August 2006
Victoria County Master Gardener Association
Ground rules, tools for August
  Keep plants thriving in the hottest part of the year

August 3, 2006
MONICA STUMFOLL - Victoria County Master Gardener Intern

We've made it through the July heat (although it wasn't that bad because of some much needed rain), and don't expect any relief in August. Last August we saw a week straight of 100-degree temperatures, and it's safe to say we will see them again this year. Meteorologist Larry Peabody of Texas Gardener Magazine writes that the extended forecast for August is for above-normal temperatures and near-normal precipitation for much of Texas, with the dry weather pattern persisting through the summer with local variations and short-term extremes possible. Recent "patchy" rainfalls have proven several extremes.

With the tropical cyclone season beginning this month, Peabody also reminds us that the landfall of a single Gulf of Mexico tropical storm or hurricane can deposit a whole season's worth of rainfall on a spot in a matter of days. If rainfall and moderate temperatures don't materialize, remember soil evaporation losses are highest during July and August, stressing vegetation to a maximum. Protecting your plants from the heat is key during these hottest summer months.

Mulch, mulch, mulch - Mulch works as a temperature regulator; it will keep the soil cool during the heat, therefore cooling the root zone. Mulch also helps to conserve soil moisture, which increases the time in between watering. Mulch should be applied generously; I like to go with about 3 inches or so. In general, the courser the mulch material, the thicker the mulch; the finer the material, the thinner the mulch.

Water, water, water - Even your plants that stay shaded can be affected by the hot, dry wind. Make sure you are giving all your plants deep and infrequent watering. By practicing this technique year-round, you encourage deeper root growth, which gives your plants a much better chance of surviving the August heat spells. But don't over-water either as soggy soil is as deadly to plants as dry conditions.

Weed, weed, weed - Pulling a few weeds every day not only keeps you from spending hours at a time cleaning up your garden and bed areas, it also means your plants have less competition for water and nutrients.

Prune out any dead and diseased wood from shrubs and trees. Light pruning for shaping is OK, but hold off on severe pruning until midwinter. Don't prune any spring bloomers, such as azaleas, as this will remove the buds that have formed for next year's show. Roses can also be reduced by one-third around mid-month to encourage fall flush. Crape myrtles can be pruned to remove any seedheads, which will encourage another flush of blooms for the fall.

Trim up summer-flowering perennials, such as coneflowers, cannas, daylilies, etc. by removing old leaf and stem stubble. Shear annuals that have grown leggy to promote more compact growth, as well as a new round of fall bloom. These include begonias, coleus, impatiens, petunias, copper plants, Joseph's coat and lantana. Deadhead any other annuals, such as zinnias, to encourage bloom.

Divide your clumping, spring-flowering perennials such as iris, cannas, day lilies, liriope and ajuga. Allowing them to get too crowded usually reduces their bloom potential each year.

Make sure you are scouting the garden for pests, such as aphids, canna leaf rollers, scale, mealybugs, etc. Remove by mechanical means if possible. Contact your local County Extension office for help with chemical treatments if necessary.

Marigolds, zinnias, periwinkles and other warm-season annual favorites can still be transplanted for fall cut flowers. Just make sure to provide a little "TLC" in the first few weeks until they are better established.

If you seed your own annuals, you can get started on your cool-season flats of snapdragons, dianthus and pansies, to name a few. Bluebonnet and other wildflower seed can be sown in well-prepared soil, 1/2 inch deep and watered thoroughly.

Stop fertilizing fruit trees, especially fig and citrus, by early August as they need time to slow down in producing succulent new growth that will freeze with the first frost.

Look at the calendar, not the thermometer when it comes to planning your fall vegetable garden. By August, soil preparations should take place with the removal of spent garden plants and weeds and the turning of soil, adding of compost and any fertilizer as determined by a soil sample test.

It's hard to believe it's time - but warm season fall garden vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant and pepper plants need to be planted by now to allow for growth, setting fruit and ripening before frost.

Making sure your gardens get the extra attention they need during the August heat will not only keep them looking good through the month, but also award you with a beautiful and bountiful fall show and harvest.

In the meantime, look for upcoming articles this month on propagating plants in the greenhouse, color and texture through foliage, fall vegetable gardening and pathways in the garden. September will bring material on preparing your landscape for a storm or hurricane, wildflowers, and information on scheduling educational tours at Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG). October will be full of information for the upcoming Annual Garden Tour on the calendar the last weekend of the month.

Stay cool in August. It will be fall before we know it.