Summer is in the final stretch, and most of what we are doing in August is maintenance or harvest. It’s the time when you realize that the slugs have really been hitting the hostas, leaving them full of holes, and adding injury to insult, the deer have also been hitting the hostas, removing the holey leaves and gracing your garden with ragged hosta stems. You can only hope that every once in awhile a deer eats a big slug by mistake. Serves the deer right, and there’s one less slug in the world.
Meanwhile, the vegetable gardeners have discovered that their zucchini are growing faster than the national debt, and all of those cannin’ and jammin’ projects that sounded like so much fun are actually a lot of work. And everybody is either watering their gardens or hoping for rain.
So, while you’re out deadheading and cutting things back and picking tomatoes and dragging a hose or watering can around, it’s nice to contemplate that the fall planting season is just around the corner. The “cool season” vegetables are here, and you can start putting in your kale, broccoli and cabbage.
The new crops of perennials, potted in late spring/early summer, are fresh and green and often have some out of season flowers to tempt you. Good time to plant as the nights start to cool down and the soil is warm. They’ll get off to a fast start. If you are planting purple coneflowers and all of their various permutations of doubles and oranges and yellows and reds, it’s best to cut the flower stems off at the base; the plants put energy into making a stronger crown to survive the winter. Use the flower stems as cut flowers indoors.
Meanwhile, watch for goldenrods and asters and sedums coming into flower as the weeks pass. The late summer/early fall bloomers really attract butterflies to your garden. So many of us have gardens that are skewed to spring and early summer bloom, because that’s when we do most of our shopping, and we tend to buy plants when they are in flower. But if you really want to attract butterflies, look for plants that flower from mid-summer on.
It’s too early for pansies, which appear in September (they really need cool night temperatures or they get straggly), and the mums are still “green.” But if your container gardens have seen better days, Marian, Queen of Annuals, still has plenty of late summer annual color for fill in. Hanging baskets and smaller container gardens often take a beating by now, because they are hard to water. The plants’ roots tend to displace the soil in the pot over time, and the pots just dry out.
Taking a plant or two out of your container, adding some fresh soil, and replanting with new plants will work wonders. For the hanging basket, consider just taking the plants out of the basket and planting them in the ground. Break up the soil ball, water and feed, and you should wind up with some perky petunias. Replace the basket with some wind chimes to welcome the changing season.
Seasonally appropriate trees and shrubs are making their appearance now. There aren’t a lot of fall blooming woody plants, but there are some, like the fall-blooming camellias and the multi-season azaleas. Get your evergreens (especially the broadleaf types like the azaleas and camellias) planted early in the season so they root out before it gets cold—it will reduce your potential for winterburn.
So, as you’ve been hollowing out your zucchinis to use as canoes, and you’re mixing up your latest batch of deer repellant, don’t lose heart. Planting, the fun part of gardening, is waiting for you.
by Larry Hurley, Behnke horticulturist