Maintaining the August Garden

As the growing season winds down in August, you may want to include a few cleanup chores so you won’t have such a large job at the end of the season.

Pull Plant Material

For any vegetables that have completed their production, remove them from the garden and put in the compost pile if they don’t have any diseases.  Plant short cycle vegetables such as radishes, carrots, lettuces, and spinach, in their place or if you’re tired of the garden work, simply cover the bare soil with a deep layer of hay or straw so weeds won’t have a place to grow.  Record when production finished in your garden journal.

Don’t Till – Compost

 Whether you develop your own compost or buy it at the garden center, it will enhance your garden soil if you apply it when you pull the dead plants and cover the entire row or bed with straw or hay.  You can also add some green (grass, food scraps) and brown (shredded leaves, old straw) under the compost.  The compost will enrich the soil for your garden next year and you won’t have to till it.  Tilling brings up weed seeds from deep in the soil and not only will they flourish, but they will be everywhere.  Always try to avoid walking on your growing beds so they don’t get compacted.

  Tending Tomatoes

 Tomatoes should be well into production by now.  You can pick tomatoes a day or two before they are ready and ripen them in a shallow box lined with newspaper.  Fertilize with a tomato fertilizer every one or two weeks until frost kills the plant.  Be on the lookout for yellowing leaves with brown spots that may signal early blight and remove those leaves from the plant and burn or put in the trash.  Blight stays in the soil for about a year, so you won’t want to plant nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplant in soil where your blighted tomatoes were planted.

Walking Paths

If the straw you put down on your walking paths in the garden is starting to thin out, now is a great time to add more straw.  You want to protect the soil from those pesky weed seeds so you don’t spend all your time fighting them.  If you walk through your garden every day and inspect your plants, you’ll be able to spot trouble and deal with it before it gets out of hand.

Dividing Perennials in Summer

If you’re needing some extra plants, dividing the overgrown ones you have is a good way to increase your stock.  While not all plants fare well when divided in the summer (see reference), daylilies, hosta’s, liriope, and coral bells can be successfully divided and replanted in their new spots.


There is one caution to dividing in summer!  These plants will lose all their leaves after being transplanted.  But not to worry, in two to three weeks, you’ll see new green emerging and your new plants will be well settled by the time cold weather arrives and they’ll have a head start for spring.  Do this now if you have first frost in late September.

Selecting Overgrown Plants

Select any oversized hostas or daylilies or plants named above and dig down all around the plant so you have all of the root ball possible.  Pull the root ball out and lay it on its side.  With a sharp spade or knife, begin cutting out the size plant you want.  You can go as small as one square inch or divide the plant into larger pieces.  Just be sure to have a good piece of root in each cut.

How to Plant Cuttings

An average 12 to 18 inch full grown hosta or daylily can give you as many as 10 to 12 new plants.  Dig a hole for your new plant and add a good scoop of compost.  Then bury the roots and about 1 inch of the foliage.  Again, the foliage will die off, but if you water the transplants well every few days, you will see new growth in 2 to 3 weeks.





Wading Pools as Raised Garden Beds

If you have limited space for a traditional garden or a raised bed garden, you might consider kids wading pools as raised beds.  You might even find some on sale very soon. In the picture above, the owners have built a rooftop garden with these pools.

Growing on Concrete or Grass

It’s a crazy idea, I know, and you can’t grow every vegetable in one of these pools on concrete, but you can grow a number of vegetables and flowers.  Maybe you want a garden close to the kitchen door but you only have a concrete patio there.  Pools are perfect for growing food on concrete or on grass.

How to Prep

Most wading pools are at least nine inches deep which is plenty of soil for broccoli, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, kale, chard, onions, and beets which all have shallow roots.  Punch drainage holes in the bottom of the pool, place 4-6 bricks or boards under the pool for drainage, fill it up with good potting soil and plant it.

Wading Pools in the Garden

If you want to use these pools as raised bed planters in a garden plot, you can cut the bottom out of the pool (leave a two to three-inch band in the bottom), place it on the soil in your plot, fill it with good soil, and grow other kinds of vegetables that have deeper root systems. You still have a raised bed because it’s filled up to just below the rim (about 8in) with good loose soil and the roots can go through that and move on into the garden soil below if they need the depth.

Medium Rooted Plants

If you find one of those double layer wading pools with higher sides, you can plant even more vegetables.  Some medium rooted plants are cucumbers, turnips, beans, zucchini and yellow squash, carrots, peas, and some flowering perennials.

Deep Rooted Plants

Plants that have deep roots include tomatoes, winter squash, pumpkins and parsnips.  Asparagus is deep rooted, but should not be moved once planted, so plant it where you can leave it alone as it comes back year after year.

It’s not too late to plant a summer garden.  Happy Gardening


Homemade Soil Test Kit

If you garden, you may notice some plants aren’t doing so well about this time of the year.  Sometimes the plants just don’t like the soil they are planted in.  Very compacted clay soil can form a hard to penetrate surface and plants can’t get enough roots or nutrients to grow.

Lab Test

Of course, the best soil test is the one where you send a sample away to a lab to get pH results and information on what nutrients your soil is missing.  Often, they also give you advice on how to fix the problems.  These are great at the beginning of the planting season when you have a chance to add amendments to large areas.

Soil Composition

The key to finding out what your plants need is finding out about the composition of your soil.  Soil is basically made up of three things: clay, sand, and silt.  There is an easy way to test your soil at home to find out the amount of these in your soil.  Once you know this, you can add amendments to help your plant perform better and be happier in its spot.

How to Do the Test

Take a quart Mason jar, fill it one-third to one-half full with soil taken from about six inches below the surface.  Don’t let any grass or plant material get into the soil.  Add water until the jar is about two-thirds full, plus a teaspoon of powdered dishwasher soap to act as a surfactant.  Shake the soil for about 3 minutes, then put it on a table or counter in good light.  Within about 10 minutes the sand particles will start to settle.

The different components will settle into layers with clay on the top (takes about 24 hours for clay to settle).  If the water is cloudy after the 24 hours, you have organic matter in your soil also.  If it is clear, you probably need to add organic material (compost) or other amendments.

Next week we’ll talk about amending clay soil.



What is Chalked Paint?

Not to be confused with chalkboard paint, chalked paint has become very popular in recent years.  It is a water-based paint originated by Annie Sloan (trademark name is Chalk Paint) and marketed by many other companies today under different but similar names.  Chalked paint comes in both brush on and spray on applications.  In most cases, you can paint right over any surface without sanding and prepping first.

Chalked paint creates a soft, flat, chalklike finish that many people like and it takes distressing easily.  These features are very popular with people who refinish old furniture and buyers of that furniture love it.  It does require a wax top coat to protect the chalked finish.

In the case of old wood pieces which may bleed color through the paint, and raw wood, you may need to apply a couple coats of shellac sealant before painting. Check out this web site for instructions:

Chalked paint is thick, doesn’t require primer, requires fewer coats, and dries quickly.  It glides on for great coverage and is easy to apply.  With the wood preparation (i.e., shellac sealing), painting, light sanding, and wax finish, it can be a little time consuming. The wax finish is necessary because the paint chips easily without the wax.

Your furniture piece needs to start with a good cleaning with soap and water. Then fill any dents, divots, or scratches with wood filler.  Paint two coats, sanding lightly between coats (third coat if you want it), let dry completely and coat with wax.

This web site has very good directions for using chalked paint.


Hanging Baskets Looking a Little Tired?

About this time each year, plants in hanging baskets start to look a little less than perfect.  Being confined in such a small space, they can run out of air and food, so they may need a little help from you to continue to shine for the rest of the season.


Consistent watering is the single most important job in keeping hanging baskets healthy.  Try to water in the morning and give them a good drenching.  This gives them moisture through the heat of the day.  On milder days, you can possibly water every other day, but your plants will tell you if you forget.  On the other hand, if you have a super hot day, water them again in the evening.


Fertilize on a consistent schedule such as the same day every week to two weeks. Container plants have limited soil fertility, so you have to give them a boost over the season.  You can use whatever fertilizer you like best, but if you like continuous feeding, worm castings are a perfect slow release fertilizer. Apply ¼ cup worm castings on top of the soil and every time you water the nutrients filter down to the roots.  You can also try ¼ cup spent coffee grounds that are high in nitrogen.

Fertilizers come in all varieties from granular, liquid, hose-end sprayed, and chemical or organic.  They also come in various configurations for specific plants.  Tomatoes need high potassium so the numbers on your tomato fertilizer should be highest in the third number, example 12-15-30 (the 12 is Nitrogen, the 15 is phosphorus, the 30 is potassium).  Petunias on the other hand need iron, so petunia food would include iron as well as high nitrogen, low phosphorus, and higher potassium like 20-6-22.

I personally like a liquid or powder fertilizer that gets mixed with water and is applied every two weeks. This keeps the plants from getting too much fertilizer and becoming root-bound in their pots.


Many plants popular for baskets will stop producing blooms and get leggy if you don’t remove the spent flowers each day.  The annual plant’s job is to grow, produce flowers, develop seed, and die. So, if there are dead flowers on the stems, it’s telling the plant to stop producing new blooms.

This process can apply to your other potted plants also.  Here’s to  beautiful hanging baskets and container plants.

Keeping Your Tomato Plants Healthy

By now your tomatoes should be putting on some green fruit so it’s the perfect time to make sure they are healthy and stay that way.


Ideally, you will have put a 2-3 inch cover of straw on your tomatoes when you planted them.  If you didn’t, it’s not too late.  Mulching prevents water and soil-borne diseases from hopping on your tomato plants when you water.  A great combination mulch combines compost with straw and covers about 18 inches around the plants.


Perhaps you’ve never heard of pruning tomatoes, but you can improve their production and health by doing some pruning.  Keep the leaves trimmed up 6” above the soil line.  This lets light and circulation into the plants and keeps mold and fungal diseases at bay. It also prevents insects from hopping on leaves to chew up your plants.  If the center is very overgrown, you can remove a few non-producing leaves to let more air  and light into the center.


Hopefully you gave your tomato plants a good serving of fertilizer when you planted them, but they can use more now as they start bearing fruit heavily.  Follow the instructions on the fertilizer container, but really consider using organic fertilizers like Espoma Organics or Fish fertilizer.  You don’t want chemicals on or in your food.

Controlling Pests

 If you spend 15 minutes a day going through your garden and inspecting your tomato and other plants for pests, you will be able to remove most of them.  The easiest way to deal with pests is to pick them off and drop them in a bucket of soapy water.  If you see a green caterpillar with v-shaped white or yellow strips across the torso, this is a tomato hornworm that is very destructive, pick it off.  They can be found on stems or the undersides of leaves. You can also spray them with water or an insecticidal soap which is organic.


Be sure your plants receive 1 ½ inches of water weekly, either from rain or from the hose.  Never water tomato’s leaves if you can help it.  Thorough soaking at the base of the stem is ideal.  On really hot days, you may need to water more often.

Hopefully, you’ll have enough tomatoes to eat, can, and freeze for later.





Planting Vegetables in the Front Yard

Maybe your best garden plot space is too shady or you don’t have much back yard or you just don’t want all the work of a separate garden plot.  If you have full sun or part shade in your front yard landscape, you can plant vegetables there and not have to develop a whole separate garden plot.


If you have a trellis where plants get cut back in spring, like clematis, you could plant green peas that will vine up the trellis and be harvested before your clematis needs the trellis.


Do you have a spot around your roses?  Roses love carrots, which mature in about 65 days.  Select a variety that doesn’t grow too tall and space seeds about every 4 inches. Other vegetables that work well with roses and in the landscape are beets, cabbage, kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, and smaller varieties of chilies and sweet peppers.

Colorful Foliage

Vegetables with beautiful foliage are also a great choice for the front yard landscape.  Some varieties of lettuce like Red Sails have purple leaves and Swiss chard (Rainbow Chard) has rainbow colored stems and beautiful green leaves.  Kale comes in a variety of colors and leaf shapes from light green to deep purple. Cardinal Basil has purple flowers and Red Rubin Basil has beautiful bluish-purple leaves.

Plant Shapes

Some vegetables have such a great shape that you could use them to border a flower bed.  Green bush beans and basil work very well when planted closer together and lettuce would make a great border.  Kale and chard work great outside a fence.

So, if you’re not familiar with what some vegetable plants look like, find a friend or farmer and visit their gardens.  You can find ideas for something that would fit in your landscape and it will provide fresh produce.  After all, you’re going to be watering your flowers and shrubs anyway, so after planting, your vegetables won’t require much more work.