August in the garden means the harvest is underway, but everything in the garden isn’t ready in the same way or on the same day. Here is a primer for garden work this month:
Hydration After the hottest season on record in Calgary, we know we have to keep plant roots moist. Spreading a light mulch cover of grass clippings or chopped garden parts, such as carrot tops, over the soil this month helps hold water. This eliminates the need for heavy watering of soils because less water evaporates under mulch. Water early in the day, lightly fluff the soil surface with a hand-fork after a rain, and always stick your finger in before you water to make sure it really needs it.
To do list: Mulch and water as needed to keep soil evenly moist.
Harvest A garden isn’t a grocery store, and every plant won’t be ready to pick at the same time. The idea of a single, big harvest day is something only commercial farmers achieve. At home or in your community garden plot, pick your beans and peas daily, thin the carrots and beets often, and watch for tiny zucchinis growing into massive logs in two days if you miss a picking opportunity. Some vegetables, such as carrots and beets, need to be thinned to reach their full potential. When the soil is moist, pull out a few plants to create more space in each row, allowing the remaining plants to grow bigger. Remember beans won’t wait patiently, so pick them the minute they look perfect – just like their store-bought counterparts – or they will bulge with big, tough seeds by the time you glance their way again.
To do list: Harvest as food matures, not all at once.
A garden isn’t a grocery store, and every plant won’t be ready to pick at the same time. The idea of a single, big harvest day is something only commercial farmers achieve.
Pruning and deadheading When a prickly rose branch reaches across your front step or threatens to strangle a neighboring plant, trim it. Remove small twigs and shape shrubs, especially roses that are growing vigorously this month. But be warned! Early bloomers, such as lilacs, early roses and spring spirea, spend August building buds for next year’s flowers, so cutting now removes next year’s blooms. If a rose is still showing occasional flowers, it is a summer-flowering variety and can be trimmed back as needed. If annual flowers are going to seed, clip out old flowers and their stems. This deadheading removes all the flower parts and encourages more late summer blooms.
To do list: Keep summer blooming shrubs and flowers trimmed.
Seediness Some plants, such as columbine, chives, lettuce and poppies, make seeds that spill out onto damp soil as the summer progresses. These seeds will sprout and slowly take over all available garden space. It’s charming at first, but eventually becomes a problem because the garden looks dead as these plants dry out and re-seed. This year, my lettuce, cilantro and poppies sprouted from last year’s seed and I now have them in most of my beds.
To do list: Cut back self-seeding plants now and store seed in paper bags for later planting so you can control where they grow.