Tidewater Gardening - August 2007

August Antics


K. Marc Teffeau

   The August gardening schedule includes feeding fall blooming flowers, staking tall plants, dividing iris and day lilies and starting a compost pile. For brighter blooms this fall and a better flower garden next year, you need to start now.
    Plants that bloom in the late summer and fall, such as chrysanthemums and asters, should be fertilized in July or August. Apply a general purpose liquid fertilizer according to the label instructions. It’s too late to feed roses as the tender late-summer growth that fertilizer encourages may not withstand the winter temperatures.
    While you can give the annual flowers a little fertilizer “jolt” in August, now is not the time to be fertilizing trees and shrubs in the landscape. Fertilizing now will tend to stimulate late season growth that will not be cold tolerant and will be killed off by the first hard fall frost. In addition to producing soft growth, fertilizing now will stimulate the plants to grow if we have an Indian summer this fall. When this happens, you can be sure that the plants will not survive the winter. Therefore, if you didn’t get to fertilize your trees and shrubs this spring, continue to forget about it until November.
    By this time, some of those tall flowers in the garden may need a little support. Stake them with bamboo stakes or metal rods before the plants bend over. Fancier, and more expensive, metal stakes for tall flowers are also available from some of the more “up scale” gardening catalogs. Dahlias, delphiniums and holly hocks need support for the best flower display. Use string or twist ties to fasten the flowers to the support. Tie the string tightly to the support, but loosely around the plant or stem. I have used plastic electric cable ties in the vegetable garden to hold tomato stems against stakes, so you might also try them in tying up the flowers. While you are tying up stems, be sure to cut out and remove the dead flower stalks.
    Many plants in the flower border will make excellent house plants with winter. Among the easy ones to maintain indoors are begonias, coleus, geraniums and ivy. If they are already being grown in containers, it is a simple matter of bringing them indoors. My wife did a great job last year of bringing in geraniums which she then had in her pre-K school classroom for the winter. At the end of the school year, she brought them back home, repotted in fresh potting soil and they are doing fine on the patio.
    Before you bring these plants indoors, however, clean up the pots, remove diseased and insect -infested leaves and treat them with an insecticide like an insecticidal soap to prevent bringing any insect pests inside.
    Start moving them in at night when the temperature drops below 60. To maintain their vigor and flower production locate them where they will receive an amount of sunlight equivalent to what they received out of doors for optimum bloom. If you are planning to take some garden plants indoors to provide for early fall bloom, use a sharp knife to root prune them now to a size a little smaller than the pot. Remove all buds and flowers and cut back the top growth severely.
    Take a look at your current perennial plantings and plan changes now. Autumn is usually the best time for moving and dividing perennials as the gardening pace has slowed considerably. Don’t forget to add new bulbs to your design at the same time. Check out the spring bulb catalogs and your local garden center for early arrivals of spring flowering bulbs.
    Daffodils, crocus and other spring flowering bulbs are not the only bulbs that can be planted now for flowering next year. In August, Magic Lilies seem to sprout from nowhere. A.k.a. as Naked Lady or Resurrection Lily, and botanically known as Lycoris squamigera, these gaudy and somewhat ungainly surprise lilies come into bloom. These bulbous plants belong to the amaryllis family and are native to southern Japan. My grandmother used to have a planting of these lilies along a fence where overnight, it seems, five to seven pink, four-inch long flower trumpets appeared atop the pale, naked three foot tall stems.
    Magic lilies are easy to grow, doing well in any average garden soil in full sun or partial shade. They are sold in both the spring and the fall in garden centers. They require no fertilization and are pest free. Magic Lily bulbs themselves are as long as three inches in diameter with long necks and persist for years once established. The foliage comes up in late winter and looks like a large-leafed clump of daffodils, but without flowers. There will be one bloom for about every 10 leaves produced by the clump. The leaves die away with the arrival of the first warm days of late spring, usually disappearing below ground by late May. This growth pattern is an adaptation of the species to survive in an area with moist springs and prolonged periods of summer drought.
    Because of their unusual growth habit, it may take some creativity to work them into a flower bed for best display. One design practice is to mix them in a groundcover bed where their nakedness will not be as apparent. The planting should include 10 to 12 bulbs scattered over at least 5 linear feet of bed area. When the plants are in bloom, the length of the planting should be at least twice as long as the plants are high. Its best to plant these bulbs in a permanent location in the landscape as they prefer not to be moved once established.
    With hot and dry August weather be on the lookout for red spider mites. These tiny sucking creatures feed on all types of shrubs and flowers, leaving normally green leaves a specked white. Inspect your roses, evergreens and marigolds for signs of pale green coloration. To verify the presence of theses pests hold a white sheet of paper underneath the foliage and briskly tap the branch. Look closely at the white paper for tiny crawling dots or run your finger over some of the spots on the paper. If the spots streak red or black, you have spider mites.
    If the infestation and damage is light, mites may be discouraged by a forceful direct spray from the water hose, especially to the undersides of the plant’s foliage. One of the reasons the populations of these mites become a problem in hot, dry weather is that there is no or limited rainfall to wash them off the plants. Severely infested annuals should be removed from the garden and destroyed. Your shrubs and perennials may require treatment with a miticide such as a summer oil spray or an insecticidal soap.
    Again, like we reminded you in July, don’t forget your fall vegetable garden. Crops like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, spinach, lettuce and onions can be planted in August. Also don’t forget the root crops like beets, carrots, turnips and rutabagas.
    There are many advantages to having a fall vegetable garden. Late planting extends the usefulness of the garden, providing a continuing supply of fresh vegetables, and may yield higher quality crops than those you get from spring plantings. It’s also usually easier to control the weeds as many of the summer annual weeds are going to seed.
    Vegetables harvested in the fall may actually be better suited for canning and freezing than those grown earlier since they develop more slowly under early fall growing conditions. This may give you crops that are tastier and more tender.
    Be sure to select fall vegetables varieties with a relatively short maturation time. Fifty to seventy days is best. Although there’s always the possibility of any early frost, our fall season in this area tends to remain mild for quite a while. Many of the crops suitable for planting now will hold up against anything short of a hard frost.
    Peas, both regular and sugar snap varieties, can be planted in early August. If you’ve had trouble getting pea seeds to germinate and grow in your garden, try soaking the seeds in a solution of vitamin C or folic acid before planting. Recent research at the University of Massachusetts found that pea seeds soaked in a solution of either vitamin C or folic acid prior to planting germinated better than pea seeds soaked in plain water. In addition, after 10 days of growth the seedlings were 40 percent taller and their roots were 20 percent longer. Vitamin C and folic acid are commonly found as dietary supplements in health food stores. So try a little O.J with your pea seeds! It just might work.
    Happy Gardening!!!