A GROWING CONCERN: Dusty, dirty dog days of August

THE DOG DAYS of August have arrived, having been dashed with a good dose of rain for the garden, fruit trees, lawn and rainfall for much needed forests.

Some of these outdoor working days have sparked “two-shower days” for all of us with all of the sweat and dust in our work environment.

More recent days are marked with forest fire smoke “overcast,” helping to reduce the heat, while increasing the humidity.

The mornings are definitely showing signs of dew drops, all too typical for this time of the year.

Today is Day 7 of late midsummer, arriving at the backside of summer and your seasonal garden.

These events need not herald the slow demise of your yard, but rather they should trigger a series of events to take full advantage of the perfect months remaining.

Here is another 13 to-do list for the next two weeks:

1. Sow sweet pea seeds now.

Sweet peas are so perfect a flower-scented full of texture, trailing, climbing and magnificent cut flowers.

They love cool weather and the next few weeks will provide soil temperatures perfect for high percentages of germination.

Don’t forget to soak seeds overnight in a jar of water mixed with manure or compost that contains the bacteria crucial for germination.

2. Feed the grassy beast.

Your lawn has been growing and actively mowed for months now. To ensure great green fall grass, feed it this month.

Wait until the high heat has passed and soak the feed into the lawn with at least an inch or more of water.

3. Plant dahlias.

It is my favorite ornamental plant. Dahlias are gorgeous and are unbeatable as a cut flower.

Their best months are September and October.

I have seen numerous retail outlets with big bushy blooming plants.

Buy a dahlia and thank me later.

4. Replace spent flowers.

A certain number of your flowers — by their own accord, your unwillingness to properly cut them back or by disease or insects — have deteriorated to an unsightly mob.

Pull these scattered, over-the-hill plants and replace them with late summer flowers.

Sedum, sunflowers, zinnia, coreopsis, clematis, phlox, geranium, sages, roses or lavender will do just fine.

Remember the goal — 365 days of bloom!

5. Water and dry fruit both respond to gravity.

It has been hot, dry and windy on the Peninsula. Your fruit trees realize this more than anything.

Retain the fruit that you have on your trees by giving trees deep, slow, long waterings every week in August.

In dry conditions, your edible fruit trees will abort some of their fruit to retain moisture. Thousands of gallons of water are used each year by a single tree in order to become laden with produce.

6. Cut back lilies.

As your lilies finish blooming, cut back the flower head, then follow up every week by gradually cutting them back as the upper foliage you have left dies.

The longer you can keep leaves on the plant the more blooms the lily will have next year.

If you don’t have late summer lilies, go out and buy some Oriental lilies today.

Most notable are Casablanca or Star Gazer.

7. Apply bone meal to bulbs (tubers, rhizomes and corms).

All your fleshy root plants — gladiolus, dahlias, day lilies, hostas, tulips, daffodils, Asian lilies, begonia, caladium, calla lilies and iris — all demand a late-August application of bone meal, which is bulb booster fertilizer.

8. Seek and destroy.

Those nasty crab grasses or rhizome-type grasses are moving into your rocks, cracks, flower beds and driveways.

Soon they will begin to greatly expand their tentacles.

Get them pulled out now, before it is too late.

A three- to five-minute job now becomes a daunting task in November.

9. Plant mums and asters.

Go out these next few weeks finding nice, budded mums and asters (not ones in bloom) and place them around your house for color punch in September.

10. Crack the crust.

All of that watering along with the baking sun has made a nice imitation asphalt layer atop your soil.

The water, nutrients, air and plant roots would appreciate breaking that hard soil cap.

Do not do this at the hottest part of the day.

Water the area after completion (applying some fertilizer and germination inhibitor would have you set until Christmas).

11. Anticipate a colorful fall.

Fall leaves are great, especially the reds, oranges and purples.

Why not plant some great maple, sweet gum, bamboo, fire bush or your favorite nursery’s recommendation and enjoy New England in your backyard?

12. Some grasses are good.

Ornamental grasses are the greatest.

They take droughts and monsoons, shine off most bugs and diseases and are just plain easy to grow.

More importantly they give wonderful winter interest in the yard.

Planting them now gives them enough time to take hold and grow.

And the tassels make for a Martha Stewart-type of arrangement.

13. Remember or forget.

Look carefully at your yard this month and jot down relevant information (use your note section in your smart phone): Too tall, too slow, too bright, too big, not enough, too many, never again, next year.

While your yard is displaying itself, prepare for next year’s improvements with a few notes now.

So with this smoke-filled sky, heavier in Clallam than in Jefferson County, remember there’s a burn ban in effect.

Think about your local fire department or fire district if you live in a rural area.

Their employees would really appreciate a bouquet of flowers or a bowl of home-grown fruit, as their crews are scrambling to cover positions vacant by the wildland firefighters who have traveled into other districts to protect homes, structures and outdoor livestock.

A kind gesture from your yard goes a long way to brighten someone’s day, so do something nice for someone this week.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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