EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in August 2012.
Landscaping & Lawn Care
1. Overseeding of tall fescue/bluegrass lawns begins in late August in the mountain region and throughout September in counties to the east. Overseeding rates are approximately 3 pounds of seed for every 1,000 square feet of lawn. Seed-starting fertilizers are suggested for new-lawn installations. (Professional lawn services are invaluable with sod and new-lawn installations.)
2. No fertilizer is needed on warm-season turfgrass varieties as fall approaches. This will allow their growth to slow and encourage acclimatization in time for the dormant season ahead. Make plans for dethatching Bermuda grass lawns if you are overseeding with ryegrass in the fall.
3. Mow lawns as needed, but remove no more than one-third of the height of the grass. This ensures that the root system is not stressed. Clippings can be left on tall fescue lawns to recycle nutrients and add organic matter back to the soil.
4. Consider constructing a compost bin in preparation for the fall leaf season. Purchasing a compost tumbler is another option. There are three categories: axle-mounted and frame-mounted drums, roller-based drums, and rolling-sphere drums. August is a good time to turn unfinished compost and move the finished compost to gardens for a fresh layer of mulch. Compost tumblers eliminate the strenuous task of turning compostable materials and yields compost in record time.
5. Garden centers are clearing their summer inventory. This is a good time to find some deals on woody ornamental shrubs or trees. Check the rootballs to be certain there are healthy roots.
6. Japanese beetles and june bugs are mating and laying eggs in mulched beds and lawns. Serious infestations can be eliminated with a soil insecticide or milky spore product. Otherwise, ignore the beetles unless they are eating away at prized flowers or foliage.
7. From the North Carolina coast and deep into the northern piedmont, fire ants are a major nuisance. Since fire ants forage up to 100 yards from their mound in search of food, broadcast baits applied to the lawn will reduce populations in vegetable gardens where many insecticides are not labeled for use. Apply baits in late afternoon or mornings. A crumbled potato chip can be used to monitor for active foraging. Apply baits when there is no rainfall in the forecast for 24 hours.
8. Pine mice or voles, not to be confused with moles, are plant eaters and keep flower gardeners in search of varieties that voles avoid. Plants they rarely devour include daffodils, euphorbia, rain lilies, and amaryllis. Cats are good predators of voles.
9. Dry weather drives millipedes into your home. The best nonchemical approach to millipede and earwig summer invasions is to reduce the thatch layer in turfgrass, removing leaf debris and firewood near the perimeter of the house, and chalking/weathering proofing around door jams and windows where these small insects slither in unabated.
10. Repeat-blooming flowers such as marigolds, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, geraniums, dahlias, and daylilies benefit from continuous deadheading. A late-summer feeding with a bloom-booster fertilizer may help jump start some sluggish annuals.
11. When it comes to calculating the number of annual flowers or bags of mulch to cover a landscape bed, it helps to grab your office calculator. One nifty online source is landscapecalculator.com.
12. That late-season flush of growth on shrubs or trees can be pruned now. Tree services are on call to thin (not top!) a tree canopy before the hurricane season arrives in coastal counties.
13. Yellow jackets and wasps are active now. It is wise to keep a watchful eye out when pruning shrubs and mowing lawns. There are aerosol products for quick knockdown and Sevin dust for ground nests. Wear gloves when pruning to avoid bee contact and harmful stinging caterpillars.
Fruit and Vegetable Gardens
14. Diseases are readily visible on fruit trees and crabapples. The most common are fire blight and cedar apple rust. While fungicides may give some relief when applied in spring as new leaves are forming, they are useless in August. Good sanitation in the backyard orchard will prevent disease development. Removal of blighted twigs and rotting fruit is important. Rake and dispose of diseased leaves as they fall to the ground.
15. Fig season is upon us. ‘Celeste’ is a heavy producer of very sweet, quarter-size fruits. Figs are low-maintenance fruits. Cuttings are easily propagated; find a gardening friend willing to share a cutting from a productive bush. ‘Brown Turkey’ is another favorite in North Carolina.
16. August is the official start to the fall gardening season. Yes, it is hot and dry, but typical fall crops grow quickly if you can commit to an irrigation and pest management regime. Leafy greens can be seeded in late August and September.
17. Fall cover crops, such as clover and peas, can be planted to enrich the soil. As summer edibles play out, remove them for composting or till them under to manage root pests.
18. Powdery mildew and leaf diseases are common on a number of vegetable plants in summer. Treatment includes pruning off infected leaves, use of approved fungicides, and disposing of fallen leaves. The biofungicide Serenade® lessens leaf-disease problems. Reduce drought stress with a routine watering schedule. Rain barrels are a great way to recycle stormwater.
19. Tomato production should be at its peak in August. Tomatoes love water, and the lack of it can lead to blossom-end rot. Maintain a 3-inch mulch layer in summer, and feed your plants monthly with a calcium fertilizer, such as calcium nitrate. For fall tomatoes, propagate using 8-inch stems/suckers in moist sand or vermiculite. Fill a clean flower pot with the medium and cover the cuttings with a 2-liter, plastic soda bottle (both bottom and cap removed); place in a semi-shaded location for a couple of weeks.
20. Remember that many herbs freely reseed themselves throughout the garden if their flowers are not promptly removed. Some of the biggest offenders are lemon balm, mints, horehound, cilantro, garlic chives, and tansy.
21. Open-pollinated flowers and vegetables can provide a generous seed supply for future seasons. Keep records of seed collections and harvest seeds once they fully mature. Seed Savers’ Exchange is a national repository of heirloom varieties; check out their website for information on hundreds of unique plants from bygone times.