It’s August. June and July are gone. Is summer almost over?
Rather than throw up your hands and slip into the mental rut that this year’s gardening season is behind us, hang on to the belief that the best is yet to come during August and September. For me, spring is magic, but late summer and early fall bring lovely colors and sweet morning and evening light.
August, however, seems to mark the time when folks begin to pull back, giving their yard and garden less attention — even ignoring it altogether. Is it because school doors open soon, the silver salmon are showing up, or is it because the flowers you planting in May and June are starting to look tired?
Stay with it, folks. Your yard will look much better and you’ll enjoy a longer bloom and harvest season if you spend just a couple hours tending to a few things.
If you want to increase bloom time and stretch it into the fall (who doesn’t?), continue to deadhead flowers on a regular basis. (This also strengthens the plant.) There’s no need to make deadheading a big deal, just pick off the faded blossoms of calendula, pansies and other annuals each time you stroll through the yard.
I like to deadhead flowers right before Marty mows the lawn. I pinch off the flowers and toss them onto the grass. Pinch and toss; pinch and toss. Then Marty drives the mower over them, crunching them into invisible bits.
Pay special attention to deadheading flowers that self-seed once they have passed so you maintain control over where they spread in your garden. And if you want to propagate certain plants, you can save the flower heads of say, some poppy varieties for planting at a later date.
If the plants are done, pull them out and add mulch (grass clippings, kelp/seaweed, cow manure, compost) to boost the depleted soil. Here’s a great way to dig in compost: Whenever you have a blank space in the garden, dig a hole and add kitchen scraps, such as banana peels, coffee grounds and egg shells. Cover with a few inches of soil and walk away. The worms and other soil creatures will thank you.
For perennials, cut back tall plants such as irises, lilies and delphiniums when they finish blooming. Oriental poppies should be all but done by now, and rather than leave the area looking like a bomb went off, follow the advice of the gardener who tended the Pioneer Home gardens in Sitka for many years: Cut the stalks and the tallest of the leaves to within four inches of the ground. New, fuzzy green shoots will appear within a couple weeks and you’ll be on your way to healthy, strong plants for next year. Plus, the beds will look neat.
Keep fuchsia, dahlias and other late bloomers evenly moist. Rotate pots and hanging baskets so the other side can enjoy the sun.
Late summer veggie tips
If you planted garlic last fall, it’s probably time to harvest it. I pulled mine last week. Each variety ripens at different times, and your growing conditions might be different from mine. Check by carefully reaching into the soil until you find the bulb.
Clear away a little more soil. The bulb should be swelling so you can feel or see the individuals cloves, but not so far along that the wraps or sheaths around the bulb are starting to show openings between the cloves. If they do, you’ve waited to long. The garlic is edible, but it won’t store very well.
Potatoes should be blooming now. To harvest early spuds, slip your hand into the soil alongside the stem of a flowering spud and root around (sorry) for some “new” potatoes.
Don’t pull the whole plant. You’re just sampling for early ones right now and leaving the rest to keep growing. You’ll find the older and larger potatoes near the bottom; the still-forming ones are closer to the soil surface.
Pick snap peas as they reach a tasty size. Don’t wait for some magic, do-it-all-at-once time. They are much sweeter when just ripe.
When broccoli (and later as their sister crops like cabbage and Brussels sprouts) stop producing, pull the plants out, roots and all, chop them up and put them on the compost pile.
Thin carrots and other root crops, eat turnip greens and sow more salad greens while the soil is still warm.
Speaking of warm soil, as a heads up, early fall is a fabulous time to divide out perennials and move shrubs and trees.
In the hoophouse
Keep up with the watering. Plants, especially tomatoes, suffer from irregular watering. On and off watering causes blossom end rot, a condition that starts as a flat and darkened spot near the blossom end of a tomato and spreads over time.
Lack of calcium uptake is also said to cause blossom end rot. Feed cucumbers and squash, busy blooming and producing fruit with compost tea and kelp solutions high in potassium and phosphorus.
Prune away suckers
Grab a pair of pruning shears or loppers to cut those sprouting cottonwood seedlings and suckers forming at the base of your lilac bushes.
Sweep the deck, weed whack around fences, swings, trampolines and sheds, and put away the things you are not using. Clean and put away planting trays, lest you leave them dirty all winter.
None of this is difficult work. If anything, your arms, abs and legs get a good workout. Nor does any of this take a lot of time. You can still get your household ready for school and catch a few silvers. Plus your garden and yard will look revived and refreshed — a nice greeting when you come home from picking berries or fishing for silvers and halibut.
One last thing, be grateful for the summer, for what a beautiful summer it’s been. Fairbanks has succumbed to its first frost and many parts of the Lower 48 continue to suffer in heat waves so we should consider oursleves blessed. Cheers!