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Ah, the lazy days of summer. It’s the month where we kick off our sandals and just admire the garden…until there is work to be done. Luckily, in August, there is less work and more just maintenance and planning. In fact, some things should absolutely be avoided in August. No more pruning or fertilizing of any plant or tree, with the exception of deadheading (see below). If you fertilize or prune now, plants will experience a surge of new growth. This fresh, new growth is fragile and subject to damage when the cold weather hits. We have just another month or two before the cold returns so, if you missed your chance, you’ll have to wait until next spring. However, there are still many garden chores to be done, pests to watch out for and even things to plant! Read all about it below.
Horn out the Hornworms!
As gardeners, we must always protect our prized plants against the pests that may harm them. This is especially true when we grow edible crops: we don’t want someone else (insect or otherwise) eating all our hard work! In August, be especially mindful of the Boeing Bombers, also called Tomato Hornworms.
Tomato Hornworms will devour both foliage and fruit of tomatoes and other nightshade plants, like eggplants and peppers, when they are in the larvae stage of their life. They are persistent and strong, difficult to kill, a plague for tomato growers. Tomato Hornworms can be up to 6 inches long and as thick as your finger. They have earned both names by possessing a helmet-shaped head and a horn on the back end. They do tend to blend into foliage so look closely for their black and white markings (pictured below).
There are a few methods for eradicating the dreaded hornworm. The first line of defense is to just pick them off your plant with a pair of tongs but it is more efficient to spray first then control by hand. Organic controls, such as Spinosad or BT, have proven most effective against hornworm and are safe for people but deadly for insects. Note: hornworms with the white egg cases of parasitic wasps should not be destroyed because the wasps will hatch out and destroy other hornworms in the garden. We do what we can to keep our plants healthy!
The process of deadheading is the removal of spent flowers from a plant. You can remove them from trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, all with benefit. To deadhead, wait until the flower petals have wilted and are falling off. Then, remove the entire flower head, down to the stem. Don’t remove just the petals! Take out the entire flower. The reason for this is the prime reason we deadhead plants: to keep seeds from forming. If the fertilized flower is left intact, it will form seeds. This is undesirable for two reasons:
- If left alone, the seeds can disperse themselves around your garden, whether you want them to or not.
- Seed-making is the last step in a plant’s life cycle and signals the end of flowering. Seeds= no more flowers!
As gardeners, we always try to maximize on the amount of flowers we can get from a plant. We do this by fertilizing, pruning AND deadheading. If you let your plants form seeds, the plant will stop producing flowers. Deadheading also increases the attractiveness of your plants, by removing unsightly decaying petals and such. You can remove many dead flowers by hand but, if it proves difficult, use a pair of pruning shears. So, for the most attractive, abundant flowering plants, don’t forget to deadhead!
Mulch as Insulation
Many already use mulch to keep down weeds or to keep plants warm in the winter. But, did you know that those same insulating properties apply to hot weather too? That’s right! A few inches of mulch can reduce soil temperature by a few degrees, protecting fragile roots from the heat and reducing evaporation. Plus, many organic types of mulch have the added bonus of making your garden look attractive and clean. Many forms of yard debris make great mulch, including the leaves and twigs of any shrubs you may have pruned and any spent flowers you may have deadheaded. You can also purchase new mulch at the nursery: compost, bark and pebbles work well to keep the soil cool and moist on even the hottest day!
Fall Gardening: start now!
If you want to have any fall vegetables, like kale (Brassica oleracea) and other leafy greens, start them inside in early August for transplanting in early September. Or you can plant them right in the garden, if you have the space. These hardier vegetables can handle colder evenings and will be available for harvest until the end of the year. You can find seeds and starts at Furney’s for all your fall gardening needs. The following vegetables can all be planted now for a fall harvest!
Salad greens: spinach, lettuce, arugula, kale, swiss chard (pictured above) and more! Plant all your favorite salad greens for an autumn treat. You can place them close together to make a green edible carpet you can pick from daily.
Cabbage family: broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts and cauliflower all love the cool fall climate. Some will even overwinter, giving early spring snacks for eager gardeners.
Root crops: parsnips, beets, carrots and radishes find deep growth in the cool soil of late summer and early fall. Plant several rows of each and harvest them slowly, throughout the winter. Mature roots will be preserved in the cold soil so you can pick them whenever you like!
There are a few things to keep in mind when gardening in the fall. First, make sure you plant crops in a different place than you planted them in spring. Planting the same thing in the same spot is an invitation for disease. Many pests return or stay in the soil, waiting to feed again. So, keep those vegetables rotating around the garden!
You can extend the season by creating warm places for your plants to seek shelter from the cold winds and driving rains of late fall. Cover them with a cold frame or cloche, to increase the air and soil temperature and to protect them from the elements. Cold frames and cloches are basically mini-portable greenhouses. You can make your own from old windows, sheet plastic in a frame or even old pop bottles, with the bottom cut off. However, if that seems like too much time and trouble, come down to Furney’s to see our premade selection of cold frames and cloches. While you are here, pick up some fall veggies and talk to our talented garden professionals about your fall gardening plans!