Regional and seasonal gardening tips for where you live from the Gardener's Almanac.
Tomato days have arrived. August brings the first ripe cherry tomatoes, and then a steadily increasing number of larger fruits. By September, the tomatoes sit in bowls and buckets to be turned into salsa and sauces.ays of plenty also are here as raspberries, blackberries, elderberries, currants, gooseberries, plums and cherries begin to ripen. Broccoli, green beans and summer squash abound. Harvest your garlic and hang it in an airy, dry place. The second nesting of baby robins fledge in mid-August, signaling time to plant fall spinach and greens. Edamame soybeans fill out to shelling size in late August. Blanch the fuzzy pods and cool them for easy shelling. September brings cooler nights and ripening melons, a sweet end to the season that can last all winter if the melons are sliced thin and dried in a dehydrator. As crops mature, sow oats or winter rye as a cover crop on the open ground.
— Roberta Bailey, FEDCO Seeds, Waterville, Maine
Early August is the last chance for planting zucchini, cucumbers and beans. Continue weekly sowings of carrots, kohlrabi, radishes and greens. For quicker germination, soak fall beet seeds (‘Lutz Green Leaf’ is a good variety) in water for two to 12 hours before planting. Spinach seeds will germinate better in hot weather if you sprout them in the fridge for three to seven days — soak in water for several hours, then rinse and drain daily. Keep berries watered and mulched for next year’s crop. Thin the strawberries and use the thinnings to start a new bed. In September, add cold-hardy Asian greens, daikon (white Japanese radish), scallions, arugula, mizuna, kale, mustard, tat soi and winter lettuces to your weekly plantings for good winter eating. Sow cover crops of oats, rye, clover and vetch wherever the ground is open. ‘Wrens Abruzzi’ rye is adapted to the South and grows rapidly in cool weather, suppressing and smothering weeds.
— Ira Wallace, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Mineral, Va.
It’s time to gear up for fall gardening, but find a shady spot in midday and save heavier work for cooler mornings or evenings. In northern parts, start transplanting brassicas into the garden in August, but wait until September in warmer southern areas. Plant a second crop of beans, cucumbers and summer squash to mature before frost. As the days start cooling, sow lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, beets, carrots and other fall and winter favorites. Water carefully, or keep new plantings shaded until your seeds germinate, but watch closely and remove coverings as soon as seedlings emerge. Start flower seeds or set out bedding plants now for fall. You can plant short-day onion seed in September for an early summer harvest. If your garden has any bare soil showing, there is time for a quick crop of buckwheat to crowd out weeds and enrich the soil before frost.
— Lori Hardee and Karen Park Jennings, Park Seed Co., Greenwood, S.C.
The warm Southern climate burns up organic matter like charcoal at a Fourth of July barbecue. Unfortunately, finding good compost isn’t always easy. Wood chips from the local municipality are OK for mulch, but don’t mix them into the soil. As they decompose, most of the available soil nitrogen will be tied up, which can starve your garden plants. Check out local horse stables, or see if there is a mushroom grower close by — spent mushroom compost is a great soil amendment. Once the garden beds are fertile, it’s time to start planting. Sow snow peas in early August for production when the temperature cools off in the fall. You need to plant bush beans by late August or early September. Seed broccoli and cauliflower now for October transplants and, of course, it is time to get out the seed catalogs and order lettuce, radishes, carrots and other cool-season vegetables.
— Bill Adams, Burton, Texas
As you harvest lettuce, peas and other early summer vegetables, work amendments into the soil and replant. Choose varieties (including some flowers for bouquets) that will mature in early fall. Occasionally — like last year — good gardening conditions continue until November, so don’t be too quick to put your garden to rest. Patch up your lawn with new seed as the nights become cooler and dew adds moisture to the soil. But plan on watering all new plantings daily if it doesn’t rain. Often, the seed will swell with its first exposure to moisture and then dry out and die when the moisture level is not maintained. Be aware that cooler nights and dewy mornings create ideal conditions for fungal diseases. To avoid spreading them, try to stay out of the garden until the moisture has burned off in the morning sun, and be on the watch for disease and insect infestations before they become severe.
— Connie Dam-Byl, William Dam Seeds Ltd., Dundas, Ontario
August can mean hot or cold to gardens in the Mountain West and Northern Plains. The hottest, driest days of the year call for extra mulch in between plants. A shade cloth cover will help preserve the tender quality of salad greens. Plant frost-hardy greens now for continued salad harvest into the fall. Where snow offers reliable protection, spinach and kale often will overwinter to provide the first spring crops. Miner’s lettuce is another hardy green that thrives under cold frames or other protected spots for a succulent early spring salad. Plant lettuce in September, but the seeds may need to be pre-soaked and chilled in the refrigerator for several days to get them to germinate in hot weather. Be on guard for sudden temperature swings as September approaches. Think through your plan for covering, protecting or harvesting frost-sensitive crops and have frost cloth, plastic or even blankets handy.
— Bill McDorman, Seeds Trust, High Altitude Gardens, Hailey, Idaho
August and September are peak harvest months, and knowing when a vegetable is ripe can make a world of difference in the taste. Some vegetables — such as beets, carrots, salad greens and summer squash — can be harvested when young for a sweet, delicious taste. Others — such as beans, corn, peppers, winter squash and tomatoes — reach their peak flavor when fully matured. A cantaloupe or honeydew is ripe when it easily detaches from the vine, but wait on watermelon until the tendril nearest to the fruit turns brown. If you find that your harvest is too plentiful for your own table, call the local food bank. Plant kale, broccoli, turnips, winter radishes and cabbage in vacant spaces in the late summer garden. Sow mâche (corn salad) in mid-August or early September — the overwintered seedlings will form heads in early spring. Saffron crocus bulbs planted now will bloom in October and provide a small harvest of this precious spice.
— Rose Marie Nichols McGee, Nichols Garden Nursery, Albany, Ore.; Josh Kirschenbaum, Territorial Seed Co., Cottage Grove, Ore.
Even though it’s too hot to think about much besides watering and harvesting, now is the time to plant for a succulent winter harvest. Sow carrots, lettuce, brassicas and a multitude of other cool-weather plants, depending on weather and when the first frost is expected. Plantings every two weeks through October will keep succession harvests going through the winter in many Southwest locales. These plants will grow much more slowly with shorter days and cooler weather, so plant more than you would in the spring. A board laid over the seedbed will help maintain moisture for good germination, but check daily and remove it when the first seedlings appear. On hot days, pick vegetables and fruit first thing in the morning, before the sun starts warming them up. This will extend their shelf life and improve the taste quality. Tomatoes, especially, develop a grainy, mushy texture when they are cooled after being picked in the heat of the day.
— Erica Renaud, Seeds of Change, Santa Fe, N.M.