By Deborah J. Benoit, Extension Master Gardener University of Vermont
Ah, August. Summer is in full swing, but autumn is already peeking around the corner. The rewards of gardening are everywhere.
Fruits and berries are ripening, as are vegetable crops. It’s time to begin harvesting and enjoying that fresh, home-grown flavor. Is there anything better than the taste of a just-picked tomato while you’re still in the garden?
If your garden includes herbs, August is a good time to dry some for use this winter in cooking or for tea. Many herbs can be air-dried.
Bundle clean cuttings of herbs such as parsley or rosemary. Hang them upside down in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight until well-dried.
Or a food dehydrator can be used on a low temperature setting according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Store dried herbs in an airtight container for enjoyment long after the garden has been put to bed for the winter.
To keep your garden productive, be sure to keep plants well-watered. If you haven’t already done so, add a layer of mulch to help insulate the roots from extreme temperatures, retain water and keep down weeds. If you’ve been ignoring weeds that popped up during July, now’s the time to remove them, along with any plants that have stopped producing and have died back.
While you’re doing so, watch out for pests or disease, particularly if your plants are stressed due to heat or lack of rainfall. If you find yourself with questions, you can contact the University of Vermont Extension master gardener helpline by phone at 802-656-5421 from 9 a.m.-noon, Thursdays through Oct. 27 or online any time at go.uvm.edu/gardenquestion.
If you have the space — or perhaps a bed you’ve cleared of annuals that have completed their life cycle — consider a fall garden for a second harvest. Quick-growing crops such as spinach, lettuce and radishes can be sown in August to be harvested before colder weather sets in.
If you’ve never grown your own garlic, why not give it a try? Now is the time to order garlic for planting this fall. It will grow underground until the ground freezes, and in the spring, it will continue to grow to harvest in summer. By planting garlic this fall, your crop will have a big head start on those planted in the spring.
Thinking ahead to spring, begin planning additions to your collection of spring-blooming flower bulbs. Daffodils, tulips, crocus, fritillaria and snowdrops, among others, will be a welcome sight after a long winter and will help feed the early pollinators in your garden. Bulbs ordered in August will be shipped in time for planting this fall.
If you only visit your local nursery during the spring planting season, consider checking out its offerings now. Often, you’ll find perennials on sale that will make a great addition to your garden. Perennials (including berry bushes and fruit trees) can be planted through fall. Just be sure to provide plenty of water so they can get a good, healthy start before temperatures drop below freezing.
The occasional bad-weather day may keep you from working outside, but these offer an opportunity. Take some notes about how this year’s garden is faring, what’s growing well, problems encountered and things you would do differently.
If you don’t keep a garden journal, this is a good time to start one. If record keeping seems too bothersome, consider taking pictures of your garden periodically as a record for future reference.
So, pull up a chair, grab a cool drink and take it all in, for a few minutes at least. Then get up and get back to work because even though it’s August, there’s still plenty to do in the garden.
(Deborah J. Benoit is a University of Vermont Extension Master Gardener from North Adams, Mass., who is part of the Bennington County Chapter.)