Courgettes and Cucumbers: Your Monthly Gardening Guide for August
We’ve certainly had some amazing summer weather here in the south and the paddling pool has been in near-constant use. Our watering routine consists of emptying the paddling pool each evening, using watering cans to recycle the water onto the veg beds. Everyone pitches in and it's a lovely way to end a hot day!
There’s been plenty of produce to forage in the garden. The blueberries and tomatoes have ripened nicely in the hot sunshine and we’ve harvested the first plump figs from our patio. We’ve also just about managed to keep on top of eating the abundance of courgettes - marinated and grilled being my current favourite recipe!
Watch out for pests and diseases this month. Warm, dry weather encourages diseases such as mildew (a white powdery coating on stems and leaves). Remove any infected leaves to slow the spread. Healthy plants are less susceptible to diseases so making sure that plants don’t come under any stress, e.g. lack of water, will help. You can also improve the airflow by spacing out plants and thinning out overgrown areas. Also, watch out for signs of blight on tomatoes and potatoes. Earthing up potatoes will protect the tubers from any blight spores that get washed down into the ground.
There will be plenty of watering to do during hot weather. Try using grey water where possible as water butts will be running low. Watering in the early morning or evening is best as there will be less evaporation from the soil surface. Containers especially will need plenty of water. If you’re going away on holiday, group your containers together in the shade to keep them from drying out and to make watering easy for whoever is looking after your plants. Hanging baskets can be taken down and grouped with the other containers by perching them on a bucket or upturned pot. Water levels in ponds can drop very quickly in hot weather so keep an eye on them and top them up before going away.
There’s plenty to harvest this month. Ripening berries, early apples and pears along with summer harvests of beans, courgettes, potatoes, salads and summer squashes will keep you busy in the kitchen. Some produce might not even make it as far as the kitchen. We’ve had a great crop of blueberries this year, and they tend to get eaten straight off the plants by early morning human foragers. If you grew a pizza garden, you’ll probably find plenty of tomatoes, courgettes and herbs to harvest this month for those plot-to-plate pizzas.
Regular watering is important to reduce the risk of crops ‘bolting’ and setting seed early. After thoroughly soaking the ground, apply a mulch of compost, straw or grass clippings to help keep moisture in the ground and reduce the need for watering. A mulch will also help to suppress weed growth.
Keep harvesting! Most veg is extra tasty when young so harvest crops as soon as they’re ready. Lift beetroots before they get too large and check courgette plants often as they will be growing rapidly now. You might find that french beans and runner beans need to be picked every day - the more you pick them, the more they will grow. Keep the roots of runner beans well-watered to help the flowers set and form pods.
Keep lifting and drying onions.
Feed pumpkins and winter squashes. Feeding once a week with a high-potash tomato fertilizer will help them grow nice and big. In damp weather, lift them on to bricks or planks of wood to prevent the fruit rotting as it sits on damp ground.
Water and feed tomatoes.
Check cucumbers, pumpkins and squashes for powdery mildew. Remove and destroy badly affected leaves to prevent it from spreading.
Sow a late crop of beetroot and carrots.
Plant chard, kale and spinach. Sowing these in the ground now will ensure a plentiful supply of greens over winter.
Salads and Herbs
Sow hardy salads and herbs. Choose a sheltered spot in the garden for sowing over-wintering salads and herbs. “Cut-and-come-again” varieties such as mizuna, red giant mustard, salad rocket and “salad bowl” lettuces will keep you in a steady supply of greens during the winter months. Winter purslane (claytonia perfoliata) is one of my favourite over-winter crops. It has mild-tasting, slightly succulent leaves which are high in vitamin C and pretty, white edible flowers. Parsley and chervil can also be sown now for over-wintering.
Cut back herbs. This will encourage a new flush of leaves that you can harvest before the first frosts. Any herbs that you don’t use fresh, you can freeze or dry for later use.
Harvest early apples and pears. With apples, the appearance of windfalls on the ground is a sign they might be ready and if they come away from the tree when you give them a gentle twist then they are ripe. If they don’t come away easily then leave them on the tree for a few more days. Pears are a bit more tricky. They tend to ripen from the inside so if you leave them on the tree until the outside looks ripe, they might already be mushy on the inside. It’s best to harvest them when they are mature, but not fully ripe and then ripen them at room temperature.
Continue pruning grapes. Prune the side shoots on grapevines and remove some of the foliage to expose the fruit to the sun.
Plant new strawberry plants. Transplant runners into their new position and keep them well-watered.
Prune plum and damson trees after fruiting.
Ornamental Trees, Shrubs and Climbers
Water container plants regularly.
Trim hedges. Most birds nest March-August. Before you start cutting or pruning, check that there aren’t still any nesting birds and if there are, delay for a few weeks.
Prune rambling roses once they have finished flowering. All side-shoots that have flowered can be pruned back to one or two buds from the main stem. Any new, strong growths can be tied in to replace the older shoots. Very old stems can be pruned out at ground level, encouraging new shoots to grow from the base of the plant.
Prune wisteria. If your wisteria has filled its allotted space, prune back the whippy shoots to about 20cm from the main plant. (A further round of pruning can be done in January).
Continue to deadhead flowers. Regularly removing faded blooms will prolong the display of flowers into autumn.
Collect ripe seed from plants you want to propagate. (And any that you don’t want to self-seed around the garden.)
Take cuttings of tender perennials such as fuchsias, pelargoniums and salvias.
Trim lavender. Cut off the old flower spikes and about 2.5 cm of the leafy growth at the tips of the shoots. This will keep the plants bushy and compact.
Cut back perennials.
Raise the mower blades in hot, dry weather. Grass will be growing less vigorously when the weather is hot and dry so you can mow less frequently. It’s a good idea to leave the clippings on the lawn to act as a mulch.
Conserve water by not watering your lawn. Don’t worry if your lawn goes brown, grass is drought resistant and will regrow again after a period of rainfall. To conserve water it’s best to save it for the plants that really need it.
The Wildlife Garden
Top-up water for wildlife. Make sure birds and other wildlife have access to fresh water.
Keep ponds topped-up.
Mow wildflower meadows after seeds have ripened and dropped.
With autumn on the horizon, take some time to savour the sounds, sights and tastes of summer. I hope you have some bumper crops this year and are enjoying the fruits of your labour, quite literally!