Do August garden chores at a 'take it easy' pace...
Savor summer days... There is still a generous month or so of summer's warm temperatures and golden sunlight. Gardening work has probably slowed down for most of us and we all should be reaping the rewards of our spring labors. Finally, we get to enjoy juicy, homegrown tomatoes, spicy basil, green beans and hot peppers. The late-blooming hydrangeas, (Hydrangea paniculatas), are showing off their full, conical-shaped flowers this month, while golden drifts of Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) bring a bright spot to open woods, roadsides and our perennial gardens. Although gardeners can always find something to work on, don't labor over this list... make summer memories that will last through the colder months.
1. Make room for a late summer blast of hydrangea flowers.
The woody-stemmed hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) mature into large (Tardiva, Limelight & Vanilla Strawberry) or smaller, more compact shrubs (Little Lime, Bobo & Tiny Tuff Stuff) that thrive and prosper in full and part sun. 'Limelight' hydrangea, with its greenish-white, conical blossoms, can grow up to 8' tall, so give it plenty of room. The flowers of many of these paniculatas range in color from pure white to pink to deep cherry burgundy as autumn draws near. The enormous blooms of 'Vanilla Strawberry' are piled high like generous scoops of white and pink ice cream. And, don't forget about the native varieties of Oak leaf hydrangeas with their stunning, white to rosy red flowers and large lobed leaves that turn a burnished scarlet color in fall.
2. Divide peonies at the end of August.
The last week in August and early autumn is a good time to start dividing and transplanting peonies. It gives them time to develop a strong root system and look presentable by next spring. First, dig up peony roots. Next, divide each root into sections with at least three 'eyes'. Then, move divisions to the desired area and replant into soil--no more than two inches deep. The 'eyes' will grow into three new stems next spring. Keep watering them into the fall months.
3. Catch the breeze with fall-blooming grasses.
Many varieties of tall grasses come into their own in late summer with majestic, flowering spikes that bring height, movement and whispers into the landscape. You'll be happy that you planted in August, as these grasses will bring fall and winter interest. Wildlife also loves grasses for food and shelter. August is a good time to buy mature grasses and they are available in larger containers... ready to make a splash in your fall garden.
4. Refresh your garden beds.
Sometimes even the best designed gardens have an empty spot or two by late summer. Take advantage of the larger pots of perennials and annuals that are available in August. Pop a colorful mixture into a container and fill the empty spots in your landscape. Movable containers also work for shady gardens when you want instant color. Or, if you have a party and flowering has peaked, simply tuck a few pots of fresh and colorful annuals among the hostas. If you use perennials in your containers, don't forget to plant them into the garden by mid-September, so you can enjoy them again next year.
5. Divide and conquer.
August is the time to divide healthy plants such as Oriental poppies, daylilies and Bearded iris. Transplant iris in mid-summer or early fall into a sunny spot with good drainage. When transplanting, place rhizomes horizontally--about eight inches apart--just barely below the soil's surface. Mulch well, especially during the first winter after moving them. Later in autumn, cut leaves back to about 5-6 inches--leaving 'fans' of leaves.
6. Seed savers.
By recycling 'freebie' envelopes from junk mailings, you can fill these envelopes with favorite seeds that you have gathered from the garden. List the name of seeds and date of collection on the outside of the envelope. Snap a picture of the plant and attach to envelope. Add pertinent information on planting and habits. Save for next year and share with friends or neighbors. If you have lupines, pick seeds from their dried pods June through August. Or, gather wispy Butterfly Weed seeds from the dry, tan pods before pods split open and seeds float away.
7. Hold back on the fertilizer.
Stop fertilizing trees and shrubs in August as the new growth won't have time to harden off before the winter season arrives.
8. Mulch is the word.
Add 3-4 inches of mulch to the garden to keep soil cool and retain moisture. Leaf mulch is a good choice as it easily works its way into the soil, adding nutrients as well as texture.
9. Plant a tree.
Pay it forward by planting a tree this fall so someone in the future can enjoy some shade. For low maintenance options, look for native or disease-resistant trees.
10. 'Dig it' with bulbs.
It's time to plan your color scheme for next spring because spring-blooming bulbs are a welcome sight after months of snow. IN early September, you'll be able to purchase bulbs in every variety and color imaginable. Look for deer-resistant bulbs such as daffodils, squill or Allium (those giant purple spheres in front of the Pasquesi sign in Lake Bluff) if hungry deer are a problem in your landscape. Tulips are always a favorite with blooms in every color of the rainbow-- including black and white. This year, get creative and try out a few new varieties that will make planting bulbs a wonderful ritual every autumn.