Your End-of-Summer Garden To-Do List

A garden harvest

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Though you may only enjoy its bounty a few times a year, gardening is actually a year-round hobby, with almost every month providing a new opportunity to tend the garden and foster its success. And August, one of the hottest months in North America, is no exception. While some gardeners long for fall around this time, others are relishing in the bounty both a vegetable and flower garden can provide. Keeping up with your garden maintenance during the hottest month of the year will assure both the health of your garden in spring and a shorter maintenance list for fall.

Weed and Deadhead

Novice and pro gardeners know—weeds are most prolific in August. As summer sets in, weed seeds become well-established, able to flourish in conditions less suited for vegetables and flowers. Staying on top of your weeding—this month especially—will deter new weeds from seeding themselves, ultimately allowing fewer of them to propagate next year. Keep on track, and in a few years, the dreaded task of weeding will become noticeably more manageable.

It's important to be consistent with your deadheading as well. Doing so will help to keep perennial gardens and annual pots looking their best. To deadhead your plants, pick off old, spent flowers (easily done by hand) to allow for healthy new growth and buds to form. Keeping on top of this task forces ever-bearing plants to channel their energy into producing new buds and flowers, and can keep unruly plants from seeding and out-competing other varietals in your garden.

Harvest and Clear Space

Harvest time is certainly the most rewarding season for vegetable growers, thanks to the surplus of goodness coming from the soil (think: tomatoes and squashes, as well as harvest-ripened vegetables like cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, and cabbages). As you pick your aboveground plants, more vegetable flowers will form to be pollinated, and thinning your root vegetables allows those beside them to grow bigger, while also allowing you to get a jump on your food storage practices.

August can turn any landscape (edible or not) into a mess of falling, brown plants trying for one last round of blossoms. Removing their dying portions as the month progresses will create less garden cleanup work later in fall. And who knows, if cool temps set in early, the healthy green plants may yield one more bonus round of flowers. If your clearing efforts go overboard and whole plants need to be removed, make sure to fill in any empty spaces left behind. Use mulch, layer gardening techniques, cover crops, or even fall plantings—just don’t leave the ground bare, which can act as an invitation to both weeds and pests.

Save What You Can

Ensure you utilize every last bit of your bounty by taking the time now to save what you can from your garden. Capitalize on successful plants by saving their seeds to sow next season, pick any large batches of vegetables or fruits to create things like jams and canned goods, and harvest any herbs you can then dry out to use in cooking throughout the rest of the year.

Plant for Fall

If you live in a zone suitable to fall gardening, now is the time to get things going. As the days get cooler, kale, lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, and spinach will proliferate and complete their harvest before the snow hits. Starting in late August, sow seeds directly into the ground, covering them, and keeping them soaked to encourage sprouting. If you live in a hardier zone that stays warmer longer, you can also add beets, radishes, broccoli, and cabbage to the list of fall vegetables to grow. Even if you can’t get more vegetables in the ground (or don't plan on having a fall harvest in general), consider planting a cover crop to keep the soil loose, prevent weed build-up, and restore depleted nutrients to the ground.

Prepare Mulch and Compost

If you haven’t created one already, a DIY compost pile is a simple weekend effort that will yield excellent returns. Add organic materials like rotted vegetables, plant scraps, and leaves to create a mulch pile that can eventually be used as compost at a later date. By the time the last of the harvest is gone from your garden, your compost and mulch will be ready to spread, enhancing the growing spaces for next year's bounty.

Maintain Shrubs and Trees

If you have shrubs, trees, or other perennials in your yard or garden, now is the time for a little TLC. Don’t plan on deadheading or fertilizing anything that won’t make it through the cold months ahead—now is not the time to encourage new growth. Instead, once the blooms are through, prune them back as needed. For shrubs and trees that are still going strong, provide plenty of frequent deep waterings, especially in hot climates. August's sun will evaporate any light watering efforts, leaving little benefit to the plant.