John Slifka

What to do in the garden in July & August

by cathym on June 30, 2020

It is the heart of summer gardening season. The Northeast sees its hottest weather in July but, August can bring hot, humid weather as well and can be unpredictable, with extended periods of rain and even cooler temperatures as garden stands begin to show pumpkins and fall mums. Below we provide you with some gardening tasks to help keep your gardens flourishing through the late summer.

Step back and look at your garden to see what is in bloom and where you lack floral color. It is the perfect time to take pictures and notes as to where you can improve next year.

Make sure tall plants and climbers are well supported in case of bad weather. Also, pruning wisteria at this time will encourage new growth and help keep it in balance with the trellis.

Water at dusk to reduce evaporation; mulch garden beds to retain moisture around plants and help keep roots cool. Always practice effective watering by watering the soil around the base of the plants rather than the foliage. Control water and sprinkler use so as not to waste water by losing it to pavement, driveway, or any other unintended area.

Newly planted trees and shrubs (deciduous and evergreen) need extra watering in dry periods. Make sure they get a good, regular deep drink that will go down to their roots. Keep an eye on them for signs of wilting, a sign they are lacking water.

Do not mow too low in summer. Mow as high as possible—that will result in a healthier lawn with deeper roots that are more tolerant of the drought and stress of summer. Slightly higher turfgrass also helps shade out the weeds. 

Regularly deadhead annual and perennials as well as roses to encourage new blooms. Cut back faded perennials to keep gardens neat. Some spring blooming perennials, such as lupine, can be sheared back hard to encourage a second flush of blooms later in the summer. Now is the time to cut back any remaining spring bulb foliage as well.

Keep containers fresh.

Check your containers. Cutting back growth in hanging baskets (i.e., petunias) can encourage new flowers and foliage to revive the display; fertilize well after doing this. Make sure you are fertilizing your containers regularly throughout the hot months. When it comes to container plants, remember the soil dries out faster, so pay special attention to make sure these plants are receiving sufficient water. Terracotta pots will particularly dry out quicker, so dampen the pots to reduce evaporation and help keep the plants roots cool.

Consider dividing bearded iris now. If your plants did not bloom well, chances are they need to be divided. July through August is the best time to do this. Using a digging fork, carefully dig around the plant, being careful not to pierce the rhizome. Once lifted, shake off loose soil or rinse it off with a hose so that you can better inspect the rhizomes for any damage. Separate the individual rhizomes. Cut the foliage to about six inches. Cut sections of the rhizome so that you have pieces about three inches long with healthy roots growing from the cut, using a sharp knife to make clean cuts. Replant, being careful not to bury the rhizome with more than an inch of soil; these plants will not bloom well if planted too deeply.

Avoid transplanting roses when the temperatures are above eighty degrees. If you do transplant them in summer, prune heavily. Water the roses slow and deep. Add mulch to help suppress weeds. 

Harvest vegetables and fruits regularly; July is a good month to harvest beets, peas, carrots, chard, lettuce, and some tomatoes. Routinely inspect your vegetable garden and prune any yellow foliage. Remove garden debris to cut down on insect or disease issues. Continue to remove suckers from tomato plants and check that they are adequately supported with stakes or cages. Water crops daily in hot weather to ensure they are consistently moist. Uneven watering may cause blossom end rot on tomatoes. Blueberries are especially sensitive to drought conditions. Feed crops with a general-purpose fertilizer. Weed regularly, since weeds can compete with your crops for nutrients and water.

In late July, consider a fall crop of snow peas, spinach, or lettuce. Other cool season crops do well in mid to late summer to give you a nice fall harvest.

Observe your garden daily. If you see a harmful pest consider integrated pest management practices: cultural, biological, and mechanical controls. Use chemical controls as the last resort. Handpick Japanese beetles using a pail of soapy water. Just hand pick or shake plants and the pests will just fall into the bucket and drown. Look at the undersides of plant and crop foliage where insects such as aphids can hide. Keep an eye out for the scarlet-colored lily leaf beetles on your ornamental lilies. Check for sticky brown larvae on the undersides of lily foliage. 

Protect bramble crops such as blackberries or raspberries from birds by installing netting around the plants.

Shrubs may require some pruning to give much needed shaping and to allow good air circulation at this time. 

Look at your containers; if they are looking a bit shabby, consider a container rehab! You can use houseplants, individual plants from the garden bed, plants from other containers, or plants on sale to give your container a fresh look. Carefully pull out those that are past their peak and replace them with fresh plants. Be sure to fertilize after replanting.

After the month of August, cease fertilizing your roses—this will help to prepare them for fall and winter months ahead.

Think about which bulbs you might like to add to your garden for next spring. Now is the time to order them. In late August, you can plant fall-blooming bulbs such as colchicums or autumn crocus as soon as they are available.

Make notes on your garden’s pros and cons. Take more photos of your garden. Do you want to make any changes or additions? Garden centers will be having sales and it could be a good time to add plants. It is a great time to plan for next year.

In a Zone 5 garden, August is the latest to consider growing edible crops for the fall such as lettuce, spinach, or broccoli. You may have to consider protecting them from the hot sun by using row covers or milk crates.

Keep mowing your lawn high. Late August into September is the perfect time to renovate a tired lawn or start a new one.

Harvest beans, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, etc. so that plants continue to produce. Peppers can stay on the plant longer to allow them to color. Consider what to do with your herbs; it is a good time to freeze or preserve them in other ways for use over the winter months.

Take cuttings of your favorite annuals such as coleus, impatiens, or geraniums. You can grow them indoors later to save for next year. Many plants, such as coleus, will easily root in a glass of water.

Consider adding a perennial fruit or fruit tree to your garden. The upcoming fall is the perfect time to plant and stock may be available on sale and could be a good money saver.

Feel free to reach out to your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office’s Master Gardener volunteers for answers to any questions you might have.

— Rosanne Loparco, John Slifka, and Ron Broughton, Master Gardener volunteers at Cornell Cooperative Extension, Oneida County


Almanac: November–December 2019

by cathym on November 1, 2019

Drain and store hoses
Photo: Jane Milliman

One of the wonderful things about gardening and raising plants is there are things to do in every season … a time to sow, a time to reap,and as fall ends and winter rolls around … still more to do. Some planting and reaping continues. This is the time to get the remainder of any spring bulbs (tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, and snowdrops) in the ground before it freezes. It’s also a great time to root-divide and plant perennials; plant roses, azaleas, and other shrubs; and establish rhubarb and/or asparagus beds—first prepare the bed/s, and then set the plant crowns under soil.

Now is the time to plant tree seedlings and shrubs, as they enter dormancy. I have potted apple, chestnut, aronia, and elderberry first-year seedlings ready to go into the ground, but the same goes for currants, raspberries, and others. Having waited for dormancy, I avoided the extensive watering that would have been required if I planted them earlier. For those plant seeds needing cold stratification, you’re on schedule to take your nut seeds (oak, chestnut, hazelnut, etc.), fruit tree seeds, and some berry seeds and get them planted in potting media. Place planted containers and trays outdoors, (covered with hardware cloth if squirrels might be tempted in your yard) Since they are outside, the cold winter weather will help soften up the nut seed coat, allowing them to sprout for spring.

If you plan on buying a live Christmas tree for the holidays, dig your hole before the ground freezes. Cover the removed soil to insulate it, so you can place it back in the hole when you plant the tree after the holidays.

Bring potted plants that will not survive the winter indoors as house plants (hearty geraniums, begonias, fuchsia, etc.). Potted tender perennials such as lavender and rosemary can also be kept in the garage or basement where temperatures stay above 32 degrees.

Time to harvest! After we have had a few frosts but before the ground freezes solid, turnips, parsnips, Brussel sprouts, and carrots may be harvested and will be as sweet tasting as they can be. This is the time to finalize clean-up and organization of the root cellar, as well as to can and preserve your remaining harvest. Check stored onions and potatoes periodically during the months ahead, removing any damaged or rotting fruit. Still, for those who want to extend the season, it’s time to set up cold frames and get your winter hardy greens (spinach, kale, and such) going in your greenhouse. As they are tropical perennials, you may even wish to bring some small pepper plants right into the house, where they may produce fruit all winter. Lift dahlia tubers, begonias, and gladiolus corms to store them in a dry and cool location over the winter, making sure to remove any dead foliage before storing.

For many gardeners, November and December is when to transition from growing to care and maintenance—this is the time to winterize your garden. Adding organic matter to beds and blending it in is important. You can also spread fresh manure over the surface of your vegetable beds to rot down over the winter months. Cut back and prune out any diseased or infested foliage. When cleaning up, make sure any refuse from any diseased plants is disposed of; do not put it into your compost, as typically home compost piles do not get hot enough to destroy pathogens. With crops removed and beds bare, it’s a good time to take any necessary soil tests.

Collect leaves, hay, etc., to either spread as mulch orto add to your compost piles. When mulching young trees, avoid putting the mulch directly next to the base of the tree, thereby stymying rodents’ easy access. Keep mulch at least two to three inches away from the tree trunk. Shielding the tree with wire mesh guards, tree tube, or some form of trunk protection is also critical in preventing mice, voles or rabbits from girdling and killing young trees. Remember, deer will be looking for young trees, evergreens, and shrubs to browse in the winter snow, so consider more substantial protection. Mowing lawns low close to your shrubs and young trees will also help prevent damage from rodents, as they avoid open, exposed spaces. Protect roses by mounding soil around the crown and covering the bud union. Tie down climbing rose canes to protect them from freezing winds. Before the snow turns everything white, aerating your lawn is a good idea, as well as a final mowing with the blade set high.

This is maintenance time for garden equipment, when hoses are drained, tools are cleaned, and all are appropriately stored for winter. Some tools, especially hoes and your handy scythe, need sharpening. Sharpening lawn mower blades before storage helps set you up to be ready for spring. It’s also inventory time, wherein you gaze across your garden and landscape, snap a few pictures, and ask yourself what worked, what didn’t work, and what would you like to do differently next year.

For further gardening advice contact your local Extension office and ask for the Master Gardener volunteers help line.

—John Slifka, CCE Oneida County Master Gardener Volunteer