Dog-Day Gardening Tips

Summer and sun-loving Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’ (also called Autumn Sun) is great for the back of a flower border as it gets up to 7 feet tall.

The dog days of summer are here, and triple digit temperatures are a painful reminder of last year’s summer heat and drought. While we are not back in drought conditions in East Texas, it has been a while since there has been a good, area-wide rain event. So, we need to look at taking care of our plant’s water needs, while at the same time being wise stewards of our water resources. No telling when we might have a repeat of last’s year’s need for mandatory conservation measures.

High heat, however, is an annual summer thing here in Texas, and now is a good time to evaluate your landscape, and check out other landscapes in your area, and note what plants are blooming and thriving. If some of your plants have been struggling for the last couple of years, perhaps a little landscape makeover is in order. While it is fun to “stretch the zone” – trying new plants that may be on the edge of adaptability to our local conditions, it is wise to stick with the tried and true for the bulk of your plantings.

One place to get a good look at a lot of different adapted plants is the Tyler Rose Garden. Besides the main rose garden, there are 4 other areas that display hundreds of different flowers and shrubs. These garden areas, are all on the south end of the Rose Garden, and include, going from the southwest to southeast corners, the Heritage Rose Garden, the Sunshine Garden, the Camellia Garden (which includes the Shade Garden), and the IDEA Garden.

Here are some other August gardening tips:

Vegetable Garden. Despite the heat, August is a prime time to plant several types of vegetables for a fall garden. Many gardeners overlook this opportunity to have a fall garden. If you wait until the temperatures have moderated before planting, many vegetables will not reach maturity before the onset of cold weather.

Whenever possible, choose early maturing vegetables for the fall garden. They can be planted after the early summer vegetables have been harvested and still be ready to pick before freezing weather.

You can start planting broccoli transplants soon for late fall/early winter harvest.

The following can be seeded or transplanted in August – the dates indicate the optimal window of time for fall planting: bush and pole beans (8/1 – 9/1), lima beans (8/1 – 8/15), broccoli transplants (8/1 – 9/15),  Brussels sprouts (8/1 – 10/1), cabbage transplants (8/1 – 9/15), Chinese cabbage (8/15 – 9/15), carrots (8/15 – 10/15), cauliflower transplants (8/15 – 9/15), Swiss chard (8/1 – 10/15), sweet corn (8/1 – 8/15), cucumber (8/1 – 9/1), kohlrabi (8/15 – 9/15), parsley (8/15 – 10/1), Irish potatoes (8/15 – 9/15), summer squash (8/1 – 8/15). A complete listing of planting dates for both spring and fall can be found here.

For better germination results, before sowing your vegetable seed, soak a shallow trench with water down the row. Plant the seed, and then cover and firm with dry soil. To keep the soil from crusting due to frequent sprinkling, cover the row with a board or wet burlap and check daily for seed emergence – remove at first signs of life.

Eliminate shelters for insects and disease by removing old plants that have stopped producing and become infested with mites or other problems.

Peppers and tomatoes planted this spring will not set fruit during the heat of summer, even though they may still be flowering. If the plants remain healthy, they will set fruit again once temperatures stay below 90 degrees. Lightly sidedress healthy plants with fertilizer to encourage new growth, and water regularly to prevent stress.

Pine straw (or needles) makes an excellent mulch for azaleas, roses, hostas,and many other plants.

Use Much Mulch. Earlier this week I and a couple of Master Gardener volunteers weeded a bed in the Shade Garden. There was a striking difference in 1) the soil moisture content, 2) the number of weeds, and 3) the ease of removing weeds) between areas with thick, and thin or no mulch. Check the thickness of mulch around your shrubs, flowers and newly planted trees, and replenish as needed. Besides reducing soil temperature, mulches conserve water by reducing evaporation. We finished the weeding job with a layer of pine needles. Mulches also reduce weeds that compete with your plants for water.

Various stages of chinch bugs. The one in the middle is an adult, the rest are nymphal stages. Note the scale to the left is in mm.

Lawns.  Keep an eye out for chinch bugs in St. Augustine lawns. These are small, fast moving black and white insects that can quickly injure and kill grass. The can multiply rapidly in hot weather. Symptoms start with spots in your yard are wilting, looking like they need water, yet don’t perk back up with water. Wilted grass then turns yellow and then straw brown, yet is still firmly rooted. For more information …..

Mow your grass regularly. If you need to rake (or hire a hay baler) after mowing, you are either mowing too infrequently or too low. Either way stresses the grass, making it more prone to other problems.

 Pests. Azalea lace bugs seem to be bad in some areas this year. They are the most common insect pest of azaleas.  Affected azalea leaves look like they are stippled until they are almost white.  A quick look on the underside of leaves will reveal black, varnish-like spots which is a sure sign of azalea lace bugs.  Spray with an insecticide, making sure the spray contacts underneath the leaves where the lace bugs are feeding.

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