Q. I’ll be spending my vacation at home this August. What chores could I do in the garden while I have time? — Barbara D., Santa Margarita
A. If you’re a vegetable gardener, you’ll have plenty of chores harvesting, keeping pests under control, and maintaining a good watering schedule. You could also be starting seeds of cool-season vegetables in flats in a sheltered spot so they’ll be ready to transplant into the garden as the weather cools.
Fruit trees could be summer-pruned after harvest. Get rid of rampant growth and crossing branches. This helps keep the tree to a manageable size and opens it up to sun and air circulation.
Flowers that have slowed bloom can be pinched back to encourage a new flurry of blossoms: geraniums, begonias, impatiens, petunias, daisies, pansies and violas are all candidates for this treatment. Cut off dead hydrangea blossoms after bloom. Hydrangeas do not need to be pruned much in this climate unless you feel they are too tall — and then try to determine if your variety blooms on old wood or new wood so that you don’t cut off next year’s flowers.
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August is a good time to plant South African bulbs, which do well here. Try babiania, freesia, and ixia, for example. You can also buy summer blooming plants like crape myrtle, butterfly bush and rose of sharon while they are in bloom to get the colors you want.
Help the garden survive heat waves. Provide mulch and check your watering sys tem to be sure it’s doing its job without wasting water. Deep-water trees that are not drought resistant to a depth of 18-24 inches; use a probe or a garden fork to judge depth of penetration. Don’t forget that your compost needs to be regularly dampened, too; it will break down quickly in warm weather if it has enough moisture.