August is the time to enjoy the garden
I love August. The list of garden tasks for April and May doesn’t apply anymore. The planting of containers and the installation of new perennials in June and July are over. As the calendar turns, summer perennials are fading and the early fall perennials are taking center stage. My containers may need a little judicious pruning in hopes that I can bring a second flush of bloom and it is time to divide overgrown perennials.
While most of our annuals are completely able to bloom right through to frost, some of them just seem to curl up their toes and die. To keep annuals growing and blooming keep fertilizing and keep deadheading. Early in the month, I can give them new life by keeping them not just deadheaded but actually cut back. Petunias can grow long and leggy at this time of year. Take a look down along the stem for a little sprout. Cut the petunia stem just above this little bud. You need to do this early in August. By the end of the month, there will not be enough sun and warmth to bring our annuals back.
August tasks are water, weed and where appropriate fertilize. This is critical to getting our garden through these hot, dry days. Nothing is as important as water. To help conserve moisture replace mulch that has decomposed maintaining a depth of 2-3 inches. As always make sure the mulch is not piled up against the stems of the plants. While fertilizing annuals will keep them in top shape, perennials and roses should not be fertilized. Fertilizing will stimulate growth when these plants need to be preparing for their season of rest.
At our house, I am in the middle of dividing perennials. Some are not blooming well and the weeds are growing right up through the middle of the plants, two sure signs that they need attention. Dividing a perennial involves many of the same steps as planting a new perennial from the garden center. I have everything ready to go such as tools, water, and a bowl-shaped hole before I dig and divide the perennial. As soon as I lift the perennial I move it to a tarp in the shade. After I divide it, I remove from the underside every piece of grass and weed I can find. If necessary you can use the garden hose and remove the soil so you can see the weeds.
The dead center of the perennial should be discarded. The center of the plant is the place where fungal issues and garden pests will gather. Also, discard any parts of the plant that look compromised. The gray coating on plants is mildew. While unsightly, it is not life-threatening. When you cut back your perennials any vegetation with mildew should go into the landfill and not compost.
The smaller root ball is placed in the hole and the soil, amended with compost, goes in around the roots of the perennial. Use your hands to make a collar of soil that will direct the water to the newly planted perennials. Then the perennial is watered well. Water the perennial deeply at least every other day. Water is the secret to success. Do not fertilize.
Getting your plants divided in August will allow them time to become established before winter. Use this opportunity to plant fall bulbs around the new perennial. Next spring the perennial will grow and cover the leaves of the bulbs as they go into their time of rest.
In general, August is the time to enjoy the garden. This is what we wait for all winter. Catch up with your garden journal. What worked well this year and what changes would you like to make for next year? Invite the neighbors over for iced tea on the porch, plan an evening campfire for the grandchildren and take time to “smell the roses.”
Rebecca Norton Ryan is a Penn State Extension Master Gardener, and member of the Warren Garden Club.