The month of August is the doldrums of the gardening season. It’s so hot all you can do is water and hope your yard survives. Sitting in the air conditioning, looking at the garden out my window, is my favorite August garden pastime. Because it’s so hot, it is easy to forget that fall is just around the corner. Fall gardening on the Gulf Coast is a joy and there is a lot to do in the month of August to get ready. It’s time to think about garden cleanup, pruning your fall blooming perennials, preparing your soil for fall planting and planning your fall and winter gardens.
Admittedly, cleanup is not the most glamorous job in the garden, but it is very satisfying in its own way. Getting rid of the raggedy leftovers of your spring annuals and vegetables is the first step in cleanup. If you have your own compost pile, compost these plants. Pull the summer weeds that try to take over every garden this time of year. If you are not planning on sowing seeds in your garden put down a weed preventer. Weed preventers stop weed seeds from germinating in your soil. This small step in the cleanup process helps tremendously with weeding problems. Next, cleanup any garden debris around perennials that could be hiding garden pests. This helps tidy your garden and cuts down on summer insect pests and fungus problems.
Once cleanup has been accomplished, it’s time to trim your perennials. Perennials such as roses, pentas, lantana, salvia and many others benefit from a good pruning. As summer wears on these perennials can get tall and leggy and stop blooming. Pruning these plants gets them back into shape and gives them a second round of good blooms.
Trimming perennials in August gives them the chance to grow and put on new blooms before the weather gets too cold. Not all perennials should be pruned. Azaleas and camellias, to name a few, have already started the budding process and pruning these plants will cut off the coming spring blooms. If you are unsure about trimming a plant, ask us at the nursery. We can tell you if it’s okay or look it up for you if we don’t know. As you are trimming your perennials, check for plants that didn’t perform as expected or didn’t do well in the spot where they were planted. Think about moving these plants or pulling them out all together to make room for plants that will do better in that spot.
Cleanup and trimming perennials makes it much easier to do soil preparation in anticipation of fall planting. Add a layer of good compost to your garden to add back organic matter and nutrients that have been used up through the summer. Compost also adds beneficial fungi that help the plants in your garden absorb the nutrients you have added. You can add an organic fertilizer with a higher phosphate amount to speed up the blooming of your trimmed perennials. Make sure the fertilizer is organic because chemical fertilizers can burn your plants, especially in the hot summer. After these steps are done, put down a 2 inch layer of mulch to deter more weeds and help your soil retain
You now have a nice clean garden slate. Look at spaces left by old annuals and perennials and decide what fall plants you would like there. If you have kept your garden organic, a great choice for these spaces is fall vegetables. Our Gulf coast climate allows for a second gardening season that most of the rest of the country doesn’t have. Grow greens, lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower and many other cool weather veggies for the winter. You can start these vegetables from seed in 4 inch pots or plant transplants directly in the garden. Remember that it is still pretty hot and protect seedlings and transplants from direct sun. There are also many beautiful fall blooming annuals to plant around your vegetables.
Fall is my favorite time to garden here. The weather is temperate, most of the mosquitoes are gone and even the air smells different. Get your garden ready now and you can sit back, relax and enjoy your fall garden season with no worries. It will be well worth it, I promise.