August - What's in Katie's Garden?

In My Garden (Zone 7-8)

Katie Elzer-Peters
Katie Elzer-Peters is the author of Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening, Carolinas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Southern Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, and many other vegetable gardening books. She lives in coastal North Carolina, where she enjoys four-season gardening. 

First of all, how is it already August? The summer is absolutely flying by. Once I take a walk around my garden, I can tell it is August, because the garden always looks crazy at this time of year, and this year is no exception. Where I live we’ve had a lot of rain, so all of the plants are growing with abandon.
The way I describe an August garden in the humid south is “blowsy.”

The plants sprawl all over each other, unconcerned about personal space. They look like gangly teenagers lounging on a big pool float, limbs intertwined. Rains have knocked some of the taller toad lilies over so they’re laying on the farfugium (leopard plant). Everything in the garden looks resigned to the heat and humidity, despite the frantic growth.

It’s easy to walk through your garden right now and see nothing but weeds and holes in the plants where insects ate them, or to look at your tomatoes and sigh because the leaves are spotty and yellow and the plants have seen better days.

Let me encourage you to do what I did and snap a few photos. This one was my favorite: 

From this angle, the garden looks pretty good! I love the black eyed Susans. My mom always grew those, so I feel like I have a little bit of home with me when I see them starting to bloom.

Pictures also help you see and evaluate progress in the garden. Back in the spring, we renewal pruned the azaleas. What that means, basically, is that we chopped them back to the ground. It’s a little shocking when you first see them after you chop:

Azaleas about three weeks after renewal pruning.

Azaleas three months after renewal pruning.

Much to my relief, the shrubs are growing back well, and I can really see that by looking pictures from right after we pruned. It’s too late to do that this year, but if your azaleas are overgrown, make plans to chop shop on them next spring after flowering!

I share my garden with my husband, who has, if not equal knowledge, equal zeal for pretty plants. Doing a “picture walk” led me to discover some new things he slipped into the garden while I was laid up with a broken leg:

Mystery Coneflowers!

He has gone cuckoo for coneflowers, and we have all kinds of interesting varieties. I guess we’ll see which ones come back, because all but the wild species coneflower can be a little temperamental here. I admire his optimism, which is something that you can lose when you garden for a living. I have a much more practical approach and he’s the dreamer. We’re gardening opposites, but that’s what I think makes our gardens so delightful.
The spring wildflowers have finally called it quits. In between the rains we put down some compost and then sowed summer flower seeds. Cosmos, zinnias, and sunflowers are my favorites. They are starting to sprout and will bloom their heads off until frost:

My Big front garden in the spring of 2008

In addition to spring flowers, we’ll plant seeds of fall vegetables pretty soon. Carrots, broccoli, kale, and other fall and winter crops can sprout now, but will really start growing when the nights cool off in September and October. If I don’t plant them now, I’ll never harvest, though.
Just when I think there’s not a lot to be done this month, I prove myself wrong. Gardening never ends! But that’s the beauty of it . 


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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Fall salad crops can be difficult to start because garden soil is often very warm when seeds need to be planted. To trick the internal mechanism that allows seeds to germinate in warm ground, freeze them for a week or two.
    Or start seeds indoors in flats where it’s cool, and transplant seedlings into the garden immediately after germination. Be sure to include winter or cold-hardy lettuce varieties when planting. They will take temperatures down into the 20s with little or no protection. ‘Little Caesar’, Buttercrunch’ lettuces, ‘Frizz E’endive and ‘Baby’s Leaf Hybrid’ spinach are good choices. When the thermometer dips below freezing, lay an old bed sheet or floating row cover directly over the lettuce, endive and spinach for protection.