has been growing in your garden for two or three years.  At that time, the plant will benefit from new wood.

Despite July’s generous rains, watering may be needed in containers where limited room and exposure to heat and sun from all sides mean they dry out quickly.  Check containers by wiggling your finger down in until you reach the second knuckle looking for wet soil.  If it is dry, water until it comes out of the bottom of the container.  And never leave pots sitting in water-filled saucers as this can lead to root rot.

Trim back leggy growth on annuals or any tired looking plants.  Then give the plant a light feeding of liquid fertilizer to have fresh blooms later in the month. 

In the vegetable garden some of the thirstier varieties and newly sown fall crops may also need water.  Some vegetables such as squash and peppers may stop producing new fruit if the plant is allowed to dry out. 

Tomatoes hate dry spells, but remember that too much water will lead to “cat cracking” in ripening fruit.  Once the tomato starts to color, it can no longer grow larger and the skin breaks open.  The damage is only cosmetic and the fruit is completely edible. 

Keep harvesting regularly.  If you’ll be away, invite a friend to help herself.  Many plants stop producing if the fruit matures and begins to set seed.  If you have excess produce at any time, contact your local food cupboard to find their out their distribution days so you can share your bounty.

Plant seeds for a fall harvest early this month.  As you remove vegetables that have finished producing, use the space to sow beets, radishes, turnips, chard, spinach, arugula, lettuce and even peas in their place.  A single layer of floating row cloth over the new plantings will provide shade which is welcome on the hot days of August.  Always keep seedlings well watered; they have very shallow roots.

It’s the time to buy spring bulbs while supplies at their best.  Check out catalogs from established producers such as Scheepers and Brent & Becky’s for high quality and great selection.  If you wait until it’s time to plant, you will find a much reduced supply and many fewer varieties.

Shopping for plants in August can be frustrating.   Their price is often tempting as nurseries and garden centers seek to pare their stock before autumn, but choices are usually limited.  Take in the sales, but be cautious.  Carefully examine plants before buying to eliminate any that have suffered from their prolonged stay in the nursery pot.

July’s rains – more than four inches total over 17 days – were a gift for gardeners.  Unfortunately, they were also a blessing for the grubs in your lawn.  When the soil dries out and stays dried out for lengthy periods (as happened last year) grubs often die from lack of moisture. This year grubs are likely to be back.  But before you begin treating your lawn with one of the chemicals sold for that purpose, be aware of what you are doing.  Products that actually kill grubs are dangerous to you, your family, pets and every other living thing that walks across your lawn.  Lawns can be reseeded and fertilized in the fall repairing any damage without danger to anyone.

Strawberry plants will have sent out many runners (baby plants on a leash) by now.  There are two ways to turn them into bearing plants next year.  One, fill small pots with a mixture of sand and soil and put them down near the mother plant.  Lift any plantlets, and using unbent paperclips, hold them in place in the pot.  After the new plant has developed roots (try a gentle tug), cut it connection to its mother.  Plant them in their new home by the of the month to give it time ready itself for winter.

If you don’t insist of a neat bed, allow the new plantlets to root themselves wherever there is room in your garden and watch your harvest multiply next year.