August gardening chores can be a mixed bag. For many gardeners, the month of August begins the downhill slide into offseason. Warm climate gardeners have a second chance, but some don't have a second wind after summer's heat. By all means, take some time to simply enjoy your garden and all the hard work you've put into it. But August weather is often milder than we expect and it's a great time to perk things up in the garden, after July's extremes.
Your garden plants are hardier than you think and there are plenty of gardening tasks for August that will keep your flower and vegetable gardens going longer, as well as opportunities to get a head start on next year's garden plans.
Garden To-Do List for the Sultry Month of August
- Seed a fall crop of peas and spinach and keep harvesting. Many flowers and vegetables will revive and continue producing if you regularly harvest the vegetables while they are young and tender and deadhead spent flowers.
- Pick herbs for fresh use and for drying. Most herbs have a more concentrated flavor if they are not allowed to flower and frequent harvesting will accomplish that. Harvesting will encourage them to send out fresh, new growth and keep them growing longer.
- Order spring bulbs for planting and forcing. You won't be able to plant them until later in the fall, but you will get the best selection if you order early.
- Check that your mulch hasn't decomposed and add more as needed. While organic mulches are meant to continue decomposing on your garden beds and help feed the soil, you do not want to leave your soil uncovered at the end of the season. Bare soil is an invitation for weed seeds.
- Spread a mid-season layer of compost or manure. Your plants will appreciate the extra boost to get them through the final growing months and your soil will need some amendments, too
- Leave some annual seeds to self-sow. Many annual flowers, like cosmos, nigella, and cleome, will seed themselves throughout your garden. You'll be delighted next season with an abundant, natural scattering of flowers. Don't worry, any that seed in unwanted places will be easy to pull out early in the season.
- Start saving seeds and taking cuttings. Focus on your top performers and sentimental favorites, so you will have them to grow again next year.
- Remove any diseased foliage now, so it doesn't get lost in the fall leaves. Dispose of diseased plants in the garbage or burn them. Don't put them in the compost pile unless you are absolutely sure it will get hot enough to kill any lingering spores.
- Cut back the foliage of early bloomers like Brunnera and hardy geraniums, to revitalize the plants. They are probably looking a bit tired and removing the older leaves will encourage fresh new growth.
- Prune summer flowering shrubs as the flowers fade. This will help put the energy back into the leaves and roots of the plant, rather than into setting seed.
- Trim and feed handing baskets to prolong their beauty. Sometimes we take hanging baskets for granted since they tend to be planted with profuse bloomers. However, they will need some TLC after working so hard setting flowers all summer.
- Take pictures of your garden at peak. Take pictures of container combinations you'd like to repeat. This will give you reminders next season of what worked and which areas of your garden need some tweaking.
- Make sure the cold frame is ready to go. Whether you plan to overwinter some tender plants in it or you won't need it until the early spring, you will want it set up and in place before the ground is suddenly covered in snow.
- Begin dividing perennials. Start with the bearded iris. You will want to get your perennial divisions in the ground at least a couple of months before the ground freezes, so they will have time to set down roots.
- Pot up perennial divisions for spring plant swaps. Sink the pots into the ground this fall and they'll be one less chore in the spring. (An empty spot in the vegetable garden is perfect for this. By the time you're ready to plant vegetables next spring, it will be time to lift the pots.)
- Plant trees, shrubs, and perennials now, so they can take root. Keep them well watered, until the ground freezes, since they have a limited root system.
- Get your fall-blooming crocus and colchicum planted so they'll bloom on time. They bloom in the fall, but they need to be in the ground several weeks earlier.
More for Zones 1 - 3
- Start moving houseplants back indoors, so they get used to limited sun exposure and humidity. Do this while the windows are still open, to ease the transition. Maybe bring some outdoor plants inside, to overwinter, too.
More for Zone 8 and Above
Lucky you, your second gardening season is just beginning. Take some time to clean things up, getting rid of tired foliage and diseased leaves, then dig in and get planting.
- Begin planting for the fall/winter vegetable garden. This is your peak season and a much more pleasant time to be in the garden than sweltering summer.
- Plant a spring crop of garlic. Milder climates can plant soft-neck garlic, which is good for storing
- Get the rose garden in shape for fall planting. Do some deadheading and pruning to shape plants and remove any tired foliage.
- Order spring flowering bulbs for pre-chilling. If you live in an area that does not freeze in the winter, many bulbs will need a few months of artificial chilling, before they will bloom.
- Feed citrus trees after harvesting. They will need extra fertilizer to recover.