Prepare garden, landscape for dry month of August

On GardeningAugust 7, 2013 

Don’t be moving trees this week. August is not a good month to transplant trees and large shrubs, start a new lawn or forget to water your potted plants. August is a usually a dry month so take note of what plants are looking good and resistant to drought in your landscape. Use a sprinkler instead of hand watering shrubs or lawns that need water with the goal of getting at least one inch of water each week down to the roots. You can also decide to let your lawn “go golden” or dormant this month. Be secure with the knowledge that the autumn rains will soon return to green up a summer dormant lawn soon.

Q: I thought everyone could grow zucchini. However in my garden the squash are huge, shaped weird and have no flavor. My fault or bad seeds? — E.C., Tacoma

A: Don’t blame the seeds. Sounds like a drinking problem here and you are the enabler. Zucchini and other squash use more water when they are young and setting buds, but later in the summer they perform better if kept on the dry side once the squash forms. Tasteless, water-filled produce is often the result of a sprinkler or drip system used too often. Cut back on the water to just one inch once a week. To measure the amount your sprinkler or rainfall is giving your garden, place an empty tuna can near the plants and measure the amount of water that collects. A ruler placed into the bottom of the can will show when the water reaches the one-inch mark. Soil that is high in organic matter can hold water like a sponge and needs much less water in the summer than sandy or lean soils.

Q: I have a salvia plant called “Hot Lips” that the hummingbirds love. It was covered with blooms early in the summer but is no longer flowering as much. Should I fertilize or prune it to get more blossoms? Also does salvia overwinter like a perennial? —J.M., Kent

A: Winter could be the kiss of death to your Hot Lips salvia unless you grow it in a container that can be moved close to the house and under the eaves in the winter. Some salvias will also overwinter in a rockery or raised bed. This heat-loving member of the sage family can be convinced to keep on blooming into the fall season if you prune it back by at least one-third now and pamper it a bit with some fertilizer made for flowering plants.

There is a price for this encore performance however. Tender plants such as Hot Lips salvia are more tolerant of cold if you prune them back and encourage a late summer surge of new growth. One more hot tip about Hot Lips. You can place the cut stems or pruning crumbs of salvia into a vase of water on the patio and the humming birds will continue to visit. But be warned. The cut stems will droop and wilt quickly when first placed in water. Give them a few hours to absorb the moisture however and Hot Lips salvia should perk right up and enjoy a long vase life.

Q: I have some great looking dahlias, but we are hosting a wedding in our garden at the end of August and I don’t want these dahlias to be done blooming. If I prune back one third from the top of the dahlia plants now, will that ensure that they will have flowers in late August? — T.T., Olympia

A. Don’t be getting too snippy with your dahlias now. Just remove all the spent blossoms and continue to harvest the blooms as soon as they open. Deadheading will encourage the plants to keep flowering until the first hard frost. Although trimming the tops off of dahlia plants can encourage more buds to form, the actual blooming could take weeks and your good intentions could cause these colorful guests to arrive too late for the wedding.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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