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 to your land and foster its success.

That means August, one of the hottest months of the year in North America, is no time to sit back and relax. 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 maintenance during this time will assure both the health of your garden in spring and a shorter maintenance list for fall.

Weed and Deadhead

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

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

Harvest and Clear Space

Harvest is certainly the most rewarding occasion for vegetable growers, thanks to the surplus of goodness coming from your garden (think: tomatoes and squashes, as well as harvest-ripened vegetables like cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, and cabbages). As you pick your above-ground plants, more vegetable flowers will form to be pollinated, and thinning your root vegetables allows those beside them to grow bigger, while also helping you 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. By removing their dying portions as the month progresses, you'll create less garden cleanup work later in the fall. And who knows—if cool temperatures set in early, your 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. You can do so using 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, and pick any large batches of vegetables or fruits to create things like jams and canned goods. You can also harvest any leftover herbs to then dry out and use in your 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, crops like kale, lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, and spinach will proliferate and complete their harvest before the snow hits. Beginning late August, sow any fall seeds directly into the ground, covering them with soil 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 your 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 already created one, a DIY compost pile is a simple weekend effort that will yield excellent returns. Add together 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 fall harvest is gone from your garden, your compost and mulch will be ready to spread, enhancing the growing spaces ahead of next year's bounty.

Maintain Shrubs and Trees

If you have any shrubs, trees, or other perennials in your garden or landscape, now is the time to give them 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 the plants back as needed. For shrubs and trees that are winter-hardy or still going strong, provide plenty of frequent deep waterings, especially in hot climates. August's sun will evaporate any light watering efforts, leaving little moisture left to benefit the plant.