Gardening in August

Cary, NC – The sun is blazing and rain has been scarce since July. What do in the garden in August?

Start a Few Autumn Flowers

Autumn annuals, such as Pansy and Viola, are beginning to show up in garden stores. Find a shady spot and start some in pots.


Garden Hygiene

Take advantage of cooler temperatures in the morning and evening to perform some mid-summer garden hygiene: pull some weeds and get rid of any dead stuff.

This year, I had a bumper crop of basil but my rosemary and lavender croaked. Clean things up, get rid of any sticks or pinecones.

Spent Lily stems

Pinch off the Basil

At this time of year in the Piedmont, most types of Basil (Italian, Thai, Pineapple, etc.) send up shoots with small flowers.

The plant is transferring its energy from leaf production seed production. Fewer new leaves are produced and the older leaves taste decidedly bland for kitchen use.

Pinch off these small flower stalks, and maybe take a good harvest of leaves. Most folks make pesto with their Basil, preserving the flavor deep into winter. But Basil is also good in salads, cooking and cocktails.

Basil going to flower

Dead Head Flowers. Or Not.

Many of the mid-summer flowers like Coneflower and Coreopsis have put on their show and are now going to seed.

You can tidy up your garden if you dead-head these perennials. Dead-Head means cut off the dead flower that is now going to seed. You and may get another bloom of these summer flowers if you dead-head.

Coneflower seed head

On the other side of the coin, spent flowers have their own kind of stark beauty. And, they are producing the seeds for next years bloom. The plant reblooms when you dead-head because it thinks it hasn’t produced enough seeds for the coming year.

If you do decide to dead-head (some years I do, and others, I don’t), make sure you leave the dead flowers on the ground in the garden. This insures that the seeds find their way into the soil. You can cut off long stems and stalks all the way back to where the leaves start.

Water and fertilize the bed when you are done.

When to Cut the Grass

Fescue lawns go dormant in the summer in North Carolina. If you’re like me, you haven’t cut the grass since late June.

In the next couple of weeks, as the hours of daylight decrease and soil temperature drops, fescue lawns will start to perk up. By mid-to-late August, you will be out with the lawnmower.

Inspect your lawnmower. Is it ready to go? Remember to use Ethanol-free gas in all your small engines.

August in the Garden

While you’re out there, notice all the birds, bugs and butterflies who appreciate your gardening efforts.

My favorite at this time of year are the gold finches, bright yellow, picking at the spent coneflowers all day for seeds.

Goldfinch in summer

Story by Hal Goodtree. Pansies by Ambert. Goldfinch by Frank Boston. All other photos by Hal Goodtree. The Gardening column on CaryCitizen is sponsored by Garden Supply Company on Old Apex Road in Cary.