In Michigan August is generally our warmest month, but it also means shortening daylight which pushes plants to maturity. It’s the time of maximum home garden harvest, with ripening tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, sweet corn, beans, cucumbers and squash. It’s also a time when many hanging baskets and container plants begin to look a little worn out and annuals get leggy and bloom less.
When you look around the perennial garden in August you often can’t believe that you put all those plants in the same area, with mature plants fighting for space. And since many perennials bloomed early this year, you may also be wondering if there will be anything blooming in August in the garden. Shrubs may have grow beyond their bounds and weeds may have snuck in during the hot days and grown tremendously.
August is a good time to stake stock of what’s growing in your Michigan garden and get things back in control. This article will remind you of what garden tasks need to be done or can be done in August.
Vegetable garden and small fruit
If your garden is abundantly producing consider yourself blessed and give the excess produce to neighbors or a food bank if you don’t can or freeze it. Vegetable gardens may produce well into fall if they are well cared for.
- Keep vegetables picked to keep the plants producing, even if you don’t need any more zucchini or tomatoes. If things like cucumbers, squash and beans are allowed to have several fruits come to maturity chemical signals in the ripe fruit will tell the plant to stop producing.
- Late raspberries and everbearing strawberries should be protected from birds this year as small fruit crops are making them attack what is left with vigor. You may also have to cover any ripening grape clusters with netting.
- Water if it gets dry. If less than an inch of rain has fallen in a week most vegetable and fruit plants should be watered. Plants won’t produce as many fruits or fruits that taste as well if they get too dry. June bearing strawberries may have quit producing but they need water to produce healthy growth so they will produce well next year.
- Pull out and destroy weeds, even if they stay small. Weeds can harbor disease and insects. In the hot days it’s easy to quit weeding but gardens will do better if kept weed free.
- Protect tomatoes and cucumbers with fungicide sprays. Fungal diseases take a big toll on these crops. Squash, pumpkins and melons may also suffer from fungal disease. Spray with a garden fungicide such as daconil as the label directs.
- Remove diseased leaves, stems or fruit from plants. The plant doesn’t need to put any resources into diseased parts and those parts often spread the disease to other plant areas or nearby plants.
- Harvest potatoes when the vines have dried up. Let them cure in a dark dry place for a few days before storing. If you leave them in the ground mice and voles may begin to eat them or they may rot or begin to sprout when we get rainy fall weather.
- Consider planting a late crop of lettuce, spinach, beets, carrots or even potatoes. If we have a long fall these crops will produce well for you.
Annuals and container plants
While it may seem like the season is almost over, annuals and container plants may have up to 90 days left to bloom, depending on when our first frost hits. A little care will keep them blooming as long as possible.
- Fertilize hanging baskets, containers and annual plants once a week. If you used a slow release plant food when you planted, August is generally the month its strength fades. The easiest way to fertilize now is to use a water soluble fertilizer.
- If annuals are really straggly and have stopped blooming, cut them back to about 3 inches from the ground. This may cause them to put out new growth and flowers in a couple of weeks to give a nice show in the fall.
- Deadhead annuals and perennials that have a long bloom season. That means removing flowers as they fade and not letting them go to seed. Also remove dried flower stalks on plants like daylilies and hosta to make the garden look nicer.
- If containers or baskets have many plants in them and some seem to be overpowering others, you may want to separate the plants and make more than one container or basket with them.
- You can also trim back hanging baskets that have dried out and gotten straggly to about 3 inches from the soil surface. Keep them watered and fertilized and new growth should fill out quickly.
- Think about replacing spent annuals with mums and other fall plants that will be coming on the market in mid to late August.
- Weed perennial beds and remove dead or diseased foliage.
- Bearded iris can be divided or planted in August. Mark other areas where you may want to divide or move perennial plants and do the actual dividing and moving in the cooler days of September.
Trees and shrubs
Trees and shrubs can benefit from a little care in August too.
- Don’t totally forget fruit trees even if they have no fruit this year. Trim off water sprouts and any sprouts coming from the ground or below the graft union. Light pruning to shape the tree and remove rubbing or crossing branches can be done since we have no crop to worry about.
- Check any trees that are staked to make sure the wires are not growing into the tree or cutting it. Replenish mulch and weed around trees and shrubs.
- Hedges can be trimmed as can any shrubs that aren’t grown for flowers. Spring blooming shrubs should not be pruned now.
- Some areas of Michigan have not seen much rain. Expensive and important trees and shrubs should be deep watered in August if it remains dry in your area.
Don’t forget to take some photos of your garden in August to look at early next year when you begin planting. It can help you decide where to rotate crops, or where you need more color or where to remove and divide plants.
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