August is usually filled with the "dog days of summer"; typified by high heat and drought-like conditions. Typically, tall perennials need to be staked, beds and borders tend to look slightly overcrowded and pests and diseases are out in full force. However, this spring and summer of 2017 have been anything but typical. A late start to spring and a record amount of rain in Zone 5 of southern Ontario have made gardening more challenging this season. For most of us, it feels like summer only just got started at the end of July...and it is still pretty wobbly; more rain than normal and not enough of sunny rays. For gardeners, lots rain results in less watering chores and lusher growth but it also causes greater plant vulnerability to disease and fungus, soil compression...and lots more weeds!
At Kate's Garden, we renovate and care for many gardens each and every year. Consequently, I have been able to witness many of these challenges up close in a large variety of gardens ranging from tiny to estate size. In this, my introductory blog post, I think sharing a few timely August gardening tips might be just the ticket!
First of all, let's talk about weeds. Nasty subject and often the least favourite thing to do for most gardeners. I always try and put a positive spin on weeding; mentally coaching myself into believing that if I tackle the worst thing first then the more pleasant tasks of gardening are the reward. Truth is, it is very satisfying to bring order from chaos in a garden. Weeding is often monotonous and a little mindless but bringing a border back up to snuff after a thorough weed creates a zen-like satisfaction. And, of course, any contact with the earth is literally and figuratively grounding. Just think of weeding as an inexpensive way to reduce stress! As they say, gardening is better than therapy...and you get tomatoes! There is no sidestepping the need for a routine when it comes to weeding; success is all about staying on top of it. A bi-weekly weeding session is frequently enough to keep your borders and beds looking great. My preferred tool for weeding and that of all of our Fine Gardening teams here at Kate's Garden is called The Garden Bandit. It is a nifty, light weight hand tool made in Canada that works better than any other tool we have tried.
It gets the weeds out by the roots and helps to aerate quickly too. On the days my knees are a bit sore, I either use a kneeling pad or my recent treat: a telescopic version of the garden bandit which allows me to eliminate the bending.
When it comes to weeds, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Aggressive weeding in early May goes a long way to minimizing the problem but mulch is even better. In addition to the finished look it gives a garden bed, mulch is the best way to suppress weeds. Though I love the look of well-turned soil, I have become a huge fan of dark brown mulch. I personally like it better than black or red mulch as it looks so much like the colour of soil. Mulch also helps to cool the soil, retains moisture and lessens winter kill too. We just call up Farmer Jack's on Highway 48 to order their Garden Blend and they deliver it the very same day. I recommend no more than 3 inches of depth for mulch. To figure out how many yards of mulch you will need, measure the square footage to be covered, multiply it by .25 and divide by 27.
Pruning and Deadheading
Like most things in life, once you get into a good routine you start to see benefits. Routine deadheading is key to success for gardening in August. Deadheading, pinching back, getting out your micro tip snips...do what you need to do...but this frequent form of garden tweaking is the key to improving continuous bloom. For instance, by now, you should have pruned all of your spring blooming shrubs and sheared off your first harvest of lavender. Cutting back your lavender by early August means that you will get a second show in September. Landscape and drift roses bloom from late June to October with a constant show of vibrant colour if you deadhead frequently. Deadheading your day lilies keeps that colour popping for weeks and weeks. For the gardens designed by Kate's Garden, we focus primarily on long-blooming, repeat blooming perennials and shrubs. Getting that repeat bloom is dependent on pruning after the first bloom. Spirea is a great example as you can often get two to three shows of colour if you shear off once the first show is finished. There are so many new varieties of reblooming dwarf shrubs at Tree Valley in Stouffville and Sheridan Nurseries in Unionville this year that it is hard to keep up.
Fertilizing your perennials and flowering shrubs remains important until the first week of September. For our Kate's Garden Fine Gardening clients, we fertilize their containers bi-weekly and fertilize their beds and borders the first week of each month from May until September using a fertilizer with a high middle number for popping bloom.
Container Gardening Care
Deadheading your containers is important especially during the month of August. Failure to deadhead results in leggy looking growth and weak bloom. Deadheading does not mean just snapping off the spent flower. It means pinching back or snipping back to either the next logical leaf or at the base of the stem. Daily watering, turning the pots a few degrees once every few weeks, fertilizing bi-weekly are major success factors when it comes to great looking containers that should last until "kitten frost". Kitten frost is that first light frost that usually kills off the annuals early in October.
Plant Pests and Diseases
Plant pests and diseases are often at their worst in August with slugs, lily beetles and earwigs at their worst. Beer in a tuna fish can works pretty well to keep slugs away from hostas but slug bait works better. Murray from Home Hardware on Highway Seven keeps us supplied with really effective lily beetle traps and pretty much everything else we need to treat fungus, mildew and nasty little garden critters.
Keeping tall perennials upright and hydrangeas from drooping with weight is a usual August challenge. Come to Kate's Garden to take a look at our Eastcliff Farm wrought iron hydrangea cages or choose from our wonderful array of decorative plant stakes, obelisks, trellises and garden edging. We love it when our garden artisans turn everyday functional items into garden art! Better still, our plant supports are all on sale until the end of August. In fact, our Summer Sale lasts until just before Labour Day with almost all in stock items reduced by 25% to 75% off. Come see us soon as they are going quickly.