What I really do in the garden in August

by Susan Harris
Again, this isn’t one of those looong lists of “chores” in the garden.  I’m a gardener of the low-maintenance school, and I always want to know: What do I really, really have to do this month, of the 50 possible things I could do?  The 50 things I probably would do if I were of the Martha Stewart of gardening, which, unfortunately, I’m not.

Watering

Experienced gardeners will see this as the no-brainer of the month but I have to say it:  In the absence of regular rain, it’s time for some summer triage.  That means choosing the plants that really could die without supplemental watering, and saving on water and labor by letting the lawn go dormant for a while.  (At least this is how I treated my lawn when I had one, and it always bounced back in September.)

I walk my garden at LEAST once a week and really look at the plants to see which ones are wilting and need help.  Also, I water trees and evergreen shrubs whether they’re wilting or not (they won’t) because they’re the most valuable plants in my garden, bar none!  Trees are particularly vulnerable to drought, and they require deep watering.  That means using a soaker hose or letting the regular hose drip for several hours, or until the soil is wet at least 6 inches deep.

My containers, of course, need watering daily unless there’s rain.

My least favorite weed of all - crabgrass!

Weeding

This is the other obvious garden chore for August, since weeds are pretty darn obvious this time of year.  Here’s how I weed.

  • I do about 30 minutes of weeding at a time, to keep my middle-aged backaches to a minimum.
  • In the summer I do my weeding first thing in the morning, finishing by 8 a.m. when it’s especially hot (July of 2010!!)
  • If I can’t devote lots of time to weeding, triage is helpful here, too.  At least remove the great jungle-makers of the weed word – VINES!  I also target weeds that are crowding out and possibly smothering the plants I actually like.
  • I try to never, ever remove weeds without having a container to put them in.  Low-maintenance gardening is smart gardening, and dumping weeds on the ground just means having to pick them up again.

Pruning

I’m removing dead, damaged or disease wood from trees and shrubs as I find them.   Same goes for suckers and water sprouts.  Otherwise, it’s a no-pruning month for me.

Sowing vegetable seeds

I’m sowing my fall crops – peas, and lettuce greens – in the empty spaces where my melons and cucumbers grew until just last week.  For the salad greens I’ll sow a few seeds every 10 days to two weeks and see how long I can keep the harvest coming.

Feeding?

No more feeding for my garden.  Not that I ever did much of it.  Only my vegetables, containers and roses received this kind of coddling (I’m of the tough-love school).   It IS feeding time for lawn, though – keep reading.

Lawns like this don't stay full and lush for long without added nitrogen.

Lawn Care (When I had a Lawn)

From mid-August through mid-September is the best time to start a new lawn or overseed a sparse one (and whose lawn isn’t?), so when I had a lawn, this is when I tried to improve it.

Now about fertilizing.  Lawns simply use up their stores of nitrogen every year and become unhealthy and spotty if the nitrogen isn’t replaced – at the rate of 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. So unless your lawn is thick and perfect, apply an organic, slow-release fertilizer between mid-August and mid-September.  (Look for the term WIN, which stands for water-insoluable nitrogen).  Read those instructions first, and follow them.  Compost is also a terrific source of nutrients for your lawn, and many organic gardeners simply apply a one-inch layer every fall to keep their lawns healthy and full.

If you applied the recommended amount of corn gluten last winter to prevent weeds, your lawn may already have enough nitrogen for the year.  Other ways to make sure your lawn gets the food it needs are grasscycling – leaving grass clippings from the mower where they fall – and including clover in your lawn.  Yes, clover’s a good thing!  It’s described as “self-fertilizing” because this wonderful little plant turns nitrogen in the soil into nitrogen the plants can use.  (And there’s a term for that -“fixing” nitrogen.)

New Plants

Here’s the part that’s optional for me because my garden’s pretty darn full by now – after 25 years in one spot.  But it’s been months since I bought any plants and the sales are on and I can’t stop myself.  But hey, they’re on sale.  (And if they’re not, I’m sure I really needed the plants, anyway.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

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