The big temptation in August is to believe that winter has finished, spring is just around the corner and summer crops can be planted with abandon. Don’t kid yourself. In cold temperate zones, frosts can occur until November. It’s not much better in warm temperate areas, and besides, the soil is cold and totally unsuited to growing heat loving plants. Already I’m getting questions from gardeners asking if they should start their tomatoes. My advice: be patient. Time lost at the start of the season is gained at the end.
In the summer-wet tropics and subtropics, late winter and early spring is typically the driest time of the year. It’s often surprisingly warm and windy as well, and the combination of these three factors – drought, heat and wind – spells trouble for vulnerable plants. Make sure you have access to adequate supplies of water before doing any planting, especially in late August.
If it has been dry in your neck of the woods, use a soil wetter suitable for organic gardens to help moisture penetrate deeply into the soil, and apply liquid fertiliser every couple of weeks to those plants that are about to rocket from the ground (eg asparagus and rhubarb).
If it is particularly windy at yours, it's vital to stake to prevent damage to vulnerable plants, especially those that have only just been put in the ground. The aim with staking is to allow some movement of the canopy while anchorning the roots. In exposed areas, bang two stakes into the ground either side of the plant (and perpendicular to the prevailing wind). String some stretchy material between the stakes a foot or two above ground level and make a figure of eight to support the plant. In more sheltered areas, a single stake and material support might be enough.
August is a great month to start spring seedlings. I’m thinking of things such as spinach, rocket, kale, bok choy, broccoli and cabbage that can be sown now indoors or in a warm greenhouse, then planted out in the garden without fear of damage by late frosts. It’s also time to finish planting bare-rooted trees, shrubs and perennials while they are still in winter dormancy.
Keen to try your hand at grafting? August is the ideal time to give it go. The sap is rising, as the old saying goes, which means that plants grafted now 'take' relatively quickly. The best plants to start with are apples and pears, and the simplest techniques to master are the whip and tongue graft, and the cleft graft (aka wedge). Stonefruit is a little bit trickier, but still doable for the amateur gardener. Note that citrus and other evergreens are usually grafted in early summer when the bark is 'slipping'. Have a look online for some great instructional videos.
Pests aren’t much of an issue yet in cold areas, but in warmer zones you’re likely to have trouble with aphids. They adore soft, sappy new foliage but thankfully, control is relatively easy. Either wait a couple of weeks for ladybeetles to arrive and clean up the pests, or spray them with horticultural oil. Try using neem oil for the latter. It works by smothering the aphids, and has the added benefit of stopping any other pests lurking nearby from feeding and moulting.
By: Justin Russell
First published: July 2017