Ground rules and tools for August


August 5, 2004


Victoria County Master Gardener


This year's summer months have brought abnormally wet conditions in June and early July - even without any nearby hurricane activity - resulting in lush lawns and plush heat--tolerant gardens. With more moderate temperatures thus far this summer, upcoming August heat may feel more intense than normal, so be prepared. Just the thought of yard work this time of year in South Texas can give some people a heat stroke! However, there are some preparations that need to be done in order to reap the benefits of your hard work later in the season.


The best time to do any physical labor is in the early morning hours, if possible. In fact, the Red Cross recommends 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. (whew!). I do remember in the "dog days" of summer my grandparents rising before the sun to enjoy a full breakfast (including high-carb homemade buttermilk biscuits) then heading out to take care of the garden and lawn - all before 10:30-11 a.m. The afternoons were saved for indoor activities such as cooking, canning, quilting and the like. All of these chores, by the way, were done without air-conditioning. Somehow, it just didn't seem as hot in those days. We all know that Mexico is known for afternoon siestas at the peak of the day's heat. Maybe we should adopt their system.


It is quite challenging to protect gardens through the summer heat. Listed below are some techniques for summer survival and a garden checklist for August. Note that some items carry forward from those suggested for the previous month of July.


Prune trees and shrubs lightly - this is the last time evergreens should be trimmed. Fertilize color areas - this includes lawns if a soil sample test indicates a need for fertilizer. Check plants for insect infestation - insecticidal soap can rid most plants of pests. Caladiums require plenty of water through the summer to remain lush and active until fall.


Sow seeds of snapdragons, dianthus, pansies, calendulas, and other winter flowers in flats for planting outside in mid- to late fall. Divide spring flowering plants such as irises, Shasta daisies, ox-eye daisies, cannas, daylilies, violets, liriopes and ajugas. Make selections and place orders for spring flowering bulbs to arrive in time for planting in October and November.


Watch moisture requirements of your garden and lawn - remember the rule that lawns should be watered weekly and deeply. Continue maintenance spraying of rose bushes and do some mid- to late summer pruning. Prune out dead canes and any weak, brushy-type growth. Cut back tall, vigorous bushes to about 30 inches. After pruning, apply a complete fertilizer and water thoroughly. Also, keep on the lookout for webworms on trees, and begin placement of a compost pile for fall leaves.


Mulching is one of the most effective techniques that a gardener can use to protect plants and vegetables. Mulch provides top cover, weed retention and erosion control, holds moisture, and lowers soil temperatures in planted beds. Mulched ground temperatures can drop by as much as 20 degrees, and 2- to 4-inch mulch is very effective at both dropping soil temperature and retaining moisture. Mulch generously, especially on younger, newly established plantings. There are numerous mulches to choose from at local garden centers and nurseries, and these businesses would be glad to assist you in choosing the mulch that is best for your space.


Below is a list of Texas vegetables that can be planted during the month of August. Arugula (for fall harvest) - also known as "rocket salad," is a type of lettuce leaf with a wonderful peppery/nutty flavor and is a great accompaniment to a green salad. It also grows very fast and self-sows. The leaves can be frozen like spinach. Lima beans can be planted up until Aug. 15. Note that beets don't like low pH soils. When thinning young beet plants, the tops can be used as greens, cooked or raw, in salads.


Leaf-type vegetables are easy to grow. Kohlrabi leaves can be harvested anytime and eaten fresh in salads or cooked as greens. Different types of leaf lettuce include iceberg, butterhead and romaine. Mint is a wonderful perennial herb to use in salads, teas or other drinks. It tends to be invasive so it is best to grow in pots or hanging baskets. It can be frozen and stored in the freezer or dried and stored in glass for the winter.


Nasturtium is an excellent source of vitamin C. The buds, flowers and leaves can be frozen and stored for later use, but they are better eaten fresh in salads.


Pumpkin should be planted before Aug. 15 for Thanksgiving use. Don't plant other vegetables close to pumpkins or they will get run over. Southern peas and squash should also be planted by Aug. 15. Don't forget shallots and tomatoes in your fall garden as well. Check with the local Extension Office for the best tomato varieties for this area.


Of the above vegetables, the following should be sown in flats for transplanting later: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, kale and lettuce. The others can be planted directly in your garden. Banana and pomegranates - while they are fruits and not vegetables, can be planted as well. If you have chickens, you can feed them discarded banana leaves.


Look for more detailed articles on fall gardening and tomatoes later this month ... and if you have determined in the last week or couple of days that you are interested in the upcoming fall Master Gardener training class, call the Extension Office at 575-4581 to see if space is still available. Classes begin Aug. 12, and training materials will need to be ordered no later than the end of this week.


Numerous inquiries have been received regarding evening training opportunities for those of you who work during the day. The classes are set for weekday afternoons to accommodate the speakers' professional schedules and attendees' potential volunteer service to the community. Stay tuned for future information about a Saturday training symposium in September especially for those who cannot attend training during the workweek.


Gardening should be fun - even in the August heat - so drink plenty of water, wear a hat and sunscreen, and don't even think about trying to spruce things up in the afternoon heat. Incidentally, both of my grandparents lived to be in their 90s!