The tricky part of gardening is understanding how the seasons change and the demands for your attention change also.
This is late summer – and here is what you need to know about late-summer gardening:
Lawn: Days are shorter, evening cooler. This is ideal for grass. The next five to six weeks is the best time of year to sow a new lawn or thicken an old one. The weather works in favour of seed germination and root development, which is also good for growing sod.
Prepare the area with three to five cm of lawn soil or triple mix. Broadcast quality grass seed over the area, rake it smooth and step on it to firm the seed into the soil. Water well. Keep it reasonably wet until germination, which should occur in 10 days to two weeks. Fertilize later this fall.
Veggies: Get weeds under control. A tomato plant does not enjoy competing with deeply rooted weeds for water, soil-borne nutrients and sunlight. No matter what food crop you grow, make sure the garden is as weed-free as possible.
– Water. If we run into a prolonged dry spell, where less than two cm of rain falls in a week, water veggies deeply but infrequently. We never water more than once a week. Drying soil drives plant roots deeper, making them more drought-resistant. This is true for flowering perennials also. Avoid watering tomato plants now as the blight is lurking and will be promoted by wet foliage.
– Herbs. Allow to dry more deeply than vegetables. Water only once every two weeks in a drought. Exception: basil. Water weekly.
– Mulch. This is a good time of year to apply a layer of cedar bark mulch, clean straw or even several layers of newspaper to insulate the soil from weeds and the drying effects of the sun. Your mulch will break down over time, adding organic nutrients to the soil.
– Harvest. Pick before the vegetables mature into seed-producing machines. Remember that a pea plant is not programmed to produce food for humans: it is programmed to produce seeds for reproduction. This is true for all plants, including tomatoes, peppers, and the like. Pick, eat and be healthy. And keep picking.
Perennials. Many of your flowering perennials have finished flowering. Cut the finished flower stem off now as many will bloom again later in the season. This works well for veronica, salvia and delphiniums. Many perennials will produce flowers in September through November. Plant garden mums, asters, hydrangeas, rose of Sharon, sedum, perennial hibiscus and even the native goldenrod now.
A special note on golden rod, which was considered a weed not long ago: Experts like Doug Tallamy, who wrote the book Nature’s Best Hope, tells us that goldenrod is one of the most successful perennial plants for attracting pollinators and insects that are favoured by foraging songbirds. The pollen, by the way, is sticky and therefore does not contribute to the airborne pollen that causes humans to sneeze.
Whether you know a lot or a little, the benefits of gardening are always huge – and a bit more knowledge goes a long way.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and a Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of the University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.