August’s Four Crucial Gardening Activities

Published on Tue, 07/29/2014 - 8:50am

A poet once penned that April is the cruelest month, but for gardeners, August holds that spot. Summer’s harvest is at your doorstep, but heat and untimely rain can bring pests to lay waste to the garden in a matter of days.

The four activities a to keep yard and garden happy are scouting, watering, grooming, and weeding.  Let’s take a look at how these can protect key areas of your outdoor growing spaces.


When to water Water lawns and gardens early in the day to insure that foliage dries before sunset. Wet foliage at night increases susceptibility to fungus diseases.


In the vegetable garden
August’s typically hot, dry conditions are a perfect breeding ground for the four most troublesome garden problems: insects, diseases, funguses, and weeds.
Scout your garden early in the day. Look for slugs, grubs, aphids, stinkbugs, hornworms, and spider mites. If you use commercial insecticides, be sure to follow directions exactly.  Or, use diatomaceous earth to control crawling insects such as cockroaches, ants, slugs, silverfish, earwigs, fleas, spiders, millipedes, centipedes, and carpet beetles. It’s a natural product that can be used inside, too.
If you are reasonably pest-free but see your tomato plants yellowing and wilting on one side of the plant or one side of a leaf, the culprit may be Fusarium wilt, a soil borne fungus found throughout the U.S. Tomato, potato, pepper, and eggplant are susceptible to the disease and may allow it to survive year after year in the same planting area. Your best bet is to admit defeat, remove the soil in the affected area, and replace it.
If you water, you probably have weeds. Since weeds are hosts to many insects and diseases, it is important to keep them under control so pests and diseases do not infest your other garden plants.
One organic method to prevent additional weed growth between plants and rows is to put down straw much. It’s inexpensive, and two to four inches of straw will prevent both muddy shoes and weeds.

In the flower garden
If you haven’t been doing so already, now is the time to dead-head plants like marigolds, zinnias, and other annuals by pinching off dead blooms. Spent flowers on perennials should also be removed. Removing spent flowers encourages new growth and you could enjoy colorful blooms on some species well into the fall.
Remove any plants that have gone by, especially annuals. Take care to scout for weeds and remove them as soon as they appear—you don’t want them to go to seed. You can still apply pre-emergent granules for weed control through the fall.
Sometimes flowering perennials need rejuvenating by this time in the summer. Water deeply and apply fertilizer. If they don’t come back now, they will be off to a better start in the spring.


Be picky Pick summer squash and zucchini every day or two to keep the plants producing—bigger isn’t always better.


In the lawn
Pity your poor lawn: All spring it has been putting energy into establishing a healthy root system and pushing bright, healthy stems upward … only to be met with summer heat and invading pests.
Now is the time to set your mower higher, because longer grass shades roots from summer heat. In many parts of the country, a three-inch height is about right for cool-season grasses.
Examine your lawn for open and dead areas. Brown patch is a common problem in fescue lawns, caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia. In addition to dead patches, look for a smoky ring around the perimeter. Remove lawn wastes and clippings and, if it persists, invest in a preventative lawn fungicide for next year. Because the fungus can spread and stop abruptly, plan on digging up dead areas and replanting in the fall.
Dig or pull opportunistic weeds like orchardgrass, Bermudagrass and quackgrass—they will be taller, probably greener, and rangier than the rest of your turf. Alternately—and very carefully—use a killer like Roundup.
If you have seen Japanese beetles in your trees and see dead patches of grass in your lawn, you could have grubs, common lawn visitors this time of year. (Grubs are the larval form of Japanese beetles, among others.) This time of year, it is probably too late to do anything meaningful in terms of control. However, applying a soil insecticide now will work on reducing next spring’s generation of grubs.

Around the yard
If you irrigate or have had rain, scout for pools of standing water and remove them—they are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. In addition to puddles, look at watering cans, buckets, and tires—all are potential homes for mosquito larvae.
Keep wild grasses and brush trimmed to limit habitat for ticks since both common ticks and deer ticks can spread disease.  
Resist the temptation to trim trees, even though the weather may be great. Unless you have storm damage, now is not the time to prune fruit or shade trees.