August 2005
Victoria County Master Gardener Association
Ground rules and tools for August
August 4, 2005
Victoria County Master Gardener

Once again, August has arrived with its usual blistering blazing furnace-like heat. There's no question about it. It's hot! It's so hot that I spend at least an hour and a half daily either handing out frozen 3-liter ice bottles to my daughter's 4-H rabbits, re-freezing bottles, or picking soggy molted fluff off cages and warm bottles. After all, when you insist on wearing a rabbit-fur coat in August, you're going to be hot!

So, if the rabbits need ice bottles, what does your garden need? Obviously you need to start with an adequate amount of water for your plants and visiting critters. Your lawn needs to drink deeply once a week. Plants with green fruits or berries must be well watered or they will often drop their fruit under drought conditions. Broad-leaved plants such as coleus, caladiums, chrysanthemums, and cannas will become dry even in shady locations due to the hot, dry wind.

One way to help your garden retain precious moisture is to mulch, mulch, mulch. Mulching is an extremely effective technique. Not only does it help keep the ground moist and lower the soil temperature, it provides weed and erosion control. Don't be chinchy with your mulch, especially around younger or newly established areas of your garden. A good rule of thumb (use the green one, please) is to mulch to a depth of 2 to 4 inches.

Moving on to your flowers. It's time to be nice to your asters, poinsettias and chrysanthemums. Quit pinching them. They don't like it anymore. It's time for them to bloom and fill your garden with color. Other flowers such as irises, daylilies, violets, oxalis, liriopes, ajugas and various daisies have been multiplying like rabbits and now need to be divided so they have room to spread their roots and have healthy blossoms.

Once your beds are mulched, divided, and happily multiplying, you can move on to lopping (not to be confused with lops - which are my daughter's rabbits, or loping - which is what my husband's dogs do through my garden). We want to lop or prune rose bushes to ensure a fantastic fall bloom. Prune the canes that fall into the 4 D's - dinky, damaged, diseased or dead. Cut them back to approximately 21/2 feet tall, then fertilize and water thoroughly.

Other flowering shrubs and trees may also be pruned lightly at this time. Wait until midwinter for any major pruning. Severe pruning at this time of year will stimulate tender new growth that will get nailed by the first frost. Shrubs and trees that form buds in July and August, such as azaleas, forsythias, camellias, peaches and pears, should not be pruned if you want fruit and/or flowers in the spring. Do be sure to give them plenty of water to avoid drought stress.

Drought and heat can also affect your pond plants and fish. Any water temperature above 80 degrees is already too hot for most fish, and when it hits 90 degrees, you're going to be able to have a boiled fish and veggie dinner! Create instant shade with shadecloth on poles, an arbor or whatever else works. If your pond has overheated once, it will probably be an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed. Over the long haul, create shade by strategically planting a tree or shrubs, or encouraging vines to twine over a trellis or other support.

Provide plenty of circulation by using a pump that can handle 3,000 gallons per hour, add a waterfall or aerate with a fountain to increase oxygen in the water. Cooling your pond water is important since the warmer and more still the water, the lower the oxygen content and the more harmful bacteria are present. Warm water also causes greater fish activity just when they need to lay low and swim slow due to the decrease in oxygen.

If your fish are already gasping for air at the water's surface, you need to act quickly. Do a partial water change and add cooler water. If you are changing more than 20 percent of the water, be sure to use a complete water treatment product that will remove both chlorine and chloramines used by the city water treatment plant. Of course, if you are lucky enough to have well water, this is not a problem.

Another cooling method is to add water lilies or other plants to create shade. Ideally, 40 percent of your water should be plant-shaded. This is an easy and beautiful way to increase water cooling.

Being water-cooled is also increasingly difficult for our wild friends and their less-than-desirable associates who may invade what we like to consider our tamed territory. This usually happens when drought strikes and the natural water sources dry up. Toads and crawly critters visit plant saucers, ponds, and domestic animal water bowls. Along with them come the slithery snaky critters that may enjoy a nice soak curled around your newly watered plant, or a dip in the cement pond. They haven't really invaded just to see you shriek and dance wildly about (although they may find this quite amusing) but only to satisfy their needs. So be kind to your warty and scaly visitors, and remember that the fact that they have found an outdoor water source in your yard makes them less likely to show up in your shower.

So, in conclusion, as you brave the agonizing August heat, be sure to water well - both your garden and yourself. You need to stay hydrated while working. Make your gardening hours before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. and try to remember to leave your rabbit-fur coat hanging in the closet at least until the first frost.