August Gardening Advice for Manchester – 2016
by Jennifer Fairfield
Editor’s Note: Manchester resident Jennifer Fairfield owns and operates the Garden Mill in Chelsea, serves on the Manchester Community Garden Committee, and volunteers with the school gardens at Klager and the MECC.
I can’t tell you how much I am ready for the heat to end! I have had friends telling me not to wish for it – that’ll I’ll regret it come February – but I can’t help it. I am really not a hot-weather person, and the extended heat and humidity we’ve had makes me cranky. I don’t even want to go out to work in my gardens, which is not a good thing, as there is way too much that needs to be done. To combat the heat, I’m getting my gardening done early in the morning and late in the evening. It’s the only way to deal with the weather, in my opinion. That, and ice cream!
August is a time for lots of gardening tasks, just not necessarily in the heat of the day:
- Water. Water. Water. And water. The high heat and general lack of rain mean plants are drying out quickly. This goes for everything – vegetables, flowers, trees, and shrubs – and grass, too. Most plants need about an inch of water per week, in general, but with the temperatures as high as they have been, you may need to give them more, especially if your soil drains well. Clay soil tends to hold onto the moisture better, and mulch helps even more, but pay close attention to your plants to make sure they are getting the water they need. I say this from the point of view of someone who didn’t follow her own advice. I planted two new redbud trees last fall, and one of them is not happy with me now. I thought I was doing a good job of keeping them watered, because I was using Tree Gators. However, I didn’t realize that one of the bags had gotten clogged with soil, and was not emptying. Now all of the leaves on that tree are brown. The tree itself should be OK – I have been diligently keeping it watered ever since – but the stress placed on it because of the lack of water may mean that it doesn’t grow much this year and next and that I may not see very much in the way of flowers or leaves next spring.
- The problem with trees not getting enough water is that the effects can sometimes take years to really show, especially in established trees. You may think your trees look fine now, but next year, and the following year, you may see signs that they were stressed by the lack of water. This article from Fine Gardening gives a good explanation of how drought affects trees and shrubs.
- Don’t think that, just because we get a thunderstorm once in a while, your plants are getting what they need in the way of water. I’ve been keeping a close eye on my rain gauge, and even though it seems like those storms produce a lot of rain, they really haven’t brought enough.
- Container plants need to be watered even more frequently than the ones planted in the ground. If they are under the cover of a porch or building overhang, they aren’t as likely to get the benefit of any rain we get. On the other hand, if they are out in the open, the sun is baking them. Remember to give container plants a little food regularly too, to keep them looking good throughout the remainder of the season.
- Keep deadheading the annual flowers in your container plantings as well as bedding plants to ensure continuous blooms. Perennials that bloom at this time of year should also generally be deadheaded regularly.
- Harvesting is the major activity of vegetable gardening in August. I’ve just finished harvesting my garlic, have a refrigerator full of carrots, am finishing up pulling my onions, have lots of beans that we’re trying to keep up with picking and freezing, and am starting to see peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini maturing. Usually by now, I would be picking lots of zucchini and cucumbers, but the spring was so slow to warm up that I didn’t get those planted until a little late. They seem to be making up for lost time though, thanks to the heat (I guess that’s one good thing to be said for it!). The slow spring also slowed down getting my tomatoes planted, but they now have lots of fruit on them, and I’m just waiting (impatiently) for that first ripe tomato from my garden. Staying on top of picking will ensure that your plants keep producing for you all the way to fall.
- August is also the time to put some “succession” plants in your veggie garden. Beets, radishes, lettuces, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and peas all can be planted in August for harvest into the early fall. Take a look at the seed packet for the “days to maturity” to determine how late you can plant and still harvest before frost (and some things, like kale, are even better after a light frost). To figure out your safe planting time frame, just count backwards from your average first date of frost (usually around October 1st for our area, but you can get detailed information for your zip code here. So, if your packet says that the days to maturity is 45 and it takes 5 to 10 days to germinate, then you need to make sure that you have your seeds in by no later than August 7th.
- Just because we haven’t been getting a lot of rain, don’t think that your garden is safe from disease pressure. We have been experiencing some pretty significant morning dews, which provide perfect conditions for some diseases. Prevention is easier than trying to cure a disease, once it has gotten hold, but if you are seeing signs of infection, there are some things you can do to slow down the damage. The first thing you need to do is identify the problem. Cornell University has a really good website that can help. Organic Life Magazine also has a good article on identifying and controlling diseases. Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can decide on the best option for controlling it. We have a few different products in the store that can help with both preventing and controlling a variety of diseases, so come talk to us!
- Have the Japanese beetles driven you as crazy this year as they have me? They have been feasting on lots of things in my gardens – asters, and coneflowers in my flower beds, and beans in my vegetable garden. And the cutworms and sawfly larva have been eating what the beetles haven’t. Keep an eye out for these and other insects around your plants. Controlling them is important, not just because they eat your hard work, but also because they transmit infection from diseased plants they’ve visited to your otherwise healthy plants. We carry a number of options for pest control, including some organic choices that are very effective. But be sure to read the labels on whatever you choose, as these products can generally also kill beneficial insects. The best way to minimize harming bees and other beneficials is to be very precise in your spraying – only directly spray the pest you are trying to kill, and don’t overspray. Broadcast spraying will almost guarantee that you kill things you don’t intend to, and spraying until the leaves drip means that you will have pesticide dripping onto other plants or the ground, where beneficials can come in contact with it.
- I have had a few customers tell me they have had other types of pests eating their vegetables – squirrels being the biggest problem. They’re not eating your tomatoes because they are hungry, though. They are looking for water. One way to prevent this problem is to keep your birdbaths clean and full. All kinds of creatures will take advantage of the water in the baths, not just the birds, and that might mean they leave your veggies alone!