Jobs for August
All that work looks and tastes good, doesn’t it?
If you’ve been growing flowers, you can bring them indoors or preserve them to enjoy during the winter ahead.
Cut fragrant flowers early in the day while they are full of moisture and the scent is strongest. Ensure knives and shears are sharp to cut evenly, not crush, stems so flowers last longer. Freshly harvested flowers should be placed in lukewarm water, and the best way we know to keep them fresh is to put them in a solution of 2-3 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of vinegar per quart of water. Cut flowers will also last longer if the vase is placed in indirect or low light, and if possible placed in the refrigerator when you go to bed at night. See our handy download sheet for our top picks for cut flowers.
The simplest way to dry flowers is to hang them upside-down in a dark, dry, well-ventilated place for about two weeks and let the air do all the work. Hang flowers with twine from their stems singly or in small bouquets to avoid crushing blossoms.
Flowers should be divided into small bunches to avoid crushing and deforming the blooms.
See our guide to good varieties to choose for drying.
Pressing flowers between the weighted pages of a book or flower press until they dry is also effective for framed arrangements. Violets, pansies, larkspur and ferns preserve well this way.
Harvest melons when they are fully ripe for maximum sweetness, cutting the vine to leave a few inches of stem on the fruit – don’t pull the fruit away from the vine – and leave the stems on the melon for as long as possible.
Berries, cherries and other soft fruit should be picked as close to mealtime as possible and kept unwashed and chilled until the last minute.
Strawberry plants will be spending their energy sending out runners this month and will make a mass of foliage with little fruit if not checked.
Remove runners to keep plants spaced according to the method you're using so plants will put their energy into producing fruit.
As your harvest matures and your blossoms bloom (and the rain pours down) your plant supports may need a little more oomph. Check tomato, fruit and hollyhock cages, canes and stakes, reinserting them where necessary and adding more ties.
Plant more veg
There's still time to plant beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, Chinese cabbage, kale and peas. Choose varieties suited to the cooler temperatures and shorter days to come, and look for quick-maturing options. Plant lettuce in the shade to keep it cooler, the space under your tomatoes or other tall crops is perfect.
Don’t forget autumn annuals
Many annual flowers prefer the cooler days to come and will keep autumn color going in your garden for weeks. Often gardeners think only of perennials for a sequence of bloom. Many cool season annuals look wonderful in containers and growing these flowers will make your gardening season seem that much longer.
Try containers of ornamental cabbage and kale, pansy, snapdragon, viola, dusty miller, annual grasses, ornamental Swiss chard or chrysanthemum. Be sure to feed young plants at least once a month.
Get a head start on next year
Every weed you dispatch now is many fewer you’ll have to deal with next year. Stop annual weeds before they go to seed. Perennial weeds will be soaking up the sun through their leaves and building strength. Chop them down or pull them up.
Freshen up your lawn
Late summer is the perfecttime to establish new grass as warm days and cooler nights encourage germination, the plants will have plenty of time to become established before winter and any autumn frost will help control annual weeds.
If your lawn has bare spots, repair them now. Dig out any weeds and loosen the soil slightly. Add a thin layer of compost and sow good quality grass seed, then cover the seed with a thin layer of straw to discourage birds from snacking on it. Keep the soil surface moist for the first few weeks, then water weekly into autumn.
If your lawn has more than a half an inch of thatch (matted, partially decomposed grass stems and roots), you should remove it before it harbors disease, insects or interferes with the flow of nutrients, water, and air to the roots of your turf. If the job is too big to rake, rent a dethatching machine or hire a contractor.
Plant new trees and shrubs
Evergreens should be planted from mid-August through September to give them enough time to settle before the onset of winter. Planting them any later leaves them susceptible to desiccation, injury and death.
Deciduous trees and shrubs can be planted from August through early November.
All trees and shrubs planted in late summer and autumn should be watered regularly at first, then every 7-10 days during dry weather until the ground freezes.
Late summer and early fall is an excellent time to plant or divide many perennials like peony, daylily, garden phlox, and oriental poppy. Mulch the plants with 2-4” of straw or evergreen boughs to help prevent repeated freezing and thawing of the soil, which can damage freshly-planted perennials.
Pesky pests – Japanese beetles and grubs
Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) usually emerge in the beginning of July and can continue to wreak havoc until well into September.
After hibernating through the winter, grubs pupate around mid-June, when early signs of an infestation show as brown, dry, torn turf caused
by creatures digging up grubs to eat. Later signs of adult infestation are lacey leaves or flowers as beetles chew up plants – Japanese beetles
are known to eat up to 300 plants, including your precious berries, fruits and veg. They move in large groups, flying away from danger or feigning
death by dropping to the ground if threatened. By August they will be moving underground to lay their eggs and store up trouble for you next
year. The US Department of Agriculture has a good illustration of the annual life cycle of the Japanese beetle here.
The Maine state Department of Agriculture has some useful photographs to help identify the grubs, beetles and the damage they cause here.
First things first: while you may be frustrated, take care that your control methods don’t kill beneficial insects, birds and other creatures. Many chemical controls will do as much, if not more, harm than good.
A combination of controls may be your best bet:
- Hand picking grubs and adults is effective, and you may find you need to do this several times a day to cut the population down. We’ve seen it suggested that picking adults early in the day can be easier before the adults warm up enough to fly more effectively, so they will tend to drop to the ground instead, and you can pick them up. Picking grubs is best done when they are small and less likely to have cause so much damage, so aim for late summer to early autumn in New England.
- Beneficial nematodes are also effective in New England, and these are also safer to use than many chemical controls.
- Physical protective barriers like spunbonded polyester can protect susceptible plants from large numbers of insects.
- Foliage can be protected with neem oil spray, repeat applications are often necessary, but neem can be bought in organic formulas and is even safe to use on food crops.
If you opt for pheromone traps, you need to use them correctly:
1) Be sure to place traps at least 50 feet away from the plants you want to protect, or you’re effectively inviting the beetles to lunch.
2) Do not wait for the trap bags to completely fill before emptying. Poorly maintained traps can be a liability instead of a help.
3) A University of Rhode Island study showed placing them about 13 cm (about 5 inches) above the ground is the best height to place traps, any higher is above where the beetles normally fly. (Alm, et al, Environmental Entomology, 25(6):1274--1278(1996)).
4) Don’t expect traps to solve your problem in one season, especially if you have a heavy infestation. Remember that adults will be laying eggs underground, so you may well find you’ll need to stay on top of your control strategy for a few years. Studies do suggest that traps can reduce beetle populations by 97% over four years, so it’s worth the effort. (Wawrzynski and Ascerno, Journal of Arboriculture 24(6): November (1998)) .
5) Top tip: Do not open the trap until it is in place and you are ready to walk away, as we’ve heard reports of beetles arriving in large numbers
as soon as the pheromones are released.