August to-do list for the garden

Ce Cowart Schilcher/ WC Master GardenersTrim repeat roses blooming at the Walker County Demonstration Garden. 

If you are like me, you would rather be doing anything but messing around in the garden or your flower beds this month. August seems like it would be the time to plan, order supplies, read books or magazines, or catch up on YouTube or other gardening shows or videos. However, there’s a lot to do outside this month, so let’s get started.

Roses. This is the time of year to cut back our repeat blooming roses. In our Zone 8b, late August is the perfect time to cut them back by one-third. This cutting back will promote fall blooms. Be sure and follow your pruning with a good feeding and watering. “Avoid excessive fertilization of roses that only bloom once per year, as they are setting bloom buds for next year in late summer and early fall,” reminds Skip Richter, Harris County AgriLife Horticulture Agent and author of Month-By-Month Gardening-Texas.

Water. We’ve been lucky so far this year with no major drought and no serious tropical storm or hurricane. Knock wood on that last one, it’s not November yet. Watering can be a tricky business depending on a variety of factors. If you haven’t installed an irrigation system, this might be the time to weigh the costs of a system vs. a rainwater harvesting system. Please remember to take into account any HOA restrictions that may apply. County residents can do as they please.

Rainwater harvesting is not really new. Our grandparents and great-grands did it for years to provide water for their home gardens. Nowadays, it can be as simple as a rain barrel or two or an elaborate system with tanks that hold thousands of gallons. Some cities actually offer rebates or incentives for rainwater harvesting. For more information on rainwater harvesting, check out free information on https://rainwaterharvesting.tamu.edu/.

Established annuals and perennial flowers will do well with a half-inch of water twice a week. Newly planted flowers may need a daily or every other day watering for a week or two to get settled in. Then begin to space the watering until you reach the twice a week mode. Early mornings are best and make sure that the top two inches of the soil are holding moisture.

Vegetables. If okra plants have become too tall to harvest, cut some of them back to force side shoots and an early to mid-fall harvest says Richter. Several vegetables need to get their start this month. Lima bush beans need to be settled in starting around August 20. Pepper transplants should be in ground by the last of July or first of August. Fall tomatoes follow the same timeline. Pumpkins and winter squash go in during the first of the month. Check your seed packet directions and any plant that reaches harvest in less than 65 days can be started between the first of the month through mid-month.

A tip for planting vegetable transplants in this heat is to pull back your mulch, set the plant and then replace the mulch to keep the roots cool and weeds to a minimum. Remember to use a water-soluble fertilizer. A good layer of mulch will maintain a moderate soil temperature for your new transplants.

Annuals. Continue to remove spent blossoms on those annuals that don’t drop their blooms. This is also a good time to collect seed on those annuals, like zinnias or sunflowers, that performed for you this year. Early and mid-August are the time to prepare your beds for the fall annual color. If the soil has become crusted or compacted, especially if you don’t have a layer of mulch, now is the time to break the soil up. Take a hand cultivator and lightly scratch the soil surface to break it up. No deeper than one inch. Toss any young weeds that are trying to start.

Fall color to consider for the flower beds include marigolds, calendula (often called pot marigold), cosmos and Celosia (also called cockscomb). These should be put in beds in mid-to late August here in Zone 8b. Prepare the beds by watering a couple of days before beginning. The moist soil makes it easy to remove dying plants and weeds. If you apply a weed control product, let it work for a full week to 10 days before continuing with bed prep.

“Next, spread an inch or two of compost and work it into the bed, down 4-6 inches of soil. Then smooth the soil surface and break up any clods. Set your annuals out on top of the bed in their containers, spacing them about 50-75 percent of their mature size,” advises Richter.

For more information on what to do in your yard or garden during August, call the Walker County Master Gardeners at 936-435-2426. Gardeners are typically ‘in’ on Thursday mornings at the Walker County AgriLife Extension office. You can also ask about soil tests by calling the same number.

The Walker County AgriLife office is also on Facebook. WalkerCoTxAgrilife has been established to provide updates and information to Walker County residents and landowners on a timely basis. The Walker County Master Gardeners are also on Facebook! Check out both of these Facebook pages and hit "like" to join.