Q: I have some spare time in August. What kind of work could I be doing in the garden?
-Karen Hammer, San Luis Obispo A: August appears to be a quiet month in the garden. Summer flowers are blooming and we can harvest vegetable crops we’ve spent hours cultivating. If you have time, though, you can undertake many tasks to help your garden prosper this fall.
Cut back fuchsias, marguerite and Felicia daisies, delphinium, pansies and violas in order to get a second bloom in the fall. Geraniums, begonias and impatiens should also be trimmed back to encourage blooming. Hydrangeas can be cut back after bloom, leaving three or four leaf buds per stem. Save stems that didn’t flower this year — they should bloom next year. Feed camellias and azaleas with acid fertilizer. Ferns, fuchsias, lawns, succulents and biennials would also appreciate feeding this month.
August is the time to plant South African bulbs. Babiana, freesia, and ixia are reliable performers here and require little summer water. You could also buy bougainvillea, or crape myrtle now; these plants will be blooming in the nursery so you can be sure to get the color you like.
For fall color, look into the possibility of planting seeds of annuals that will bloom in cooler weather: calendula, alyssum, Canterbury bells, Iceland poppies and foxglove are candidates for fall bloom.
After all fruit has been removed from summer-bearing fruit trees, you can do summer pruning — heading back or thinning out strongly growing vegetative shoots and removing crossing branches. Check with Master Gardeners for more detailed instructions.
Last, don’t forget your compost pile. It’s at its most active in warm weather. Keep it moist and turn it frequently — or if you do worm composting, be sure your worm bedding is damp and that the bin doesn’t get too hot.