By August, summer is a sticky, dust-encrusted, worn-out old shoe. Most of us choose to abandon the garden to find a breeze along a shoreline or in front of the A/C. And many of us will lament a garden hopelessly past peak and full of crabgrass. But it’s not the end of the season—not by a long shot. Heat and drought do interfere with plant vigor, which can cause gaps in the bloom parade, but the garden still has huge potential well into fall. Energy spent on extending the bloom season offers benefits beyond mere aesthetics (and our neighbors’ rave reviews). It helps insects and pollinators tank up for migration or a long Northeast winter.
Conserve water by allowing the lawn to go dormant, but provide supplemental water as needed to garden areas to prevent drought stress. Use soaker hoses to target needy plants, and sprinklers only in the early morning on nonwindy days to reduce evaporation. Water deeply, rather than frequently, and keep track of the moisture level in your soil.
Refresh your containers and bedding annuals. Trim overgrowth to encourage another flush of bloom, and replace drought-stressed and spent early summer bloomers with a fresh round of late bloomers timed to feed the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Water them well.
Don’t let your weeds go to seed. If the soil is dry, cut weeds off at ground level. The roots should die from lack of nourishment, and the theory is that the less you disturb the soil, the fewer weed seeds will surface to germinate in the light of day.
Start rooting tip cuttings of your favorite tender perennials to overwinter indoors.
- Ideal candidates include salvias (Salvia and cvs., Zones 4–11), heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens, Zones 10–11), and ‘African Blue’ basil (Ocimum ‘African Blue’, Zone 10).
- If you can’t find any tips ripe for cutting (check near the base of the plant), trim some stems back by half and check again for new growth in two to four weeks before flower buds form.
- Allow scented and zonal geranium (Pelargonium and cvs. Zones 11–13) tips to form a callous before sticking in dampened perlite. Mist the foliage to prevent wilt, and let the cut ends poke out of an open plastic bag overnight.
Think spring and get your bulb orders in. Refer to your April wishlist, and/or impulse shop the catalogs. Base your final selections on a continuous spring show.
Kristin Green is author of Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants that Spread, Self-sow, and Overwinter, and gardens in Bristol, Rhode Island.
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