August To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

August. Can it be any hotter than July? Possibly, but let us hope not. Two “hottest months of the year” records in a row is already two too many. So, I know when it is officially hot when I deem it necessary to put the top up on my car and turn on the AC. I mean, I just don’t do that…except now. It is the equivalent of waving the white flag. The Accidental Cottage Garden looks parched and purely pathetic. We keep the annuals in pots on the deck watered and the paltry vegetable garden, but the rest of the stuff in the ground—not so much.

Photo by Gary Crispell

So, who’s left? Well……..

The gallardia (Gallardia pulchella) is nearly indestructible.

A very plucky black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia spp)

The very striking daylily August Flame (Hemerocallis x ‘August Flame’) is almost done for the season.

All photos by Gary Crispell

A strange phenomenon occurred this year. The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) came up late and as a single stem whereas the last two years it was a very healthy clump. I’m speculating that our unwelcome resident vole took a liking to Asclepias roots this year. We can’t grow tomatoes because none of the non-lethal “tricks” have worked. They are rather despicable rodents.

Now, let’s talk about your garden and delineate some appropriate August activities.


Several species of grubs are actively feasting on lawn grass roots (probably yours) this time of the year. If you notice fist size brown spots in your lawn it might just be grubs. Carefully dig up a spot to see if there is a grub down there. They are usually white or cream colored with a darker head. They are the larvae of various beetles including the Japanese kind. There are several products on the market with which to treat them (i.e., kill ‘em dead). There are both liquid and granular products. Always read the label and follow the instructions. If you plan to renovate or reseed a cool season grass (fescue, bluegrass, perennial rye) lawn, then toward the end of the month is the time to prep (spray out weeds, core aerate, amend the soil, etc.) the area in question.


If you are growing strawberries, they would be ecstatic if you threw a little nitrogen fertilizer in their general direction. DO NOT, he repeated, fertilize trees or shrubs between now and December at which time you may give them their holiday bonus in balanced fertilizer pellets.


Do you like to start plants from seed? It is fun to watch them sprout and develop. So, have I got a present for you! It’s time to get dirt under your fingernails and your shirt and shorts dirty. Start by sowing pansy seeds in flats. Pick a variety you can’t get at the big box and be the envy of your neighbors when you set them out in September. There are also a number of perennials that can be direct sown now to get a jump on spring. Stokes aster (Stokesia leavis), hollyhock (Alcea rosea), and larkspur (Delphinium elatum and several more species) are good ones to try. There are many others. Search “perennial seeds” to learn more. Prep the bed by lightly loosening the soil surface. (No more deep tilling. Leave the sequestered carbon where it is.) Then sow the seeds per instructions on the package (or YouTube, naturally).

Plant a fall garden and eat fresh veggies for Thanksgiving. Salad greens such as Chinese cabbage, kale, many lettuces, arugula, and mustard will survive frost and light freezes. Root crops like beets, turnips, rutabagas, radishes and carrots will keep you in fresh vegetables nearly to the winter solstice. Other fast growing veggies like winter squashes and cucumbers will be a pleasant surprise for your Thanksgiving dinner guests.


Forget I even mentioned it. I would leave this topic blank, but that would raise more questions than telling you to put away all the pruning equipment until after Thanksgiving. The one exception would be if a named tropical cyclone lays waste to your landscape. In that case pruning would be appropriate. (The HOA would no doubt insist.)


Not a whole lot different from July. The same heat seeking, sap sucking, miserable insects and arachnids that found your garden to be a delectable feast in July are still there and many of them will be there until frost. Deal with it. Oh, right. Here’s how. Coniferous evergreens (juniper, cryptomeria, chamaecyparis, arborvitae, Leyland cypress, etc.) are a favorite target for spider mites. Azaleas and pyracantha will still be hosting lace bugs which are active year round whenever leaf surface temperatures are above 40 degrees F. And anything and everything actively growing will attract aphids.

While we’re here (talking about insects) let’s have a conversation (monologue, actually) about white flies. For years they were the bane of my existence. I could not rid our hibiscus of them. This was serious because we have four hibiscus plants in 25 gallon pots. Them suckers would be 8 feet tall if’n I didn’t cut ‘em back every winter afore puttin’ ‘em in the garage (which seriously crowds the Mustang). They get wheeled out whenever there are going to be three or four nights above freezing. So, you see, we kinda like our hibiscus. Back to the dratted whiteflies. They are pernicious little…well, you know where that was going. I finally had success using an organic horticultural oil. It smothers all five (yes, five) stages of their life cycle (egg, crawler, nymph, pupae, adult). There are numerous other lethal chemicals available. See NCSU Entomology Insect Notes: Greenhouse Whitefly; Dr. Steven Frank and Dr. James Baker professors of entomology and plant pathology. Only spray when necessary.

Know your enemy (pest I.D.). ALWAYS read the label and FOLLOW the instructions. Did I repeat myself? It’s important. That’s why. Stay safe. Wear the proper clothing and equipment. This “stuff” can kill you or at least make you very ill. Be smart. I know you are. You read this.


You can still take cuttings of most trees and shrubs.


Walk around the yard with your landscape plan (Everyone has one, right?) to see if there are changes you want to make.
Start a neighborhood pool concerning when the next rain storm will pass by to the north or south.
Install an outdoor shower and live under it. Catch the odd not blistering evening and dine al fresco on the deck or patio. Stay hydrated. Cool and safe. September is just around the corner.

Additional Reading

Iowa State University Extension. What perennials can be grown from seed?

NC Cooperative Extension. What’s that on my Kale? Whiteflies in your garden.

NC Cooperative Extension. Gardening Guidelines for July and August.

NC Cooperative Extension. Considerations for Early Season Vegetable Starts.

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