What To Do in the Garden: August

Wow, are we really almost finished with the first week of August?! This summer really has seemed to have flown by. Things in my garden have started to reach the chaos phase- tomatoes branches sprawled  with far reach, vines no longer contained to their designated trellises, and top heavy sunflowers bent and fallen all over the place. Kitchen counters are in full mid-summer mode, and covered daily with ripening pears, tomatoes, cucumbers and of course, squash.

midsummer counters

Despite the heat, we are slowly creeping into the Autumn season, and in addition to dealing with summer’s bounty, it is time to start thinking about the fall and winter gardens.

Northern California Gardening Checklist: August

  • Start fall veggies. Direct seed carrots, onions, peas and radishes. Start broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, kale and spinach seeds inside. Next month is also a fine time to plant, even into October, so if you don’t have space yet or just don’t have time, don’t worry.fall planting
  • Prune hydrangeas. Prune back right after blooming. Cut stems that have bloomed back to 12 inches. Most varieties produce flowers on previous year’s growth, so when pruning for shape and to control size, avoid cutting cutting off buds.
  • Harvest, harvest harvest. If you can’t eat it all fresh, preserve for the winter by dehydrating, pickling, fermenting, canning or freezing. Offer to friends, set out on the curb with a free sign, donate to the food pantry, or leave on your neighbor’s doorstep.

tomato drop-by

  • Water. Despite it being warmer than ever, it may be possible to water less. Now that most plants have set fruit, they don’t need as much as previous when putting on growth. If you have harvested all that you will off a particular plant, stop water completely. Maintain constant moisture on tomatoes to prevent blossom-end rot. If you do start new seeds, make sure to keep moist, and try keeping a shade cloth over the area to prevent moisture loss.
  • Maintain flowers. Make sure to bring some blooms inside so you can appreciate them. Deadhead fading flowers to keep in bloom longer, or leave dead blooms standing for the birds. Summer is a busy time in the garden, with a frenzy of birds consuming seeds from my spent bachelor buttons, sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias. I love to watch tiny finches perch on swaying stalks to nom down on tiny seeds. If you don’t want to leave dead or drooping flowers standing in the garden, pick the seed heads off and dry, then set in on a platform bird feeder. sunflower for the birds
  • Plan ahead for fruit. If you want to plant fruit trees in the winter, but not sure what time, now is the time to start planning ahead. Sample varieties at the local farm stands and farmers markets to find which types you like best.
  • Control fire-blight. Its a bad year for fire-blight, especially in pears. This bacterial disease affects new growth on apples, pears, quince and pyracantha, leaving it dead and blackened. Prune affected branches 8-12 inches below the infected area, dipping pruners in a bleach solution after every cut.


  • Prune berries. As soon as they have finished fruiting, cut berry canes that bore fruit off at the base. Tie new canes to a trellis.
  • Learn. Attend the Farm to Fermentation Festival on August 22 at Finley. This is an awesome event loaded with speakers, workshops and vendors. Make sure to get VIP ticket so you can taste all the local fermented adult beverages. You can read more about my experience last year here. The San Francisco Dahlia Society’s annual free exhibition at the Hall of Flowers is on August 15 & 16.

How’s your August going? Are you loving summer or ready for it to be fall?

What to do in the Garden in August


What to do in the Garden: July

Happy July! After a dreary spring, summer has come crashing in and brought the heat with it. This month is an awkward month for planting, it’s too hot and late to plant most spring and summer crops, but too hot and early for the fall and winter veggies. Instead, focus your efforts on keeping up with the harvest!

Northern California Gardening Checklist: July

  • Minimize fire risk. Mow or weedwhack down dry wild grasses and weeds around the house, doing the work early in the morning. Clear away dead branches from shrubs and trees. Check out Fire Safe Sonoma for more guidelines and how to keep your home safe.
  • Prop up fruit trees. To prevent limb breakage on fruit trees, use wooden supports to brace heavy limbs that are sagging with fruit.

    a sturdy stick props up a loaded Santa Rosa plum branch
    a sturdy stick props up a loaded Santa Rosa plum branch
  • Control hornworms. Inspect tomato plants for chewed leaves and black poop, telltale signs of a hungry hornworm. Hunt though foliage and handpick. Shudder in disgust and quickly feed to the chickens.
  •  Water. Water early early in the morning to minimize evaporation. Adjust irrigation systems to water more often (if needed) to compensate for the heat. I try to get out before 7:00 every morning to water my beds. Its best for the plants and, bonus, I don’t get all sweaty hauling the hose around. Check containers regularly. If you forget about a pot, and the soil contracts leaving gaps at the side, soak the container to rehydrate the soil.

water early in the morning

  • Prune berry vines. When your done harvesting, cut old canes (the ones that have just bore) off at the base, and tie new canes to the trellis.
  • Prune wisteria. To extend the height or length of the vine, select some of the new stems and tie to a support in the direction you want them to grow. Then, cut the rest back to within 6 inches of the main branch.
the side of my house is literally a wisteria jungle. taming it is on the to-do list, someday.
the side of my house is literally a wisteria jungle. taming it is on the one day to-do list
  • Feed. If you didn’t enrich the soil when planting, feed tomatoes lightly. If you have issues with blossom end rot, apply a liquid calcium.
  • Harvest. Pick cucumbers, beans and squash daily. Tomatoes start to ripen this month, as well as melons, eggplants and peppers. Keep up with fruit harvest and remove any fallen fruit off the ground to prevent a mess and pests. I’ll be doing posts later this month on ideas on how to use all the plums and summer squash we are all inundated with.

basil and squash

  • Deadhead. Pick off faded blooms from annuals and perennials such as daisies, geraniums, marigolds, repeat blooming roses and penstemons to prolong flowerings.
  • Preserve. Canning season is now here! I’ll be doing a post next week on helpful preserving season tips. Make jam from the influx of summer fruits. If you can’t get to it right away or need to accumulate enough fruit to make it worth it, wash, pit and measure out them store in the freezer until you have more time. Ferment the cucumbers into pickles. Run fruits though the dehydrator. dehydrating apricots
  • Plan. Curl up in front of an AC, or at least a fan, and start planning the fall garden. Order seeds for cool-season veggies like lettuce, broccoli, carrots, kale and radishes.
  • Eat Ice Cream. Apparently, its National Ice Cream month. As if I needed an excuse!

Any exciting plans for July? Have any garden or home projects you’re hoping to get accomplished? Leave a comment and let me know!

“Live in each season as it passes: breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit.”
–  Henry David Thoreau

What to do in the Garden: May

Happy May Day! Traditionally, May Day was a pagan holiday that celebrates the start of summer (the Solstice was a celebration of midsummer). Today, the secular version of the holiday is to celebrate the fertility of spring, flowers and community. Growing up, my friend Diana had a May Day party every year, and we would dance around a Maypole and play other games. Now, its a great day to kick off a fabulous gardening season! Here’s the list of things to do in the garden for May:

Northern California Gardening Checklist for May:

Plant summer annuals, and flowers for cutting. Sow flower seeds like nasturtium, zinnias, cosmos, coreopsis and sunflowers, or transplant from 6-packs or 4″ pots from the nursery.

Plant veggies. If you haven’t already, hurry and plant out any of the summer foods: squash, beans, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, peppers, and eggplants.

newly planted corn and squash

Thin veggies. If you direct seeded last month, make sure the seedlings have enough space and thin as necessary. Pinch or cut out plants, don’t pull, to protect the root systems.

Plant subtropicals. If you have a south-facing wall or an overhang and want to growtropical or subtropicals, now is the time to plant out tender plants like bougainvillea, hibiscus and plumeria. They will have the warm season to get established before winter comes. Now is also a good time to get citrus in.

Plant herbs. Plant annual herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley, as well as perennials like oregano, sage, thyme and rosemary. For fresh herbs all summer, succession plant by transplanting out cilantro every 2 weeks, basil every 4 weeks. Pinch of basil flowers as they appear. To keep established woody herbs producing fresh growth, regularly snip off steam tips.

Harvest and dry herbs. As summer gets closer, herbs are in uber growth mode, producing lots of aromatic leaves. Harvest foliage for fresh use, or trim as mentioned above, and also dry some for later. I’ll be doing a post later in the month on what I make sure to preserve, and the best ways to dry the different varieties.

lemon balm, right for harvest

Buy lavender and salvias. Nurseries, like Cottage Gardens in Petaluma, who propagate their own stock, now have wide varieties available.

Buy roses. Most are in bloom right now, so you can see and smell the flowers. King’s Nursery in Santa Rosa has a great selection.

Bring inside cut flowers. Fill vases or jars with whatever’s blooming. Right now, I’m picking roses, sweet peas and bachelor buttons.

garden fresh bouquet

Take your clothes off. May 2nd, apparently, is World Naked Gardening Day.

Watch out for pests. Spray aphids with a hose, hand pick slugs and snails, and curse at your strawberry bed because something keeps eating your fruit.

Wrap tree trunks. If you observe ants on your fruit trees or citrus, wrap the trunk with sticky tape or tanglefoot. Make sure to wrap low so that birds and bees won’t be affected.

wrap tree trunk with tanglefoot to avoid ants

Be aware of water use and check drip systems. If you missed it, check out this post for gardening tips during the drought. Let your lawn die. Convince your neighbor to let their lawn die, too. Check your drip systems to make sure they are working properly. First, remove caps and flush lines, then replace caps and turn on the water- look for leaks or clogged lines or emitters. Repair as necessary.

Make time to enjoy your yard. Set up a fire pit, buy some new patio furniture, and get some citronella candles so you can enjoy the sunny mornings and lengthening evenings.

enjoy the evening

Tour and Learn. Check out what others are doing and get inspiration at a garden tour this month. Check out all our great local farms and producers during the Farm Trails Weekend, May 2 & 3. Check out Russian River Rose Company before they close up for the season at the end of May. Bring Back the Natives Tour happens in the East Bay on May 6. The Eco-Friendly Garden Tour of Sonoma County and North Marin takes place on May 16.


“The world’s favorite season is the spring.  All things seem possible in May.”
–  Edwin Way Teale

what to do in the garden in May