If it weren't for the harvest, August would be a good month to skip. Heat, weeds, bugs, voles, rabbits and more watering. No, these afternoon thundershowers don't count. Why? Because the garden needs an inch of water a week, consistently. Afternoon thunderstorms are more storm water run-off than rain that seeps into a dry soil. We're grateful for it, but it doesn't help thirsty and drought stressed plants. So watering new plantings is necessary, but please be advised that Buncombe County is in a moderate drought, with many of our surrounding counties in a severe drought. Please follow the water usage recommendations noted by the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council found here.
Pests are starting to subside, at least enough to keep the hand-picking of Japanese beetles to once a day, but vegetables may need extra attention. Be sure to check your cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower for worms, and squash for borers. Treat the lawn for grubs now. A little bit of prevention goes a long way. For shrubs, trees, and perennials, prune out the diseased, dying and already dead. Start tidying chewed up leaves, remove yellowing or floppy leaves, remove the dead plants that the voles got (no they really aren't coming back). Double check conifers for spider mites, and azaleas and rhododendrons for lace bug, pruning out the damaged wood as you go. Hostas tend to turn yellow now, and that can either be from scorch (too much sun and heat) or a fungal disease, petiole rot. With petiole rot, the leaves turn yellow, then brown and mushy, and are easily pulled off, with mustard sized seeds at the base of the petiole. Remove these diseased leaves and remove the soil surrounding it 8" out with new soil. Many of your Japanese maples are getting crispy leaves now from the hot August sun. Don't stress over this, they'll be fine. FYI: here's a great book on beneficial predatory insects, and here's a list of plants that invite them to your garden from the Permaculture Research Institute.
Now is the time to start cleaning up where you can, which will only make the fall clean-up go faster.
No fertilizer, no pruning
No more fertilizing or pruning of shrubs, or trees. You don't want a lot of new growth pushing out that doesn't have time to harden off before cold weather arrives. Do continue, as mentioned above, to prune out the dead, diseased and dying wood and leaves. Feel free to continue fertilizing your annuals, fall perennials and fall vegetables.
Mid-August to mid-September is the last big push for your lawn till spring. Now, is the time to reseed where necessary, fertilize with a good layer of compost (1"), mow less but leave the grass clippings behind (this provides nitrogen for the soil), and treat the lawn for grubs. Use Milky Spore now, which can be used in all types of weather, but do not mow until the spore has been watered into the soil a good 15 minutes or longer. Look in our newsletters for a September seminar by Ian Farthering on lawn care, and be sure to sign up. It will be followed by a separate seminar on putting the garden to bed.
Harvest Time and Fall Vegetables
Now is the time to plant beets, lettuce, mustard, turnips, radish, spinach, squash and kale. It's also the time to start harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers and more, if you aren't already. How do you know when to pick?
Tomatoes can be picked while green and allowed to ripen on your kitchen counter, but their flavor is better the longer they stay on the vine. Don't refrigerate, keep at room temperature.
Cucumbers are best picked young. Too big and they flavor becomes bland and the seeds are too big. Pick at about 6-8".
Peppers are more flavorful the longer they remain on the vine. Use your snippers to cut them off, don't pull. It's easy to pull up the whole plant.
Beans can be picked anytime, but keep on picking for a longer harvest.
Melons need more time to ripen. They should pull easily from the vine and smell ripe.
Potatoes are ready when the skin isn't thin and transparent. Potatoes are the food that keeps on giving. Pull up an entire plant, dust off the potatoes for eating and replant the plant. You'll get more potatoes. If you do this now, it's possible you'll have new potatoes before temperatures drop.
For more information on how/when to harvest, check out this great information from Cornell University.
This is super easy for fresh tomatoes: Grilled Fresh Tomatoes.
- Use a high heat for the grill, and use a grill basket or fine grill grate brushed with olive oil
- Cut big, fat juicy tomatoes into thick slices, 2" each
- Drizzle 1/4 tsp olive oil over cut side of each tomato slice
- Add salt and pepper to taste
- Add a tsp of chopped, fresh basil per tomato slice
- Cover tomato slice with feta cheese crumbles
- Grill cheese side up for 5-10 minutes
- Tomatoes should still hold their shape and not be mushy, but the cheese should be melted.
Enjoy this last full month of summer!
Cinthia Milner works as the garden coach, in outside sales, and blog writer for BB Barns Garden Center.
BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.