Just because the days get shorter and cooler does not mean the garden season is over! Here are some gardening tips for late summer and into the autumn.
August is a paradox in the garden. Flowers and vegetables are at their peak, and simultaneously, summer is winding down. Days are getting shorter telling us that fall and winter are on their way while we harvest the most our gardens will produce for the season.
Frost may hit in September, and it will be time to seriously start thinking about next year.
By now, you’ve noticed what you do and don’t like about your gardens and yard. Maybe trees have grown and now throw shade on once sunny flowerbeds. Perennials outgrow their spaces, and certain plants did well while others did not. Your watering system could be improved. Grass is encroaching in places it doesn’t belong.
I encourage people to keep a garden journal so they have a record of what works and what doesn’t year after year. If you write everything down, from a seed variety you experimented with to the fertilizer you used and the way you pruned your trees, you will be able to continually improve upon what you’ve already done. Gardening is an endless process, and keeping notes makes it smooth and less frustrating.
Now is the best time to divide perennials and transplant them. Use a dung fork with flat tines to avoid root damage. A shovel will cut the roots, but a fork will pry them out. Decide where you are going to put the new plants before digging anything out.
Nurseries have plant sales this time of year. In the flowerbeds, fill in blank spots, add more color or texture, or just experiment with something entirely new. Bulbs are available in fall, too. Remember to add them to your garden design. Plant them after it cools down, but before the ground freezes.
Fall is a good time to plant trees and shrubs. They do best when they have time to get their roots established before putting out a lot of energy for flowering in spring.
Prune trees and shrubs that flowered in mid-late summer. Remove branches that touch each other and rub the bark away. This is a good entryway for disease. Open up the whole plant for better light and circulation by pruning inside branches. Be sure to pay attention to the desired shape of the plant.
Depending on your zone, you might be able to squeeze in one more planting of cool weather crops for fall harvest. Lettuces, kale, chard, beets, carrots, and spinach don’t mind cool weather. Some actually taste better after a frost!
When it cools down, trim off the tops of your tomato and pepper plants. Remove new flowers, and let the plant put energy into growing the smallest ones, and ripening the largest ones.
Put up as much produce as possible by freezing, drying, or canning. I like to make meals and freeze them for busy days when I don’t think ahead about dinner.
Barter your overflow of vegetables for things you didn’t grow or to replace crops that failed.
Make and freeze soup stock from carrot and onion tops, broccoli stalks, and kale and chard stems. Pickle everything – cucumbers, chard stems, zucchini, carrots, onions, beets, green beans. Make herb vinegars. Consider making things now for gifts later.
Have you trampled an informal pathway to the garden? Would you like to sit among your flowers just to relax? Cooler weather is the perfect time for hardscaping projects.
Take note of where you, the family, and the pets walk. Lay down crusher fines, flagstone, or decorative pavers to define those trails.
Erect a gazebo or install a bench in the garden for relaxing afternoons. If you want to overlook the yard, consider building a deck.
There is no end to the garden season
Just because the days get shorter and cooler does not mean you should stop thinking about the garden. It’s time to get out the garden journal, and take care of the things you’ve been thinking about doing all summer.
As the days continue to shorten and yard work lessens, let ideas percolate, so you can stay busy again next year.