By Ruth Hayes
Our August gardening jobs are just what you need if you're looking for the best ways to keep your outdoor space looking beautiful for as long as possible.
This is the month where the garden should be ticking over nicely, full of colorful flowers and ripening crops. However, although many plants can be left to their own devices, this is not a time when gardeners can rest on their laurels.
There are still plenty of jobs to be done this month, whether it's finalizing what to plant in August, weeding and deadheading flowers, mowing the lawn or keeping pests in check.
Whether you add all of our August gardening jobs to your to-do list or just a few, you'll soon see the benefits of your hard work.
August gardening jobs: 13 key garden tasks
Our top August gardening jobs will help you prioritize your to-do list and keep you busy outdoors over the coming weeks.
1. Plant a late summer container
Container gardening ideas are a wonderful way of adding pops of color to the garden. Although most summer bedding plants have gone from the garden centers now, there are still lots of plants that can be used in pots, and many of them including dahlias, gaillardias, begonias and salvias will flower well into the autumn.
Here's how to plant up a late-summer pot.
- Place broken pottery crocks at the bottom of your garden planter for drainage and fill it to within an inch (2.5cm) of the rim with compost, ideally a peat-free product with added fertilizer such as Growmore. If you use a proprietary container compost there should be no need to add fertilizer as several months' worth of nutrients will already have been added to the mix.
- It is still a good idea to add water-retaining granules to peat-free compost at this time of year as autumn can be a dry season. The product, widely available from garden centers, helps compost retain and release liquid to your plants’ roots at a steady rate.
- Start filling your pot, beginning with the tallest central plant then add smaller and trailing varieties around the edge. Gaps will fill as the plants grow. In my pot I included an orange 'Bishop's Children' dahlia, with astilbe, variegated ivy and a silvery Calocephalus for contrast.
- Always raise your container up on feet to help excess water escape and to prevent waterlogging, which will drive oxygen from the compost and effectively 'drown' the plant. Pot feet also make it harder for pests to crawl in from below.
- Watering plants well is essential to help settle the plants, firm compost around their roots and activate water-retaining granules, if used. Keep containers and baskets well watered all summer, giving them a drink every day during very hot and dry spells.
Top tip: If you are not sure whether your pot or basket needs watering, stick a finger in it up to the first knuckle. If it feels dry, get watering!
2. Collect homegrown seeds for sowing
If you are already growing a selection of hardy annuals and biennials, why not save money by collecting seeds yourself as one of your August gardening jobs?
The best time to do it is when the seed heads or pods have ripened and changed from being flexible or soft and green to dried, brittle and usually brown or red.
Gather them on a dry day, ideally after a run of rain-free days, as unless they are completely dry when stored they will go moldy.
One way of collecting is to shake the seeds free from their cases or pods into a container, then remove the debris, or chaff, and seal in a labelled envelope somewhere dark, cool and dry away from pests. It means you'll have a plentiful supply to sow if you're learning how to grow flowers from seeds.
Alternatively, deadhead the seed pods and either shake their contents into an envelope or open them, as with honesty seeds, and remove the seeds to store as above.
Some seeds, such as hellebores, need sowing immediately but most produce the best results when stored and dried.
Hardy annuals such as cerinthe, field and opium poppies, cornflowers, larkspur and sweet peas can be sown directly into the soil in autumn or saved until next spring.
Top tip: Hellebores self-seed so prolifically it can be easier to let seedlings germinate and then move them to where you want them to grow.
3. Cut back and deadhead plants
Hardy geraniums can become rather straggly and unkempt if allowed to grow madly, so use your best garden shears to keep them in shape after flowering.
Deadhead penstemons and other perennials and annuals as soon as their blooms start to fade to encourage further blooms.
Bring the color and scents of the garden indoors by cutting flowers for vases. This will also prompt many of them to flower again, later in Fall.
Top tip: Always keep your best secateurs and shears clean and sharp to avoid damaging plant stems and spreading pests and diseases.
4. Harvest crops and speed up ripening
If you are growing fruit and veg in a greenhouse or raised garden beds, you may be inundated by a glut of homegrown goodies. If you have a glut of any particular fruit or veg, give some to your neighbors or get freezing or pickling!
If anything growing in a greenhouse or conservatory is being slow to ripen, hang a ripening banana close to it to encourage laggardly tomatoes to ripen. The banana will give off a gas called ethylene, which encourages unripe fruit and veg to ripen.
Squash should be ripening well, but run the risk of rotting underneath if they are lying on wet soil. Solve this problem by placing each one on a tile.
Plus, to ensure you have plenty of crops to harvest over the cooler months ahead, make sure you add some of our top vegetables to plant in August to your planting list this month.
5. Catch up on maintenance
It’s been a busy summer so there is every chance your shed will be a bit of a mess, with piles of dirty pots, old seed packets and tools hastily put down and not put away.
Make tidying up your shed ideas one of your August gardening jobs. Start by washing tools and then storing everything in its proper place. Tools should be disinfected and sharpened before autumn’s pruning and bed clearance starts.
If you have time, why not paint your shed a jaunty color with the best exterior wood paint? As well as looking good, it will also protect the wood through winter storms for at least a year or two.
6. Lay a simple stepping stone path
The ground is firm now, but areas of heavy use can become boggy in winter. Help protect areas of the garden that get the most footfall with a simple stepping stone garden path idea, which will look attractive and protect the most worn areas.
It is relatively quick and easy, so add this to your August gardening jobs while the weather is still good and the path will soon bed in. Here's how to do it.
Start by laying the stones on the grass in the shape of the path you want, placing them close together so you can easily step from one to the next. Then cut around each stone with a sharpened half-moon lawn edging tool.
Move the stone and remove the turf and soil to a depth just slightly greater than the stones. This will ensure that when the stones are in place, they lie flat and don’t catch and damage mower blades by standing proud of the surface.
Once the turf is removed, line the area where the stone will sit with a layer of sand and tamp it down to provide a flat and firm foundation.
Replace the stone and brush sand and soil around its edge. This helps it to bed in and look natural - you can also sow some grass seed around the edge.
The stones will soon bed in and grass will quickly grow around them, creating a natural look. The path will protect the rest of the lawn.
There is a wide range of attractive stones in a variety of shapes and colors, so take your time and choose the paving that is right for you.
7. Take care of garden wildlife
Continuing to feed garden birds and wildlife is important at all times of the year, so don't forget to include it on your list of August gardening jobs. You should provide them both with fresh water for drinking and bathing, especially during prolonged dry spells.
As autumn approaches, do a garden audit and work out what you could do to improve your wildlife garden ideas.
Sow and plant pollinator-friendly flowers such as sunflowers, sweet peas, cerinthe, pulmonaria, globe thistle and sedum and create a scruffy area where wildlife and invertebrates can hide.
If you want to know how to help hedgehogs as summer is coming to an end, it's a good idea to feed them with dry cat food and give them fresh water. Never give them milk as it will upset their stomach, and don't feed with mealworms as they cause calcium deficiency leading to weakened bones.
8. Install a water butt or two
One of the best garden water saving tips is to install a water butt before autumn and winter rains arrive. In fact, if you have the space, install as many as you can on downpipes from the house, garage and greenhouse.
Water butts are widely available from DIY stores and online and they are easy to install. They save money if you are on a water meter and if you put one close to areas of the garden that need a lot of water, they will save you time and energy too as you won't have to carry heavy watering cans for long distances.
It is also worth considering that harvested rain water is better for plants and filling up garden ponds than tap water as it doesn't contain chemicals.
Just remember to always put a lid on your water butts to stop debris falling in and to prevent flies and mosquitoes from laying eggs in the water. Plant some of the best mosquito repellent plants nearby and that could help reduce any potential issues too.
Top tip: Tie an old pair of tights/pantyhose over a downpipe leading to a water butt to filter out any debris. Just remember to empty it regularly.
9. Look after patios and drainage systems
Keep hard surfaces clear of debris such as dead leaves and soil that washes out of pots and beds by the rain. Garden detritus can harbor pests and disease and also looks a mess.
Everything from patios to decking ideas can become dangerously slippery if moss and algae are left to accumulate. Clear up any mess and then dig out your best pressure washer to give paths, paving and decks a thorough clean before the end of summer.
Make sure your gutters are kept clear, as fallen leaves and moss will cause blockages that could potentially lead to overflowing and flooding in heavy rain, even during summer.
10. Take cuttings of tender perennials
Learn how to take cuttings of tender perennials such as pelargoniums before you lift and store them in a frost-free greenhouse over winter.
The cuttings will give you more plants and also act as an ‘insurance policy’ in case the parent plants don’t survive winter. Here's how to do it:
- Select a healthy length of non-flowering growth and cut it just above a leaf node.
- Cleanly and without damaging the stem, strip away all the lower and larger leaves so just the top tuft remains.
- Dip the cut end in hormone rooting gel or powder. This will help promote the development of a strong root system.
- Insert the cuttings into a pot of seed compost or peat-free compost that’s been mixed with grit to improve drainage, and set them somewhere warm and light, but out of direct sunlight.
- The cuttings should start to root in 4-6 weeks, at which time they will start to grow.
Top tip: You can either leave your cuttings where they are or pot them up individually in peat-free compost in a few months’ time. Keep them in a frost-free greenhouse or cool room over the winter.
11. Protect your plants if you're going away
August is a prime month for holidays, whether at home or abroad. For best results watering plants while away on vacation, group pots together in a sheltered, shady spot to reduce moisture loss. Make sure you give them a good soaking before you leave for holiday.
Indoors, place house plants on towels draped into a sink or bucket of water to act as a ‘wick’. You can also buy self watering systems for pot plants that simply stick into the soil and plants draw water from them as needed.
12. Take care of your lawn
Spending time improving your lawn ideas as part of your August gardening jobs and it will lead to a better-looking lawn for next year. Try these simple tasks to ensure it's in the best possible shape.
- Remove any debris and leaves.
- Scarify the lawn by raking to remove dead (grass) thatch.
- Aerate (make holes) in the lawn with a fork or spike to improve drainage.
- Top-dress using a mix of sharp sand or compost.
- Feed with an autumn granular food and moss killer to help it over winter.
- Don't cut the lawn too short during hot spells as this can cause the grass to brown. There's more tips on how to mow a lawn in our guide.
13. Get to grips with weeds
Weeds can feel like unwanted guests at the best of times, but especially during summer when you want your garden to be looking its very best. Spend an afternoon digging up weeds and pulling them up by the root.
It's worth investing in a pair of the best gardening gloves as you may find that some weeds are spiky and can irritate the skin.
The general rule for how to get rid of weeds from the garden most effectively tends to be weeding little and often as the more frequently you weed the less effort it is to get rid of them before they have taken root.
Ruth is the gardening editor of Amateur Gardening magazine and spends her working days carrying out, writing about and photographing the tasks the readers should be carrying out each week, as well as testing many of the new products that arrive on the gardening market.
She is horticulturally trained, with a qualification from the Royal Horticultural Society, and her work varies with the seasons and includes everything from sowing and planting, to pruning, taking cuttings, dealing with pests and diseases and keeping houseplants healthy. She covers ornamental plants and edible crops and everything she writes about and photographs is in her own garden, a mature plot that has been a work in progress since her family moved to their current house in 2012.
Her main interests are gardening for wildlife and organic gardening, as she firmly believes you don’t need to ‘nuke’ pests and problems with toxic chemicals, nor use peat composts to produce the garden of your dreams.
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