August To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, with Melinda Heigel, EMGVs

Zinnias are easy seeds to direct sow in the garden. And they encourage some pretty cool visitors.

Your beloved monthly to-do writer, Gary, is taking a little time away this week. With some of the showers we’ve been having, maybe you had the chance to kick back a little bit this week too–at least with the watering. According to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network),1 some spots in Durham have enjoyed anywhere from a trace amount up to well over 2+” of rain this last week. Did I see you out there dancing, arms stretched to the skies? Remember, a good rule of thumb for things planted in the ground is 1″ of water per week.

I know you will be anxiously awaiting news in September on the progress of the Accidental Cottage Garden (ACG). There is always something blooming up a storm in the ACG. Nod to Gary on that one. Despite all the hot and incredibly dry weather this summer has brought, he has planted the right plants in the right place–another important well-worn trope master gardeners chirp all the time. That means if you are planting in a hot, sunny and dry place make sure you choose plants that like those conditions. Be like Gary.

Below is a “repeat performance” of Gary’s August To Do in the Garden from last summer, and the advice still rings true. He’ll be back in September, and while he is away, I will take a minute to shamelessly plug my own cottage-style garden in the photos below. Here it is in all its wild and wooly summer glory! –M. Heigel

The side garden is a riot of color and texture in August. Some might call it a mess; I prefer to call it delightful. Some of the featured plants (left to right, top to bottom) are autumn sage (Salvia greggii), pincushion flower (Sacbiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), Zinnia (Zinnia spp.), white garden phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘David’), spider flower (Cleome houtteana ‘Rose Queen’), dwarf goldenrod (Solodago rugosa ‘Fireworks’), and branching and single-stem sunflowers (Helianthus spp.).

Check out this video to get a real sense of the true pollinator magnet the cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) really is. It’s usually the busiest plant my garden. Plus, it is hardy, disease resistant, and can grow anywhere from 3′ to 10′ inches tall. If you have full sun to part shade, I recommend this heat-loving plant. (Volume on for the full effect.)2



Scope out the lawn for grubs. Treat ‘em if you find ‘em. Otherwise, leave the sprayer hanging in the shed. Late in the month you can prepare areas the need to be seeded with cool season grass (fescue, Kentucky bluegrass—not the kind with banjos and fiddles. Save them for the IBMA in September.)


If you have strawberries hit them with a little nitrogen. DO NOT fertilize trees or shrubbery again until December.


If you are a start-them-from-seed kind of person then by all means get to it. Sow pansy seeds in flats to be set out in September. Perennials like hollyhock (Alcea rosea), larkspur (Delphinium elatum and a host of other specific names), and Stokes’ aster (Stoksia laveis) seeds can be sown now to get a jump on healthy plants in the spring. Plant a fall garden. Root crops E.g., beets, turnips, rutabagas and radishes are good to plant now as are many salad greens E.g., Chinese cabbage, kale, lettuce, arugula, and mustard. Other fast-growing veggies that are fine to plant now are squash and cucumbers. That should keep you in fresh produce until after Thanksgiving.


Fuhgeddaboudit. No more pruning until the end of November. You get a pass if a hurricane not associated with PNC Arena should pay a visit.


Same stuff as last month. Look for spider mites on coniferous evergreens (juniper, arborvitae, Leyland cypress, etc.), lace bugs on azaleas and pyracantha and aphids on anything green. Maintain your spray programs for roses, fruit trees and bunch grapes. Look for worms on cruciferous vegetables (cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) and borers on squash. Only spray when necessary and
follow the directions on the label.


It is still okay to take cuttings of shrubbery.


Check over your landscape plan (I just know you have one) so you will be ready for the fall planting season. If (when?) the August thunderstorms skip your yard try not to run the well dry nor to seriously deplete Lake Michie or Little River Reservoir. You could build a compost bin. Dig Irish potatoes. (I dig ‘em roasted with olive oil and tarragon.) Stay cool and hydrated. I had hoped not to be repeating this by now, but wear your mask and wash your hands. The fat lady has not sung yet. If we all quit worrying about our rights and do the right thing it will make life easier sooner.


1–Begun at Colorado State University’s Climate Center in 1998, CoCoRaHS is a non-profit community-based network of volunteers who use low-cost but precise measuring tools and the internet to report precipitation. Anyone can become a reporter. It’s a resource to track precipitation in your area on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis. Check out their website for more information to get involved and to track precipitation.

2–Image credits: M. Heigel.


Additional Resources and Information

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs

Organic Lawn Care Guide

North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook – Starting Plants from Seed (Sexual Propagation)

Learn more about insects and how to control them from the North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (find your perfect plant or figure out what that unknown weed is!)

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