The Dog Days of Summer are here! So named because Sirius, the dog star, is high in the sky, but ask any canine running around, tongue lolling, and they may disagree with you… The August garden is just reaching peak as we enter late summer, and there are still a few months of enjoyment we can have, since the hard work is all done.
It is still important to water in either early morning or late afternoon during hot weeks if we haven’t gotten rain for a while. Watering during the cooler times of the day helps maintain soil moisture and prepare your plants for the long hot afternoon. Your plants will be much happier with an evening soaking, and taking the time to thoroughly water the gardens will give you the chance to really take a good long look at what all of your plants are doing now.
A new layer of compost or mulch will go a long way towards keeping the August garden happy and healthy. Compost will add some nutrients and organic matter to your soils, and mulch will aid in water retention and temperature regulation through the last of the hot weather. Compost can of course be worked into the soil in the fall, adding a much-loved boost of organic matter to next spring’s garden beds.
Perennials that have gone by or are getting too large can be cut back and divided. Spring blooming perennials, such as iris, should be dug and split at this time, especially if the clump is getting too large or compacted. Iris will stop blooming if they are too tightly packed, and dividing them in late summer is fine, as they have stored energy for next season in their rhizomes and are starting to go dormant. Deadheading and cleaning fallen leaves and flowers from around other perennials will help revitalize slightly ratty-looking plants and keep your gardens a beautiful place to be.
Lettuce and short, cool-season vegetables can be direct-seeded into the gaps in your vegetable garden before the weather turns too cool. Lettuce, spinach, and other greens perform well in a short time, as well as radish and baby carrots. Peas may not climb as tall as they would in early summer, but will still yield a plentiful amount of pods. The rest of the veggie garden should be in full production, with tomatoes and summer squashes coming ripe. Winter squash and melons should be getting larger every day, but make sure they’re nice and ripe before picking!
Your annuals probably look pretty leggy at this point, but don’t give up on them just yet. Cooler nights and warm days are excellent conditions for new growth and flowerbuds, and with a little bit of trimming and fertilizer, they can be brought back to full glory to decorate your late-summer patio or porch. Pansies can even be revived if cut back hard, and given plenty of water. They will thrive in cooler weather.
On the hottest of days, after the watering is done, don’t spend too much time outside. Spring bulb catalogs are beginning to arrive in the mail, and it’s the perfect time to plan where some new spots of spring color might work. Try some different bulbs too. There are hundreds of unique species of spring bulbs, but everybody plants tulips and daffodils… Take a look at some different Muscari (grape hyacinth) and other types of smaller bulbs that aren’t as impressive all by themselves, but planted in a big patch can be absolutely stunning!