It’s that time of year again. Not only do we have to deal with the August travails of chiggers, ticks, spider webs, heat, humidity, deer, moles, voles and other assorted and sundry curses, there’s also the dereliction that has begun to manifest itself in our ornamental and vegetable gardens.
It is not unusual. Every year in late summer, there are plants that, once their flowering is over, they rot to pieces or otherwise sully up the scenery by falling over, breaking down, turning yellow and brown or are shredded by bugs of every description. They stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. Part of that is because our own thumbs are not green enough. Huh?
Well, it is no great shakes to have a neat garden in spring or early summer, before said dereliction starts to get in its licks. If our thumbs (read brains) were greener, we would have figured a way out of this mess.
There’s hope, but some of our assignment has to start immediately, while the temperature hovers near 100 degrees and the dewpoint is almost as high. This is no time, you (and I) say, to rejuvenate anything outside the house.
Start early tomorrow morning. Gather up all the dead haulm that is evident and get it to the compost pile or otherwise discard it. Then, deadhead what few flowering plants seem to be faltering but haven’t given up the ghost completely. Among these will be summer phloxes and roses, which can be coaxed into a fall flowering. Fertilize them with liquid food and granulated as well. That will probably do you for the first day. Go in and have an iced tea.
The next day, water everything thoroughly. Don’t depend on your irrigation system to do the job. Stand there with a hose and sop everything in sight until it is muddy. This will kick in the fertilizer for everything that is yet to go this season. If you’ve done your homework, there will be more of it than you think. Just look at all that mum, aster, verbena et al foliage, just ready for bud pop, not to speak of ornamental grasses, cannas and a lot of others already showing off and which will go on until frost.
And, too, not to speak of annuals. Where would we be without them? If they have been tended properly they should be in fine fettle as we speak. We’re speaking here, of course, of hot weather lovers. Give them a little shot of fertilizer and water them thoroughly. If they are starting to seed themselves to death, cut them back a little. Most annuals live to seed and then die, so keep them from seeding if possible. Impatiens are an exception. They do not need deadheading. A few others fall into this category, too.
Don’t forget your container gardens. They will be root bound, and some will need a lot of water every day, small pots even twice a day. Deadhead those plants that need it, and replace poor ones with replacements such as mums that will make for a good fall show.
Vegetable gardeners should be working themselves to death, harvesting and putting up a good crop. Believe it or not, August is the time to put in fall gardens. Turnips, broccoli, cabbage, etc., should be planted soon. Spinach is problematic, since it prefers cooler soil to sprout. Wait a while, and when a stand is realized, keep it harvested and re-sprouting of additional leaves will occur.
I would hope most of you would not be as heat sensitive as I am. Even two hours on an early August morning is enough for me.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at 642-1162.