The Gardener's August Calendar ~ 2017
So in that spirit, let's keep the tasks short and sweet, with the main goal that you get outside and enjoy the flowers, the butterflies, the birds and nature as much as possible.
- Keep an eye out for caterpillars! — Monarch butterflies, black swallowtail butterflies and spicebush swallowtail butterflies are all laying eggs on host plants right, hopefully in your garden. It's easy to get a bug box and bring them inside, where they will be safe from predators, including birds and wasps. I have successfully raised several generations of black swallowtail butterflies (which use fennel, dill and carrot as host plans), as well as one generation each of spicebush swallowtail caterpillars and monarch caterpillars. This year is no different: I have four butterflies in the chrysalis stage right now, nine caterpillars, and four eggs. (I just found an egg this morning when I went outside to get more food for the spicebush caterpillar!) Monarchs are the trickiest to raise indoors, but don't let that scare you! The most important part is keeping their enclosures clean from frass and providing fresh food. For some great information on raising monarchs, visit Monarch Watch. For more information on gardening for butterflies, here's a landing page I created when I was a previous host of #gardenchat. And to watch my caterpillars being raised, be sure to check my Facebook and Instagram accounts, where I share photos of the caterpillars as they grow.
- Water for birds — During this hot month, make sure your birdbaths are clean and filled with fresh water. Birds need water, especially in areas that are experiencing drought conditions. Dump stagnant water so mosquitoes do not use it to breed.
- Vegetable Beds — Use any empty space in the veggie garden beds to sow carrot, beet, lettuce, radish, spinach and pea seeds now for a fall crop. I'm going to plant some in my cold frame, too, so I can extend the crops when the days get colder. As vegetable areas are harvested — and if you do not plan on sowing a fall crop (gasp!) — start sowing cover crops to help condition the soil this fall and over the winter.
- Iris care — Irises should be divided every three to five years, or when the clumps start to lack flowers. I'm finding that many of my irises look like they need dividing this year, and a new location might be helpful because they've become a bit (unintentionally) buried in their current location. (There's a helpful article on dividing and transplanting rhizome iris here.) Irises like to have their roots exposed, and they seem to do well in drier portions of my garden where the rhizome won't be at risk for rotting, In addition, start trimming back irises to the "stubs" (except for rebloomers) which can prevent iris borers from ruining plants. This is not only a fall chore that you are getting a jump on, but it removes the site where the iris borer moth wants to lay its eggs, which will feed on the rhizome and kill the plant.
- Hydrangea Care — If your hydrangeas need pruning, now is the time to act so you won't be cutting off next year's buds. There is a short three-week window to do this in August; after that, the plants will put their energy into creating flower buds for next year. Read more on how to do so here.
- Maintenance — The garden usually needs help this month with water, so keep an eye on plants. The best time to water is in the morning. Also, be sure to deadhead flowers regularly to keep plants looking their best.
- Pests — Keep shaking Japanese beetles into cups of soapy water to get rid of them. The best time to do this is in the morning or early evening hours, when they are not as active. Have you applied neem oil to your perennial hibiscus? I forgot to this year and the hibiscus sawfly is having a field day eating the leaves.
- Elderberries — Elderberries are a great edible fruit that actually grows well underneath my black walnut tree. While I often have to fight the birds for the berries, it is important to remember that they are not safe to eat fresh. The berries (blue or purple) are high in Vitamin C. To remove them easier from the stem, I freeze them first. There are so many things you can do with elderberries, including wine, syrup, jam and pies. To learn more about this great plant, click here. (Just as a word of caution — do not eat wild, red elderberries because those are poisonous.)
- Bulbs — Now is the time to figure out where you want to plant bulbs for spring blooms. Look at your garden photos from this past spring (really, how was that only four months ago!) to see where you need pops of color.
These chores are based on my garden located in Zone 6b.