Every August in the garden is different from the year before – but there are some general good guidelines to follow. We look at them today.
The Rains Have Started – Maybe
The Southwest summer rains are fickle – and have always been so. One August day in my childhood we stood in the sunshine in our front yard and watched the rain pouring off the neighbors roof across the street. This, more than all the parental nagging, made us realize that we really should not play in the washes in the desert afternoons. So do be safe out there – and be ready to water if your corner of the Southwest gets skipped over by the rains.
I posted my 8 Tips for Eliminating Weeds last week – and one of my tips was to eliminate rock mulch. August weeds flourish in rock mulches. Rock mulches are popular throughout the Southwest, and Home Owner Associations (HOAs) adore them, some demanding certain uniform colors throughout the development. The problem is that rocks make a terrible mulch for plants.
The wind blows constantly in the Southwest, bringing dust to fill space between the rocks. Plants drop leaves, adding to debris buildup, and rock mulches are hard to clean. Weed seeds are brought in by the wind and can quickly grow. Worst of all, rock mulches heat up during the day and take a long time to cool at night, increasing heat stress on plants. If all that weren’t enough, native wildlife like quail and lizards avoid walking on rock mulch, thus you lose some pest predators.
Organically based mulch, like cedar bark or pine needles, helps keep moisture in the soil, shades and cools the soil, and any leaf litter is easily removed or left in place to decompose and fertilize plants. Moisture-retaining “plant wells” or basins, also called berms, can be built around shrubs, trees, even flower beds and filled with organic mulches.
Hint – These wells can be planted with groundcovers to hide this mulch from disapproving HOAs. It’s never too late replace rock mulch with plant-friendly material.
Check plant condition.
Some plants may become chlorotic as rain leaches nutrients out of the soil. Chlorosis is indicated by leaves that are yellowish with green near the veins. In our area the cause is almost always alkaline induced iron chlorosis. All the necessary iron is in the soil – but the plants can not extract it. The soil needs to be more acidic so plants can absorb the iron.
Acidify soil by adding compost (home made or store bought) or coffee grounds. Ideally, toss your used coffee grounds under plants every day. Or you can also acidify soil with white vinegar. Mix the vinegar in water first! Use one cup white vinegar in five gallons of water. Pour this around the roots once a week until the leaves get better. Then do it once a month throughout the warm season. Roses, citrus, and bottlebrush are especially susceptible to alkaline induced iron chlorosis
Anytime During August
Last chance to plant cacti, new Bermuda grass lawns, or palms. They all need the summer heat to get established.
Fertilize lawns, palms, annual flowers, vegetables, at the start of this month. Everything else (fruit or nut trees, citrus, roses, iris) – wait until it starts to cool and fertilize on Labor Day. The cover photo for this article is one of those annuals that will flower well with some fertilizer. Yes, it is sold as a perennial – but mine never last through our Tucson winters.
Water pecan and citrus trees widely and deeply to ensure a good crop.
Lawn? Sharpen mower blades. Again. This helps the grass because the cuts are cleaner and the leaves can heal faster.
After mid August
Plant the Fall vegetable garden with pumpkins, squash, zucchini, bush beans, and tomato seedlings.
Cut back tomatoes lightly to encourage new growth and fruit in fall.
Iris can be and divided and transplanted starting now and into September.
If oleander has galls, cut affected branches off at least one foot below the galls. Sterilize clippers in bleach water or alcohol between every cut.
Want to Know More?
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Thanks for reading!
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