Carol Mack shares important seasonal tips for gardening zones in New England/Maritime Canada, Mid-Atlantic, Southern Interior, the Gulf Coast, Central/Midwest, North Central and Rockies, Pacific Northwest and the Southwest.
Timely gardening tips for where you live.
ILLUSTRATION: DIANE A. RADER
Learn about current August and September seasonal tips for gardening zones in the U.S.
Harvest time is here, the culmination of months of seedling care, mulching and watering. Pick apples and make raspberry, blueberry or blackberry applesauce with five parts apples to one part berries — a great way to improve the flavor of the mild early apples. Are hungry birds a problem in your fruit patch? Frighten them away with scare-eye balloons or metallic flashtape that shimmers in the wind. I cover bramble rows with a fine mesh net, placing stakes with T-shaped crosspieces every 6 feet to keep the mesh from getting entangled with the plants. Or try placing a fabric row cover over the top of an entire row of berries just as they ripen. The lightest weight offers a few degrees of added heat, which can be beneficial in the North in all but the hottest weather.
Every-other-day harvests and canning sessions make this a busy season. But don't neglect strawberries and asparagus beds — keep them watered and weeded. Sift compost and cover it, or move it to the greenhouse to mellow over winter. Inventory garlic and perennial onion planting stock and order any varieties you will need — I recommend 'Brown Tempest' garlic and yellow potato onions for our area. Sow lettuce every five days, ideally near trees that provide afternoon shade.
About Aug. 20, switch to cold-tolerant lettuce varieties. Sow beets, carrots, kohlrabi, chard, beans and summer squash every week through August until the weather cools. Weekly sowings of radishes, turnips and hardy greens can continue through cool fall weather. When the seedlings are up, thin and weed, and under-sow with white Dutch clover. Take advantage of early September rains to transplant fall brussicas and to seed scallions and Daikon radishes.
At this point in the growing season, you should be enjoying the bounty from your vegetable garden, but even with these delicious choices in hand, its not too early to start thinking about the fall season. Lettuce is an ideal cool-weather crop and should be sown in late summer. Kohlrabi is an excellent fall crop the earlier varieties are ready in 40 to 60 days after being set out. Fall planting of short-day-type onion seed will produce an early summer harvest. Mustard greens, another Southern favorite, should be planted six to eight weeks before the first fall frost. Plant radishes in late summer as well. Depending on the variety, they can lx ready to eat in about 30 days. A late summer sowing of spinach produces a fall crop, which will overwinter in mild areas and produce again in the springtime.
Its time to prepare for the best garden season of all — fall! Hot as it is, plant snow peas now to produce in the cooler weather. Plant seed for broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage transplants through mid-August. Give the seedlings some afternoon shade and you should have transplants ready to go into the ground in late September. If nematodes have been a problem in your garden, take advantage of a rainless spell to "dry-till" the soil. Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that attack plant roots and cause large knots. They require soil moisture to survive, so tilling the soil while it's dry and hot can significantly reduce their numbers. (The process isn't much fun for gardeners, either, but we usually survive.) Work compost into areas that will be planted with fall crops, and seed the rest with a cereal rye cover crop that further helps reduce nematodes.
During August, continue planting vegetables for your fall garden or winter cold frame. Beets, lettuce, kale mustard greens, peas, radishes and spinach will germinate and grow well in the august warmth and thrive in the milder September weather. Fall harvest of cold-season vegetables can continue through November if this year is similar to recent ones. As frosts approach, protect sensitive plants with fabric row covers. Some products, available from most farm supply companies offer up to 8 degrees of protection. Because they allow light penetration but don't heat up dramatically, row covers can stay put during the day. Garden cleanup and tilling are best clone in fall when weather is good and soil is not too wet. Divide and transplant perennials in September — this often helps the vigor of the plants as well as providing clumps of your favorites for a friend or neighbor.
Our most important objective this time of year is to keep the garden soil covered. As crops are harvested, replant or mulch unplanted areas. Intense ultraviolet radiation, especially at higher elevations, damages soil tilth. Hot, dry, exposed soil quickly loses hard-earned fertility. We try to replant frost-tolerant greens like mustard and arugula in every open space after something is harvested. If covered with a simple cold frame in late September, these fresh greens last until Thanksgiving. Through much of our region, this is our driest season and irrigation is a top priority. Drip systems work well because the water goes right to the plant roots instead of evaporating, encouraging more weeds, or collecting on leaves and promoting disease. However, sessions need to be timed to individual plant needs. Blueberries with their shallow roots do best with short, frequent waterings, but most trees thrive on deeper, less-frequent applications.
The late summer garden is a quietly humming hive of activity. Plants need basic care and steady harvesting to maintain production. Plant seeds or sets of winter-hardy kale, broccoli, lettuce, Walla Walla onions and garlic. These crops are nutrient rich and taste so much better than most store-bought produce in the winter months. For some thing different, "Chinese Misato Rose" radishes, nicknamed "watermelon radishes" for their beautiful red hearts, can be planted late August through September. If you're overwhelmed with produce and cut flowers, take some to your local food bank, shelter or soup kitchen.
Keep up with picking beans, tomatoes and summer squash to prolong harvests. With the monsoon rains now past, we need to irrigate again, but in these hot months, it's important to water in early morning or evening to conserve moisture. Start sowing fall rotations of spinach, lettuce and greens. Plant under cloches and begin covering at night when temperatures drop below 35 degrees. Clean up spent crops or those infected with pests or disease to prevent carrying problems into next year.
Begin collecting fall seeds to save for next spring. In August, open areas can be planted with perennial cover crops such as clover or sainfoin, sometimes called esparcet or holy clover. Annual cover crops such as vetch, triticale, rye, winter wheat or Austrian winter peas should be sown in mid-September. A combination of grains and legumes create an optimum balance of carbon and nitrogen, providing organic matter and fertility for next spring.
Our thanks to the following for their contributions to the Almanac: Roberta Bailey, FEDCO Seeds, Waterville, Maine; Cricket Rakita, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Mineral, Virginia; Connie DamByl, William Dam Seeds, Dundas, Ontario; Matt Barthel, Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa; Bill McDorman, Seeds Trust/High Altitude Gardens, Hailey, Idaho; Josh Kirschenbaum and Tom Johns, Territorial Seed Company, Cottage Grove, Oregon; Rose Marie Nichols McGee, Nichols Garden Nursery, Albany, Oregon; Craig and Sue Dremann, Redwood City Seed Co., Redwood City, California; Dean Lollis, Park Seed Co., Greenwood, South Carolina.
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