August is the one month with no major holiday, unless you’re Canadian and you celebrate the first Monday as Civic Holiday, which is a great excuse for a three-day weekend. And who doesn’t want more three-day weekends! Unfortunately the Illinois State Fair does not qualify as a holiday.
So, while other months have a holiday you can base yard and garden work on, August falls short.
Which isn’t all that bad. There’s not much to do in August, and if drinking liquid refreshment, fermented or not, is your cup of iced tea instead of focusing on gardening work, so be it.
For others, while it seems contrary to the stickiness pervading our clothes and the air, August can be time to do some major planting such as fall leafy vegetables like spinach, chard or lettuce. It’s also the perfect time to set in cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower transplants.
You can plant a fall crop of cucumbers and green beans, which should help avoid the pesky beetles that nibble on the plants in the spring and early summer.
And, August is a great time to divide iris. Some folks will even dig and divide daylilies after they’re done blooming, cutting the fans back by 50-75 percent. Truthfully, though, you can divide daylilies just about any time of the year the ground isn’t frozen, and they’ll survive.
The biggest problems with August are the heat and potential drought.
There’s not much you can do to protect plants from the heat, though some savvy gardeners will erect old window screens over the new transplants, whether flower or vegetable, to cut down on the light until everything has rooted successfully. Just make sure the window screen won’t collapse on the transplant.
Water is just as important, but too much water can cause as many problems as not enough. A thorough drenching two or three times a week for the first two weeks, followed by a thorough drenching once or twice weekly for the next two weeks should get the plants established.
But the biggest problem with August gardening is that gardeners might not be august enough. (Sorry, folks … I just couldn’t resist the rare, once-a-year opportunity to state that.)
Heat and humidity can do the best of us in and deflate our attempts to be august gardeners, i.e. impressive, grand, dignified, noble and majestic. You can’t look or feel majestic if you are red-faced and dripping in sweat. That’s why we should work early in the morning as the sun peaks over the horizon, or the couple of hours right before dusk, when hopefully the temperatures are waning.
Morning has its advantages as the winds are calmer, the birds chirping, and water dries before diseases have a chance to get a foothold like they do at night. Humans are also a little calmer and chirpier. Just make sure you have a good breakfast before working.
If you find yourself working when the temperatures are above 90 degrees F, make sure you drink plenty of fluids and take plenty of breaks. Though an old timer told me once if you do lots of the former, you can’t help but do lots of the latter.
Plan for 15 minute activities. In other words, don’t spend two hours weeding or pruning. Smaller chores are better on the muscles and also give you more of a sense of accomplishment. Breaking regularly prevents muscle fatigue and may actually allow you to do more gardening. Or not. That’s your call.
If you are working a large area, stick flags every so often to tell you to do something else. Or set a kitchen timer to go off.