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A Gardening Checklist for August

Enjoy the summer; prepare for fall.


erhaps more than any other month, August in the Northeast encapsulates and reflects the entire growing season. This month, vine-ripened tomatoes and peppers reach their peak–along with steady harvests of fresh Basil, Corn, Zucchini, Melon, and Cucumbers. As we enjoy summer’s abundance, a hint of autumn is in the air: spring-sown plants set seed, wither, and die–and we’re reminded that every season quietly slips into the next. But just as this sobering thought sets in, the Dahlias, Cleome, and Torch Tithonia burst into bloom and time feels suspended once again.

August is a month filled with harvests, but it's also an opportunity to prepare for fall. Use the checklist below to make the most of this month.

Harvest often.

Overripe, bitter Zucchinis haunt the dreams of every vegetable grower, so be sure to harvest often this month. Because so many crops are maturing all at once, it’s important to get out into the garden to harvest each day (or thereabouts). Bring a knife or pruner with you as you make the rounds and lift the leaves to see what’s hiding. Harvesting often will also allow you to spot pests and disease before they take hold, and you can use this opportunity to prune back plants for improved airflow and access to sunlight.

If you end up with more Zucchinis than you know what to do with, try garden guru Margaret Roach’s simple recipe for “Refrigerator Zucchini Pickles”! For more ideas on preserving and storing your harvest visit this page.

Sow more vegetables before it’s too late.

Those plants going to seed in your garden are wise: they want to sow again before it’s too late! If you haven’t already, now’s the time to order quick-growing crops like Arugula, Asian Greens, Beets, Lettuce, Spinach, and Peas. A few crops–such as garlic and cover crops–are happy to wait until next month before being sown, but most other edibles need to be planted soon. Fall cover crops include Oats and Field Peas, Winter Rye, and Tillage Radish–read more about fall cover crops here.

Seedy Tip: When sowing a crop for fall, remember to add two weeks to the “days to maturity” number found on your seed pack. This “fall factor” will make up for the effects of decreasing day-length. If the weather has been hot, soak your seeds before planting them into moist soil. Learn more about fall sowing here, or browse our collection of Fast-Growing Crops for Fall for more ideas. For a visual overview of fall sowing, check out our Late Season Planting Guide Poster created in collaboration with artist Cynthia Cliff.

Pre-order garlic and shallots.

As with fall-planted bulbs, shop now for garlic and shallots if you want to choose from the widest selection. Site your garlic and shallots in full sun, clear weeds, and prepare beds ahead of time with a fresh application of compost. Learn more about growing garlic here, or refer to this beautiful Garlic Planting Guide Poster created by artist Dayna Walton.

Pre-order fall-planted bulbs.

Your garden might be looking lush in summer, but how does it look after a long Northeastern winter? If the answer is “pretty bleak,” then consider landscaping with more fall-planted bulbs. Right now the selection of fall-planted bulbs is at its peak! So, whether you’re the type who covets unique and hard-to-find varieties, or just want flowers blooming your garden as early as possible, now is the time to pre-order flowering bulbs. To achieve early blooms in your garden next year, plant Snowdrops, Crocus, or Winter Aconite this fall. For non-stop blooms from late winter to early summer, select bulb varieties according to their bloom time. Learn more about staggering bloom times in this post.

Fall-planted bulbs are generally low-maintenance and will be happy with the fertility in most garden soil; however, it is important that the soil is aerated and well-draining, since excessively wet soil can quickly lead to bulb rot. For optimal results, site your bulbs in the light conditions and depth specifications listed for each variety. For example, Tulips generally prefer full sun and want to be planted about 6” deep; Erythronium, on the other hand, will do best planted at 4” deep in an area with partial sun. For a great bulb-planting tool, try our Hori Hori Knife which includes a ruler for measuring soil depth. Attending to these little details in your gardening can make all the difference.

Landscape the easy way with cold-stratified perennials.

One of the easiest ways to landscape larger areas in the garden is to sow perennials. Seed-sown perennials are a cost-effective way to establish permanent plantings that require very little maintenance. Native varieties are particularly fuss-free and well-adapted to their environment. And because many perennial flowers require cold-stratification to break seed dormancy, fall is the perfect time to sow! The freeze and thaw cycle of winter will do all of the hard work, so that you do not need to coddle these seeds in a refrigerator.

Use this month to clear weeds from the area where you'll be sowing (if it's a large, overgrown area, try mowing first, then lay down cardboard or a tarp for a few weeks ahead of sowing; this will make it significantly easier to cultivate). In cold winter regions, wait until the first killing frost to sow (around the same time you plant your fall bulbs).

Some of the most common fall-sown perennials include Rudbeckia, Echinacea, and Milkweed, but cold stratification works for several annuals as well, including Johnny Jump-Up and Poppies. Explore more cold-stratified flowers and flower mixes here.

August is a magical month in the garden with so much lushness and beauty all around: as the fireflies fade out of view, the Perseid meteor showers light up the night skies; the earth yields bountiful blooms and harvests while some plants wither and set seed. In many traditions, August marks the beginning of the harvest season, bringing with it celebrations like Lughnasadh, a Gaelic festival marking the midway point between the summer solstice and fall equinox. In the garden, it’s a time of plenty, when the forces of nature work with us to produce the fruits of our mutual labor. Like a gazing globe, August captures a fuller picture of the entire gardening year, reminding us to enjoy summer pleasures without losing sight of the seasons to come.

A few more ideas for this month:

  • Water plants deeply at least once a week. Find summer watering tips here.
  • Deadhead dahlias and zinnias to stimulate bloom production.
  • Stop fertilizing roses.
  • Start saving seeds in a cool dry place. Find seed saving supplies here.
  • Mulch bare soil left from harvested crops, or sow a cover crop.
  • Celebrate the harvest and share your garden bounty with friends and family.