August: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell EMGV

Already it’s August! We must be having fun ‘cause the time sure is flying. It’s a good thing we’re supposed to be staying home mostly. I surely don’t have time to go anywhere. Nature abhors a vacuum and so, like most folks, I’ve found plenty to do without going anywhere.

I don’t know about your yard, but ours didn’t get a drop of rain from the first week in July until the 29th.  The Accidental Cottage Garden looks like an accident happened. It is sad. There are a few black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) hanging on along with some coreopsis (C. lanceolata and C. verticilata). The butterfly weed (Asclepeis tuberosa) and a late blooming daylily (Hemerocalis x August Flame) are making an orange show and some blanket flowers (Galardia pulchella) are thumbing their noses at the droughty-ness.

We stuck some tomatoes in Earth Boxes in front of the kitchen window and they are very happy. Then there’s the basil … Last year we had three plants. (I like basil.) This year we have 10,378 – more or less.  Basil as a weed species is a novelty to me!

Anyway, here are a few things you can do in your garden when the heat index is not in the stratosphere.

Lawn Care
– Check the lawn for grubs.  If you find some, treat with an appropriate insecticide. If you do not find any be grateful and put the sprayer away.
– Late in the month prepare any areas that need to be seeded with cool season grass (tall fescue, bluegrass).

– Give your strawberries a shot of nitrogen fertilizer.
– DO NOT fertilize trees or shrubbery until December.

– Sow pansy seeds this month in flats, indoors, to transplant to the landscape in September.
– Perennial seeds, such as hollyhock (Alcea rosea), larkspur (Delphinium) and Stokes aster (Stokesia Laevis) can be sown now, outdoors, for healthy plants in the spring.
– Repot more house plants.
– Plant a fall garden with beets, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, radish, rutabaga, squash & turnips.

Nada! Nope. Don’t. No pruning of trees or shrubs until November. In case of hurricane damage disregard the above admonition.

– Same stuff as last month. Look for spider mites on coniferous evergreens (juniper, arborvitae, etc.) and lace bugs on azaleas and pyracantha.
– Continue rose spray program and weekly spraying of fruit trees and bunch grapes.
– Watch for worms on cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) and borers on squash.  Spray only if necessary. Follow the label instructions.

You may still take cuttings of shrubs.

More things to do if you just can’t get enough of the August heat:

  • Read our Tomato Grafting Project page and up your game for next year’s tomato crop.
  • Make sure your Landscape Plan is up to date especially if you plan to modify the landscape this fall.
  • Keep running up the water bill when the August thunderstorms skip your house.
  • Build a compost bin.
  • Dig Irish potatoes.
  • Stay cool and hydrated.
  • Wear your mask and wash your hands.

September and October will soon be at hand and we can do all those things in relative comfort.

Additional Extension Resources

How to make a meadow:

Maintaining quality turf:

Plant a fall vegetable garden:

Propagation by stem cuttings

Landscape planning and design:

How to build a compost bin

Right Plant, Right Place

by Ann Barnes, EMGV

If Master Gardeners had a mantra, it might be “Right plant, right place”. Following this rule helps plants to thrive, can decrease diseases and pests, and may cut down on the time you spend in watering, pruning, and doing other kinds of yard maintenance.

Flower garden1
Photo: Ann Barnes

Before you can choose the right plant, we need to take a good look at the “place”. Yes, gardeners need to do a little homework. Look at the area you wish to plant. How much sun does the area get per day? Is the soil rich in organic material, or high in clay or rocks? (Remember, you can add organic material less desirable soil to improve it.) After a rain, does the area drain well or stay moist for a long time? Will plants have a wind break from a house, fence, or hedge? Are there tree roots that will compete with your new plants for water or moisture? Do you have deer, rabbits, or other animals that may forage in your yard? Don’t forget to take measurements of your space and do a soil test!

Next, think about what the function of your landscape will be. Do you want everything to be “easy care”, or do you enjoy spending time tending your plants? Are children and pets going to be playing in the space? Will the new plants need to hide an unattractive view, provide shade, or create privacy? Do you want colorful blooms or soothing shades of green?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can begin searching for the “right plant(s)”. Although it is tempting to go to the garden center and buy all the plants that catch your eye, look for plants that fit your place. Most plants will have a tag showing the Latin name, common name, mature height and width, light requirements, and other growing conditions. If tags are missing, ask a friendly nursery employee or search the internet for more information.

When you find plants that you like, look at the mature height and width of each kind. When you plant, space everything far enough apart to accommodate mature sizes of your plants. One common landscaping mistake is planting a cute little shrub in front of your home without taking its full size into account. In ten years, you may find that the shrub is extending over your front steps, blocking your windows, and crowding everything in its path. If you have to prune multiple times per year just so you can get to the door, you do not have the right plant in the right place. Some small perennials may spread quickly or reseed prolifically, and those will also need to be tended frequently if not given enough space. The right plant for each place will need room to grow.

Next, look at light, water, and soil requirements. If you have shade, choose plants that grow best in shade, and if you have sun, pick sun loving plants. Drought tolerant plants are well suited for dry areas but may not grow well in a wet spot. Group plants together by their growing needs – put plants that need more moisture near one another so you can water more efficiently, for example, and keep the “heavy feeders” together so that you can fertilize only the plants that need it.

Finally, think about how the plants you choose will look when planted near each other. Make sure contrast between leaf shapes, sizes, colors, and flowers are pleasing to you. Some gardeners prefer to stick to a color scheme and to repeat plants throughout a landscape, while others crave variety. Choose plants that you like, since you will be seeing them each day.

Many readers of this blog already have an established landscape. It is still worthwhile to observe your property to answer the above questions. If a plant in your yard is not thriving or is a maintenance problem, you may discover that it is not in the right place. If that is the case, simply moving the plant could be the solution. If transplanting isn’t feasible, you will need to decide if it is possible to compensate for the problem – by watering more or less, amending the soil, pruning, or otherwise altering your “place” to suit your plant. However, this won’t always be possible, and it is OK to remove a plant if it isn’t working in your landscape. Don’t be afraid to change your landscape as your plants grow or your tastes change.

The Lorapetalums in this garden were spaced far apart to allow for the mature size of each plant. Unfortunately, they liked the space TOO well and grew larger than expected! All shrubs in this garden have been replaced since this photo was taken in 2008. Don’t be afraid to make changes when the unexpected happens. Photo: Ann Barnes

Learn With Us, week of April 23

Buy Healthy Plants & Plant Them Well
Thu 4/27 6:30pm – 8pm
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson Street, Durham, NC

Presented by Chris Apple, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.
Healthy plants stand a better chance of thriving in your garden. This presentation will review what you should look for when purchasing and planting plants. This presentation will discuss plant sources, how to evaluate a plant, how to correctly plant a tree, shrub, ground cover or perennial and then what is necessary to establish a plant.
Free / Registration required.

Contact: 919-668-1707 or e-mail