It’s easy to throw your hands up and slip into the mental rut that this year’s gardening season is already behind us. But even though plants (domestic and wild) have matured much more quickly than normal because of the unusually dry conditions, it’s better to believe that over the next couple months the best is yet to come.
Why? Because to this gardener-photographer, late summer and early fall brings lovely colors and sweet morning and evening light.
Nonetheless, August seems to mark the time of year when folks begin pulling back, to retreat a little by devoting less time and attention to their yard and garden; even ignoring it altogether. Is it because school doors open soon, the silver salmon are showing up, or is it because the flowers you planted in May and June are starting to look tired?
Stay with it. 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. For example, there’s mundane task of deadheading…
Sure it sounds boring, but if you want to increase bloom time and stretch it into the fall (who doesn’t?), continue to pinch, clip, and prune wilted flowers on a regular basis. Not only does deadheading tidy up a plant, it strengthens it, too. No need to make deadheading a big deal, just stroll around and pick off faded blossoms of calendula, pansies and other annuals each time you head outside.
I like to deadhead flowers just before Marty mows the lawn. I pinch off the flowers and toss them onto the grass. Pinch and toss; pinch and toss. The lawn mower shreds them up into invisible bits, which in turn, feed the lawn.
If the plants are really done, then 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 take care of it, and silently 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 advise from 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 neatened up.
August is also an excellent month to divide perennials and move shrubs and trees. The ground is warm and there is time for the roots to become established in their new home before winter arrives.
Meanwhile, for potted plants like fuchsia, dahlias and other late bloomers, keep them evenly moist. Rotate pots and hanging baskets so the other side can enjoy the sun.
Late summer veggie tips
Garlic: If you planted garlic last fall, it’s probably time to harvest. I pulled my Siberian garlic last week. Each variety ripens at different times and your growing conditions might be different than mine. Check by carefully reaching down into the soil until you find the bulb. Clear away a little more soil. The bulb should be swelling so that 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, then you’ve waited to long. The garlic is alright to use for cooking, but it won’t store very long.
For the garlic you pulled, hang them upside-down in groups of 3 to 5 in a cool, airy place. Hang them for a couple weeks, or until you can no longer smell garlic above the bulb. Then it’s OK to clip off the stem an inch or so above the bulb.
Potatoes: 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 closer to the soil surface.
Other veggies: 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.
In the hoophouse and greenhouse
Keep up with the watering but this is a time to be super careful. Too much moisture in the air causes grey mold and other diseases to bloom. On the other hand, irregular watering causes plants to suffer as well. Tomatoes for example, will develop blossom end rot, a condition that starts as a flat and darkened spot near the blossom end of a tomato and spreads out over time. Continue to feed cucumbers and squash, busy blooming and producing fruit with compost tea and kelp solutions high in potassium and phosphorus.
Finally, remember to harvest peas, the last of the rhubarb, salmonberries and blueberries. Make herbal vinegars and whip up a batch of parsley pesto. Then 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. By the way, if you’d like to look up the day length for any city, go to this website and use Form A.
Marion Owen’s garden is open for tours from 9am to noon on most days. Call 907-539-5009 or find her on Facebook for more information. To connect with local gardeners, visit the Kodiak Growers or the Sustainable Kodiak Facebook page. Archived copies of Marion’s columns are posted at www.kodiakdailymirror.com.