August Gardening Guidelines
You don’t need me to tell you it’s hot. But, this is August in Texas, and we have several more weeks of summertime heat and humidity to go, so it’s time to hunker down and dream of cooler times ahead.
August can be a challenging month for both the gardener and the garden. Here are some reminders and tips to help get you through these dog days of summer.
Vegetables. The following veggies can be seeded or transplanted in August for a fall harvest - 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).
Here’s a tip to help get vegetable seed up in the heat of summer. Before seeding vegetables, thoroughly soak a shallow trench with water down the row. Plant the seed, and then cover and firm with dry, not moist, 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.
Set out tomato transplants (if you can find them) right away for a fall harvest. Look for an early maturing variety (65 to 75 days). Remember that our average first freeze is mid-November and that tomato maturity slows down as the fall days get cooler and cloudy.
Peppers and tomatoes planted earlier this year 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. Sidedress established healthy plants with fertilizer and keep watered to encourage new growth.
Fertilize bell peppers and tomatoes regularly to keep the plants producing abundant leaves to help prevent sunscald of the developing fruit. Eggplant and cucumbers become bitter if allowed to become drought stressed, so keep them regularly watered.
Eliminate shelters for insects and disease organisms by removing old plants that have become unproductive. Weeds also harbor potential insect pests, so keep the garden mulched and weed free.
If you have any vegetables (or fruit or herbs) at the end of September, enter the best into the Fruit and Vegetable Show contest at the East Texas State Fair and show off your produce!
Lawns. During dry spells, deficiencies in your irrigation system will become apparent. Set out a rain gauge or other type of catch can to see if water is reaching the dry spot. Also check for soil moisture. At this time of year, give your lawn and garden a deep soaking, and let it dry a few days before watering again. This will encourage a deeper, more drought-resistant root system.
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, watering late in the day (allowing the grass to stay wet all night), heavy dew, or frequent showers. Typically grey leaf spots problems clear up during the drier month of August.
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.
Do not fertilizer lawns at this time of year. Nitrogen fertilizer will only promote more growth, requiring more water.
Don’t over-water your landscape plants. The common types we grow are adapted to Texas’ summer heat and humidity, and as long as the soil doesn’t excessively dry out, they will endure our searing temperatures. Soggy soil conditions from watering too much, too often can rot roots and kill plants.
On the other hand, all container plantings will require frequent irrigation, maybe even once or twice a day, depending on the size of the pot, plant and extent of the root system.
August is the time to clip back some of your perennials, giving them one last haircut in preparation for another flush of blooms before winter. All of the salvias will benefit from a light trim, making them more bushy and compact, and increasing flower production as they resume blooming in a couple of weeks.
Many spring-blooming plants, like camellias, azaleas, and fruit trees, are initiating flower buds for next season's bloom at this time so they should not suffer a shortage or water, or be cut back after this time. Other blooming shrubs and trees like azaleas, bridal wreath, redbud and most hydrangeas should also not be cut back in the fall.
Immature berries of hollies, nandina and pyracantha may drop if the plants are water-stressed. In addition to periodic deep watering, make sure an adequate layer of mulch is covering the surface of the soil to maintain a cooler soil temperature and reduce moisture evaporating from exposed soil.To Your Health. Finally, take care of yourself during these hot summer days. Heat exhaustion can quickly overtake you while working outside in the garden. Like you need me to tell you this, but avoid, if possible, working during the hottest parts of the day. Always drink lots of water before, during and after working, and wear loose-fitting clothing and a wide brim hat. If you find you must work in the sun, protect yourself from the UV rays of the sun with sunscreen, sunglasses and a wide-brim hat.