Yes, we know it’s hot outside. And, yes, we know it’s been quite a, shall we say, “unusual” summer. Nonetheless, life grows on, in the garden and elsewhere, and it’s up to us to make the most of what it has to offer, however challenging that may be. The good news? The health (and subsequent wealth) of our garden is something we alone can control. Sure, it takes some nurturing of nature, so to speak, but the rewards? How beautiful the tang of a summer-ripe tomato on the tongue, how uplifting the smile of a sunflower turning its face to the sun and how proud the faithful gardener who has helped make it all happen.
“Herbs have one goal in life and that is to reproduce,” says Carrie Gilbertie of Gilbertie’s Organics in Westport. Your job is to prevent them from getting to that point. Cutting them back basically “tricks” them into focusing their energy on growing roots and leaves as opposed to flowers. August is prime time for harvesting, so keep at it, give them some good organic fertilizer and “they will keep going until the first hard frost,” Gilbertie says. (Chop whatever you can’t use immediately and freeze with a little water in ice cube trays.)
The sad truth is, “weeds explode in the heat of summer,” says Rachel Conley of Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden. Fighting their takeover is a “never-ending battle,” but we must persevere. “Getting rid of weeds means less competition for resources, and the plants will have more nutrients and water available to them,” says Sarah Ballek of Ballek’s Garden Center in East Haddam. (Never mind the fact that as summer fades weeds may produce thousands of itty-bitty seeds just waiting to march all over your garden next spring.) Get ’em out now, and “top off” any areas where your mulch has started to work its way into the soil to help keep them away, suggests Lee Ganim of Ganim’s Garden Center & Florist in Fairfield. Bonus: A nice, thick layer of mulch helps roots keep cool.
Divide and conquer
Hosta, bearded iris, ornamental grasses, daylily … “August is a great time to divide your perennials,” Conley says. To do so, “dig up as much of the root ball as you can,” dispense with any dead or dying foliage and, using a garden knife or trusty spade, cut the plant into smaller sections, “remembering to leave a good amount of leaves and roots for each.” Replant your “newbies” at the same depth you found the original, and they will have plenty of time to put down roots and “settle in” before the first frost, Conley says. The only caveat: Water, water and more water.
Speaking of which …
“In the heat of the summer, it is near impossible to overwater plants in the ground,” Ballek says, and plants without enough water (at least an inch, if not two per week) are more susceptible to pest and disease issues. “When the ground gets so dry, soil can become hydrophobic and shed water rather than absorbing it,” adds Ballek. The best way to reverse this is by slowly watering the root system. Let your hose drip for long periods of time, or invest in a soaker hose. Pay special attention, suggests Ashley Vescera of Winterberry Gardens in Southington, to plants, trees and shrubs that have been put in over the past few years with still-developing root systems.
Press 1 for housekeeping
Now is also the time to start going through and getting rid of any of what Vescera calls “leaf litter” cluttering up the garden. “Make sure to keep your garden soil nice and ‘clean’ so you don’t promote any diseases or encourage unwelcome insects,” Vescera says. Yellow leaves, dead leaves, leaves showing spots that look suspiciously like powdery mildew … “You don’t want any of these to sit in or on the soil.”
Ballek has two words for you when it comes to vegetable gardening: Fall crops! “Most people don’t realize there’s an entire season that allows you to start again,” Ballek says. And yet, “many of the crops you start in early spring can be done again as fall crops.” Think leafy greens like Swiss chard and arugula, cauliflower, beets, carrots … “Planting seeds for late crops is easy,” Ganim says. “Merely count back the number of days from first frost (anywhere from Oct. 20 through Nov. 5, depending on your town), check the maturity dates on your seed package, then determine what you want to plant based on those dates.” Just be sure to “plant cool-season crops such as broccoli, spinach and kale where they will be shaded from the sun,” Ganim says.
That being said …
Keep checking your current crops. “Harvesting vegetables regularly will increase your yield,” Ballek says. “Don’t let your cucumbers get tough and seedy, or let your beans start to burst. A bigger vegetable is not necessarily better, and most are more tasty and tender when picked young.” Can’t eat them fast enough? Preserve them, whether by freezing (perhaps it’s time to invest in a vacuum sealer and/or a dehydrator) or canning, or share with the neighbors. Zucchini for everyone!
Don’t forget the basket brigade
“Continuing to feed the annuals in your hanging baskets and containers weekly will help them continue to produce flowers,” Vescera says. After all, when you give them the water they need, much of it flows you know where: right out the bottom — and flushes nutrients right along with it. Two of Vescera’s top choices: Jack’s Classic Blossom Booster 10-30-20 and Jack’s Classic All Purpose 20-20-20. “Depending on the plant, they can keep going through September.”
Do you deadhead?You should. “Trimming off gone-by flowers not only creates a neater look, it also helps your plants bloom more,” Ballek says. Why? Because when plants go to seed, they exert a lot of energy. Cutting those “has beens” back to the closest node will help conserve that energy, and the plant can use it to produce more blooms. Simply put, the more you cut, the more will grow, which, reminds Vescera, applies to both annuals and perennials.