Gardening Tips for August

Portulaca Duet 'Rose 'N Yellow' (in foreground at bottom of pic) at the 2011 Horticulture Field Day at the Texas AgriLife Research & Extension Center in Overton. Note how much more vigorous it is than other varieties trialed. Portulaca is a great full sun, heat-loving annual.

As summer roles into August, the blistering heat continues (and intensifies), along with our need for widespread showers to soak the region. This is a stressful time of year for lawns, gardens, and gardeners too, if you don’t stay out of the heat.

Be very careful when working, or playing, outdoors at this time of year.  Heat stroke and exhaustion can sneak up on you quickly and are serious medical conditions.

 Heat cramps: Painful spasms and cramping of large muscles in the legs, arms or abdomen. These spasms are caused by too much exertion in the heat and not enough fluids (such as water or juice) taken in.

 Heat exhaustion: Feeling of tiredness, weakness and dizziness, accompanied by headache, nausea and sometimes vomiting. Heat exhaustion is also brought on by dehydration and too much physical activity in the heat. Victims’ perspiration is heavy and the skin feels moist.

 Heat stroke: Symptoms of this serious medical condition include feeling tired, weak and dizzy, as well as disorientation and/or deliriousness, and possibly unconsciousness. Heat stroke is truly a medical emergency for which you would call 911.

Schedule your garden work to avoid the most intense heat in the middle of the day. Take frequent breaks, wear loose clothing, and drink lots of water or other non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages to keep hydrated. Ideally, drink a couple of eight-ounce glasses of water, juice or sports drink about two hours before you go outside, and follow that up with another four to eight ounces about 90 minutes later or about 15 or 20 minutes before you go out into the sun. That will give your body time to accumulate necessary fluids.

Always wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and in the evenings, some sort of mosquito repellant.

Gardening Stuff: Now is the time to plan for next spring. Dig and divide crowded spring-blooming bulbs. Crowded bulbs produce fewer and smaller blooms. Most types usually need thinning every 3 to 4 years.

A late-August pruning of rosebushes can be beneficial. Prune out dead canes and any weak, twiggy growth. Cut back tall, vigorous hybrid tea bushes to 30 to 36 inches. Reblooming heritage roses may just need a light pruning. After pruning, apply fertilizer, and water thoroughly. Your rose bushes should provide an excellent crop of flowers this October.

It is not too late to set out another planting of many warm-season annuals, such as marigolds, zinnias, angelonia, fanflower and periwinkles. They will require extra attention for the first few weeks, but should provide you with color September through November.

Re-blooming salvias, such as Salvia greggii and S. farinacea, should be pruned back periodically during the summer. To make the job easier, use hedging shears, and remove only the spent flowers and a few inches of stem below. Fall-blooming perennials, such as Mexican marigold mint (Tagetes lucida), chrysanthemums, physostegia, and Salvia leucantha, should be pruned in the same manner during the summer to keep them compact, reducing the need for staking. This type of pruning should be completed prior to September 1, since flower buds begin forming about that time.

Lawns.  St. Augustine grass can be attacked by chinch bugs and grey leaf spot at this time of year. Initially the grass will look off color or yellow, and somewhat wilted like it needs water.  But watering does not help either problem.

Grass with grey leaf spot disease will have spots of varying sizes, on the edges or middle of the blades, all with dark margins. Seriously affected areas will appear to melt away. This is a fungus, and is brought on by keeping the grass too wet, usually by watering too frequently, or watering late in the day allowing the grass to stay wet all night. This requires a fungicide to control, along with a change in watering habits.

Chinch bugs are small, fast-moving insects that feed on the grass, causing it to yellow, wilt and eventually die, leaving the grass looking like straw.  There are no dark leaf spots associated with chinch bugs.

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

When 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.

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), parsley (8/15 – 10/1), Irish potatoes (8/15 – 9/15), summer squash (8/1 – 8/15).

If you’re thinking about growing tomatoes, they should be planted immediately. The fastest maturing varieties require at least 70 days to bring the first batch of fruit to maturity.  Even though our average first freeze is mid-November, the preceding weeks are often cool and cloudy, which greatly slows down the maturation process. So, if possible, buy large, healthy transplants of early-maturing varieties.

Eggplant and cucumbers can become bitter if allowed to become drought stressed, so keep them regularly watered.

Remove old plants that have stopped producing to eliminate shelters for insects and disease organisms.

Peppers and tomatoes planted earlier this year will not set fruit during the heat of summer, even though they may still be flowering. But, if the plants remain healthy, they will set fruit again once temperatures stay below 90 degrees. Sidedress established healthy plants with fertilizer, and keep watered and mulched to encourage new growth.

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