Even as temperatures soar in August, we can’t help but smile when we look out our windows to see fiery crocosmias basking in the hot summer sun. Thankfully, these higher temperatures tend to give way to more fall-like conditions by the end of the month. A “second spring” is on its way, offering the promise of ideal growing conditions for fall greens and more. Until then, we’ll continue to find moments to get outside in our gardens — to keep up with our to-do list, sure — but also to enjoy the outdoor oasis we've worked so hard to create for ourselves. There’s nothing like sitting back and admiring the view from your patio while sipping your beverage of choice, topped with a garnish of home-grown mint.
In addition to summer staples like crocosmias, salvias, and rudbeckias, there are plenty of plants to keep the floral symphony going through the hottest days of the year. While early summer flowers fade, echinaceas approach their crescendo alongside agastaches, gauras, and hardy hibiscus. Warm season grasses serenade us with soft plumes, and the bright white blooms of sun-loving Panicle Hydrangeas call out from across the landscape.
As with any time of year, it’s a good idea to look around you and take inspiration from other gardens. Make a list — and maybe even snap a photo — of the plants that capture your attention, noting attributes like flower color and bloom time. A garden journal is perfect for this, giving you a place to keep track of your wishlist plants and the locations in your garden where you want to add them. (It's also easy to bring with you on your next trip to the Nursery to assist you on your search!) Keep in mind that, even if they are currently having their moment in the garden, some plants may be hard to locate for sale this time of year. For instance, many summer-blooming bulbs like lilies and gladiolus are planted in the spring or fall, so you may have to wait for a later season for them to be offered. Still, a quick stroll around the Nursery on an August day is sure to be filled with plenty of color for immediate planting. Or think ahead: What might you want to add to your garden now that will come into its own in the fall? With a bit of care at planting time and regular water through the heat of summer, your new garden additions are sure to perform admirably. You can even sow seeds for color later in the year, including geraniums, poppies, and lace flowers.
It’s important to keep up a consistent — and deep — watering routine in the heat of summer, as warmer temperatures cause moisture to evaporate more rapidly. You want to aim for slow, consistent watering using tools like a drip irrigation hose. And for containers, nothing beats a classic watering can! Practice good water conservation techniques by watering before 10am, as well as keeping your beds weeded and mulched.
If the forecast calls for extreme heat like we experienced during the heat dome of 2021, it’s a good idea to water your plants especially deeply beginning in the days prior. This isn’t limited to the confines of a traditional garden, either; even mature trees and typically drought-tolerant plants stand to benefit! For plants in containers, consider temporarily relocating them to a more protected, shadier location.
Regardless of temperatures, it’s a good idea to walk around your garden and do a bit of deadheading. Removing spent flowers signals your plants to invest more energy into blooms and can make for a tidier appearance in the garden. This is an easy activity to make into an early morning routine to take advantage of the coolest part of the day.
The Kitchen Garden
This time of year, we’re enjoying many of the fruits of our labor in our kitchen gardens. Caneberries like raspberries and marionberries — a PNW classic — are ready for harvest, as are other fruits like blueberries, the first apples, and many tomatoes. Our stomachs will be far from empty!
In addition to staying on top of summer water, it’s a good idea to scratch a bit of fertilizer into your strawberry beds and beneath summer crops like summer squashes. A bit of E.B. Stone Organic Tomato & Vegetable Food will help to ensure proper nutrient retention and a better harvest.
As August draws on, many vegetable starts for fall harvest should go in the ground. And you can even direct-sow several crops! Early in the month, you can begin sowing fall greens and root veggies like kale, carrots, radishes, and onions. You should keep these beds well watered and covered until seeds germinate, and once they have sprouted, you can remove the cover and continue regular watering. (You will need to cover these crops again in fall when nighttime temperatures begin to dip below 45°F.) For salad greens like spinach, arugula, and cabbage, you will want to wait until later in the month when temperatures begin to cool in order to sow.
As you pull out summer veggies and annuals to make room for your fall and overwintering crops, consider turning these items into compost to help feed your plants for years to come. The nutrients from your decaying plants can be recycled into new soil that will provide a healthy ecosystem of organisms in your yard. If you opt for this organic measure, keep in mind that debris from certain plants like tomatoes may be best left off your compost pile in order to limit transmission of fungal spores and disease from season-to-season.
Speaking of disease, be prepared for powdery mildew to make an appearance this month on some of your ornamentals and in your kitchen garden. This is rarely a death sentence for your plants — and it’s fairly unavoidable as the heat and humidity climb — but it can cause damage. If you find it, the fungus can be controlled with organic sprays such as Neem oil, Copper, or Orchard Spray. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, though, and maintaining proper watering and composting habits will help to protect from diseases like this.
Watch fruit trees closely for signs of diseases like apple anthracnose and bacterial canker, and remove any cankered limbs. You may also find that pests like peach tree borer, apple tree maggot, and filbertworm — among others — continue to cause problems with the trees in your backyard orchard. Watch closely for signs of pests and treat them with pheromone traps and organic sprays such as All Seasons Oil.
There’s so much to stay on top of in the summer garden, but we wouldn’t have it any other way!