Gardening Advice for Late Summer
(Gardeners, don’t quit now!)
It’s this time of the year that gardeners August gardens’ towering tomato plants eke out their final harvests. Yellowing cucumber vines wildly wander. Herbs go to seed, while tuckered flowers fade from glory. And all is accompanied by Richmond’s incessant heat, haze, and humidity. No wonder folks want to run from the late-summer garden!
Chelsea Mahaffey, horticulturist at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, offered a different perspective.
“August is the transitional garden,” she said. “There’s still lots to do, so I think of big sunglasses, wide hats, lots of water, and sunscreen.” She breaks down end-of-summer gardening into five basic chores. Here is her gardening advice:
Gardening Advice #1. Watering
“Hands down, watering is most important in late summer,” Mahaffey said. “Water in the morning when it’s cool – not only for plants, but for yourself.”
Whether growing annuals, herbs, newly planted perennials, or trees, they need a good dose of water: at least one inch per week. Additional watering may be required for container plants and during periods of drought or extreme heat. However, Mahaffey cautions against frequent watering in small doses. The practice encourages roots to grow laterally versus deep, making the plant more susceptible to the stresses of hot and dry weather. Try to direct water to the plant’s base, not its leaves, since wet foliage over time can lead to fungal and disease issues.
Gardening Advice #2. Document and plan
When temperatures outside drive you inside, start prepping for next year’s garden based on this year’s outcomes.
“Set yourself up for success by documenting where everything was planted and how it did,” Mahaffey said. She relies on journals, photos and maps to record what grew well, or not so well, in the Kroger Community Kitchen Garden that she manages. The records guide her with crop rotation, too, which protects soil nutrients and reduces the chance of soil-borne diseases and soil-dwelling insects.
Thinking ahead applies to spring-blooming bulbs, too, such as tulips and daffodils that are planted in the fall. Newly introduced and unusual varieties may have limited inventory, so Mahaffey encourages gardeners to confirm their online orders now.
Gardening Advice #3. Plant
In the Kroger Community Kitchen Garden, volunteers have started seeds for cool-season crops, such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach and collards. These will be planted in September along with another round of lettuce, parsley, cilantro and more.
Elsewhere, perennials that bloom in spring and summer—such as lilies, peonies, gladioli and irises—will be divided and transplanted once their blooming cycle is finished.
As for turf, reseeding tends to be more successful during late August and September as long as supported by regular watering. For established landscapes, continue watering as needed, but reduce mowing frequency and raise mower blades to help avoid scorched areas.
Gardening Advice #4. Prune
Carefully inspect, cut and remove damaged and dead tree branches now, before winter storms add the weight of sleet and snow. You also can selectively prune summer-flowering shrubs after they’ve bloomed. New growth should not be encouraged otherwise, so stop fertilizing established plants and trees until next spring.
Gardening Advice #5. Weed and harvest
“You’ve weeded all summer, so don’t stop now,” Mahaffey said. “If weeds are left and go to seed, you’ll have ten times more problems next year.” The strong root systems of weeds will compete with new transplants for water, nutrients and light.
Deadheading should continue, too. Removal of spent flowers at the stem base supports plant energy for development of more fruit, veggies or flowers. It also helps control unwanted self-seeding.
Conversely, let desired herbs and other perennials flower and self-seed. Their showy seedheads will add interest to the landscape while supporting wildlife. Mow wildflowers if you wish to scatter their seeds.
If harvests are prolific, freezing and canning will save today’s abundance for tomorrow’s enjoyment.
“Just don’t let food go to waste,” Mahaffey said. “Foodbanks welcome fresh produce, too.”
• Sow lettuce along the edges of beds planted with tomatoes and peppers. The taller plants provide shade until they give in to the first frosts, at which time the lettuce should be almost ready for harvest.
• Fertilize cool-weather seedlings while planting. The nutrients will replenish the garden soil and give the seedlings a kickstart to success.
• After pulling onions, dry them in the sun a few days before storing.
• Crops invites insects, so control them at first sight – before they control you.
• Regularly clean tools to avoid the spread of disease and fungus. Also inventory tools to take advantage of end-of-season savings.
This article first published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.