10 Gardening Activities for August in the Southwest
Even though it’s still hot during the day, you may notice a bit of relief in the morning and evening. Use the cooler hours to work on your own garden, visit gardens and nurseries, and spend time outdoors. Here are a few garden reminders, inspiring ideas, and maintenance tips to keep in mind this month.
1. Get Outside Early (Or Late!) to Do Garden Maintenance
You don’t want to be outside during the hottest part of the day, so get into the garden early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are cooler. There are a variety of important gardening tasks to complete this month. Watering and making sure your irrigation systems are doing their job is perhaps the most important. Test sprinklers and drip irrigation lines by turning them on while you can walk around to see that plants are getting enough water and that emitters aren’t clogged. Watering container gardens is especially important in the heat. Harvest flowers and produce regularly because they will mature daily. Pinch back herb flowers to extend their harvest season. Harvest lettuce and other greens regularly to help prevent them from bolting. Fertilize citrus one last time for the year. Deadhead flowers that are past their prime to keep your garden looking tidy.
2. Top Dress Your Garden with Mulch, Gravel, or Stone
Summer rains can wash away areas of the garden, so replenish your garden with mulch or gravel if necessary. Top dressing with mulch helps keeps soil and plant roots cool. If you have a gravel garden, a consistent layer will help reduce weeds. If you don’t know the exact name of the mulch or gravel you have in your garden, take a small bag of what you have when you go to purchase more—this way you can properly match the size and color. Avoid using rubber mulch or artificially colored mulches. They leach chemicals into the soil when they get wet from rain or watering.
3. Bring in the Hummingbirds
The best way to attract hummingbirds to your garden is to include plants hummingbirds love: desert honeysuckle, Baja fairy duster, desert willow, red hesperaloe, Mexican honeysuckle, snapdragon vine, firecracker penstemon, Mexican bush sage, cape honeysuckle, yellow bells, coral fountain bush, and others. Hanging feeders is another sure way to attract hummingbirds. There are many different types available, ranging from feeders with simple designs such as this copper feeder, to artistic feeders made by artisans such as J Schatz.
4. Stay on Top of Weeds
Summer rain in the Southwest can cause an explosion of weed growth. Mix that with the heat, and you can have a serious weed problem in a hurry. If you want to keep your weed control methods organic, that means you’ll be hand-removing weeds or spraying with an organic weed killer. When removing weeds by hand, having the right tools goes a long way. We like this digging tool (like a soil knife), this long-handled hoe, and this handy brush and weeder (the brush helps weed among narrow grout in paving while the knife gets at pesky roots).
5. Protect Plants from Burning
If you get extreme heat, protect your aloes, succulents, and other plants that may burn. You can drape black shade fabric over individual plants and secure it with small stakes or rocks. Don’t leave fabric over plants for extended periods. If the plants you need to cover aren’t too big, you can also use shade tents that range in size from 22 inches by 22 inches up to 52 inches by 54 inches. For raised beds, you can use 4- by 8-foot shade kits.
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6. Protect Beneficial Insects
Many insects are beneficial to your garden: native bees, ladybugs, native parasitic wasps, damsel bugs, lacewings, and more. They eat or kill the bad bugs such as aphids, hornworms, borers, cucumber beetles, mealybugs, and spider mites. There are a few ways to attract and protect beneficial insects. One, plant a mix of native plants for your area that support wildlife and insect life. Beneficial insects often need a consistent supply of accessible nectar, so flowers with short tubes such as asters, sunflowers, coneflowers, and herbs are great. The National Wildlife Federation has a native plant finder to search for plants that attract wildlife in your local area by providing habitat and nectar. Two, don’t use pesticides or sprays because you might inadvertently kill beneficial insects. Three, learn to tolerate some damage to plants (for example, without aphids, you won’t have as many ladybugs—so it’s a give-and-take situation). Over time, the right balance of beneficial insects to bad bugs will develop. To learn more about designing a garden that benefits your local ecosystem, read Doug Tallamy’s book The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden.
7. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden in the Evening
During the summer months, you can visit the Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) early in the morning from 7 a.m. daily (or 6 a.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays for members), so you can enjoy the plants but avoid the scorching sun. At DBG you’ll spot numerous ideas for your home garden, but even if you’re not necessarily on the hunt for ideas, it’s a beautiful place to stroll. There are easy hikes along loop trails, and there’s always wildlife to observe. One of the highlights during summer are flashlight tours of the garden, held every Saturday night through the end of August.
8. Plan Your Garden for Fall Planting
In the Southwest, it’s best to plant your garden once the heat has subsided. But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan updates now! Do a survey of your garden and look for gaps that need to be filled, plants that need to be replaced, or areas that need more color. Visit nurseries to see plants in person and get an idea of what you like. Mountain States Wholesale Nursery has a comprehensive list of recommended retail nurseries to visit.
9. Get Out of the Heat and Read a Good Blog
When you want a break from the heat or if you’re interested in getting ideas for your Southwest garden, check out Central Texas Gardener, where there's not only blog posts, but video as well. You'll be taken on tours of gardens, find resources, meet gardeners, and more. Looking for a little fun too? Let us introduce you to "The Brandon's" of Vivero Growers in Austin, TX. They recently shared a pruning tip with us about taking care of perennials in summer heat on our Instagram page.
10. Sow Fall Crops & Refresh Your Tomatoes
The beginning of fall is already next month, so it’s time to sow those fall crops. Some crops to sow in the Southwest in August include broccoli, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, lettuce (head and leaf types), onions, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips, and winter squash. Be sure to double check that the crops you want to plant will mature before your first frost date. If you already have tomatoes growing, now is a good time to cut back your tomato plants to about 1 foot tall. If you fertilize the plants well and are consistent with deep watering, you’ll be able to harvest tomatoes into the fall.
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