August in the Garden
It’s August already! Yikes!
It’s time to order seeds for your winter garden. You won’t plant them right away, but you want to have them on hand in preparation for planting next month, after we get through the hottest weather.
August is mulching and watering month in the garden. Mulching is an important because it will keep evaporation of water down to a minimum and will keep plants’ roots cool, too.
Bulbs are going to start showing up in nurseries later this month. Good, drought-tolerant bulbs are winners in the garden. Look for freesias and sparaxis, my personal favorites. Go ahead and buy, but store in a cool, dry area for a couple more months because the weather will get hotter before it gets cooler.
Gardening literature says it’s time to sow seeds for the cool weather crops. You can get some started, but traditionally, we’re going into our hottest months through September, so I usually hold off before starting my cool season crops until mid-September.
I have had horrible luck with tomatoes this year, but there’s time to put another tomato crop in this month. Tomatoes like the heat, so if you have a south-facing wall, that’s the best scenario. Look for the “Early” varieties or varieties with a shorter seed to harvest time frame.
Although it’s a bit late to start them from seed, blooming cosmos are a beautiful plant for the fall, so keep an eye out for six-pack starters at the nurseries.
When you are in the nursery looking for cosmos, look for green onion sets, too. These are great in the garden, fill in corners, and are ready to eat within about 6-8 weeks.
If you want to plant fuchsias, shop now while they are in bloom so you can see what the different blooms look like.
This is a great month to plant Bougainvillea, too. Find a nice wall or fence in full sun for your planting area. Planting must be done with care. It’s important not to disturb the root ball when planting because the root ball is VERY finicky. A good trick is to cut the bottom off the pot, place the plant in the hole and slide the pot up and over.
Most of my garden only needs water about every week and a half, but my veggies in the raised beds and my big containers need deep water about every three days. Plants are tougher than we give them credit for, so don’t over-water, but keep them strong and healthy by deep watering. Some plants need more water than others, and pots and container gardens needs extra monitoring when it gets hot. The tomatoes in the ground only need deep watering, preferably in the morning, once a week, but if a Santa Ana condition rolls through, it will dry out a garden in a day, so know that you will have to be extra attentive if we have a hot, dry spell. Make sure to deep-water your trees, especially the newly planted and young ones. Roots are close to the surface so they’ll get dry and cooked more quickly than established trees.
It’s okay to wash down your natives and drought-tolerants occasionally. Natives and drought tolerant plants are resting this time of year so they don’t like too much water, but a quick spritz to wash off the plants and let them hydrate a little through their leaves is a good thing.
Roses love the heat, but only if they are properly watered. Soak them with 1-2 inches of water three times a week. It doesn’t hurt to overhead spray them if the weather is really hot because they can hydrate through their leaves which will help them stay perky, but do this earlier in the day so the leaves completely dry off before nightfall.
Always make sure to water first before fertilizing, especially during hot weather, or you will burn the plants.
Continue feeding veggies and summer annuals every two to three weeks for the next month. They are actively growing and need the food.
Fertilize your citrus again this month. If you get that done right away, you can probably squeeze in another round first thing next month, too; otherwise, this will be the last time you will fertilize citrus for a while because we don’t want to promote a flush of fresh growth before the cold winter months. A good nursery can help you with finding the appropriate products.
Roses need their fertilizer, but during the hot months, the rose experts say to cut the amount in half so they get steady food without heavy nitrogen so the plants can be slightly dormant in their growth.
Pest & Disease Control
Look over your house plants to check for spider mites, scale and thrips during these warmer months. I put my plants in the shower and wash them thoroughly to clean off the leaves, and let water flush out the salts in the pot. If you do have an infestation of pests, wash your plants with Safer Insecticidal Soap.
Although I haven’t seen any on my plants yet, keep an eye out for tomato hornworms and caterpillars on your roses. These can both eat voraciously. The hornworms can take down a tomato plant in a day or two when they are on a roll. Caterpillars on the roses won’t kill them, but your bushes will look awful. Keep BT (Bacillus Thuringensus) or Spinosad handy for spraying at the first sign. You can be proactive and spray ahead, but I tend to wait so I don’t harm other beneficials in the garden unless I absolutely have to.
With the heat, some plants, particularly the tropicals, will be more susceptible to whitefly. Hibiscus suffers badly and if you let it get out of hand, you will lose the battle! Wash off plants, don’t forget underneath, to stay ahead of the problem. The plants will love a shower, too.
This is the month to de-thatch warm season lawns. The rule of thumb is to thatch if the lawn build-up is over ½ inch. If the height is less than that, leave it alone for another year because it helps conserve the moisture of the lawn’s roots. If the thatch is too thick, the water can’t penetrate down to the roots.
Cool season lawns need to be allowed to grow higher during the hot weather, so raise up the blades on your mower.
Geraniums and pelargoniums – time to pinch back your geraniums and pelargoniums to shape and clean out. Pinch above where new growth has started, closer to the base of the plants.
Hydrangeas – hydrangeas bloom on old wood, so when you prune these back, leave three buds on each stem.
If your citrus trees are sending up suckers from the base, pull them off, don’t cut them or they will grow back.
Wisteria is almost done growing for the season. It is important to stay on top of pruning or all those little wispy ends will get knotted up and form a mat. Clean them out, picking the best ones to train. When you trim back wisteria, leave two buds on each stem you trim back. These old-wood branches will produce your beautiful wisteria flowers you will covet next spring!
Roses could use a good trimming now. Cut them back about one-third to clean them out and shape them up. Pruning will encourage another bloom in the fall, so hit them with fertilizer if you haven’t done so already. I’ve given my roses a dose of Ada Perry’s!
Don’t forget to enjoy some quiet time in your garden. I love to look out my Dutch door in the late afternoon when the sun silhouettes my plants and they glow in the breeze. The cats and the dog spend their afternoons finding shady places to sleep around the yard. Garden catalogs are starting to arrive in my mailbox which means it’s time to sit in the shade and dream about next year’s garden. Life is good!
Credit where credit is due: This monthly garden chores compilation comes from a lot of resources, past and present, including: Sunset Magazine, Union-Tribune, San Diego Floral Association, San Diego Horticulture Society, San Diego Home & Garden, Anderson’s La Costa Nursery, miscellaneous tidbits found on the web, in the library, from fellow gardeners, and personal experience in the garden.