Seasonal tune up

We encourage you to stop, stoop, pick, smell, observe and contemplate the many changes taking place in your garden at this precise moment.

by Ben & Mark Cullen

August marked the official halfway point on the garden calendar: there is roughly the same number of gardening weekends ahead as there are behind us. But more to the point, we are entering a whole new gardening season.

Having prepped your soil last May and June (to sow seeds and bed in new transplants), the harvest, with autumn upon us, is here. As is the best time of year to thicken your lawn with a layer of triple mix, fresh grass seed and an application of fertilizer.

With hammock time precious at this time of year, and lazy weekends few, here’s what you should (and shouldn’t) do to keep your garden running like a finely tuned machine.

Shasta daisies.

Perennials

Peonies would look a lot better when you remove spent blossoms. Use a sharp, clean pair of hand pruners to remove the dead flowers and about 30cm of the stem. This will preserve energy for the roots as the leaves convert solar energy into plant sugar that is pushed downwards. This bodes well for blossoms come spring.

Any perennials that have finished blooming are ready for the same treatment. Daylilies, delphiniums, hollyhocks, veronicas, Shasta daisies, and sweet Williams will rebloom later this month if you deadhead the spent blossoms now. But this only works if you get to it before late August.

Roses

Deadhead roses and fertilize them once more. The same can be said for all shrubs and evergreens in your garden: this is the time of year for the last feeding, unless you applied a slow-release fertilizer in May, in which case you can enjoy more leisure time and keep your wallet in your pocket.

If your roses require watering, apply it in the morning so that any water that lands on foliage dries quickly in the early sun. This reduces black spots and powdery mildew. Keep your eye out for aphids and if you spot them, give them a blast from the pistol grip hand sprayer on the end of your garden hose. A direct hit will knock them off and clean up your rose, for now. Repeat, as necessary.

Evergreens

One last feeding: use 30-10-10 water soluble for good results.

If you haven’t already done this, prune soft evergreens such as cedars, boxwood and yews, using sharp and clean shears. We run a bastard file over our shears and finish with a carbon stone sharpener – we suggest you do this every time the shears are used. This is a good investment of time, which is about a minute to do. But, of course, factor in several more minutes to search for shears and files in the first place!.

Prune for shape, except for junipers, which need to be thinned out in August. With a pair of hand pruners, reach down into the centre of the plant where the woody growth is and prune out the heaviest wood. This opens the plant to sunshine and air circulation through its middle, where new growth will develop over time, giving your junipers a fresh, cared for appearance.

Tomatoes

This, the most frequently grown vegetable, needs your attention. Prune tomatoes by rubbing out the sucker (which grows between the leaf axle and the main stem of the plant) using your thumb. Fertilize once again if you haven’t done so since June. Mulch with ground-up cedar bark (opt for 4cm-thick grade) and secure your plants with a spiral stake. Specifying this type of support means you won’t have to tie your plants up. And hey, if you tackled all these jobs earlier this season, enjoy your hammock time. You’ve earned it!

Veggies

Harvest whatever is ripe. This is true for all fruiting plants. As you pick, you encourage the plant to produce more flowers and, in turn, fruit.

Sow another crop of radishes, lettuce, carrots, beans, mesclun mix, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussel sprouts as all of these tolerate the gentle early fall frost.

Herbs

Be sure that the cook in your house is taking lots of cuttings from your sage, rosemary and thyme, not to mention all of the other herbaceous herbs out there. Your basil is likely growing like crazy in the summer heat. Go for it! And besides, when you cut it back at this time of year, it simply produces further growth, without any feeding required.

We encourage you to stop, stoop, pick, smell, observe and contemplate the many changes that are taking place in your garden at this very moment.

Your garden is changing at a faster pace now than at any other time of the year. Why? The days are slowly getting shorter, temperatures remain high and the circadian rhythms are causing a re-grouping of sorts. Adolescent bugs and birds are finding their legs and wings. Tadpoles are now frogs and fingerling fish are now eating adult food, if they were not eaten themselves by bigger fish.

We’ve time for one last tip: be sure to sit somewhere with a lovely view and take pictures of your garden at its absolute peak. You’re making memories, after all. Take time to smell the roses mindful that the to-do list can wait.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches over two million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. Receive his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Ben Cullen is a professional gardener with a keen interest in food gardening and the environment. He is the owner of Cullen’s Foods (cullensfoods.com). You can follow both Mark and Ben on Twitter@MarkCullen4 , Facebook: MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest@MarkCullenGardening