Just because summer is winding down doesn’t mean your gardening has to. In fact, late summer is when the natural world begins preparing for winter and even the seemingly far-off spring. When scheduling for your late summer gardening, plan ahead for the animals, nutrients in the dirt, the changing landscape and colors for subsequent seasons.
Create shelter for animals
Deadheading and pruning is a common activity in late summer before the cold winter days roll in. If you have the room, consider using those branches to create a protective habitat for animals in your area. After all, they are looking for a warm place to call home, too.
Also think about pollinators during your plant selection process. Find native plants with a natural appeal to draw in bees, butterflies and birds, who will spread the seeds, enjoy the nectar and pollinate nearby food and other plants.
There are some pests you don’t want to invite to the party, so use natural repellents to treat the mosquitos, aphids, slugs, beetles, spider mites, scale, whiteflies, grasshoppers and other busy pests that tend to chew through your plants.
Care for your soil
The drying leaves and dying buds of late summer may make it look like the activity of the season has died down, but in reality, the root systems are coming to life in preparation for the seasons to come. Apply fertilizer to your lawn and plants so they don’t have to work so hard to acquire the nutrients they need. Also continue to provide water as needed. Go ahead and use the rest of the collected rain barrel water before the rain starts again.
By the way, if you haven’t set up your water collection system, now is the perfect time to do so. Be conscious of other water waste that could be used in the garden. For example, after boiling pasta, blanching vegetables and canning, allow the water to cool and pour it on plants outdoors. You can also collect water in the shower or reuse bathwater.
Late summer is a great time to add mulch to your plants. Not only does it help retain the moisture in the soil, but it also adds vital nutrients. Send branches through a chipper or rely on grass clippings or hay. Just be sure the mulch is weed-free or you could be planting a problem to deal with next year.
Plant now and order ahead
According to Monrovia, a leading nursery company, certain plants work best for late summer plantings. The company suggests the Strawberry Shake Hydrangea for creamy white to pink blooms in zones 4-8. Evolution Sedum comes in three varieties with hearty stems that maintain their stature throughout the season. Also consider the assortment of color options found in the Grace N’ Grit Roses for a long-lasting wave of color throughout the seasons. Another recommendation is the FloralBerry Sangria Hypericum, which provides fall blooms and berries.
Late summer is a great time to plan for the fall, so think ahead to what you will need to plant in the coming season as well. Spring bulbs will need to go in the ground soon, so get your orders in for tulips, crocus and daffodils. Plus, go ahead and plant spring blooming trees, shrubs and perennials.
Monrovia suggests Crimson Kisses Weigela for a colorful and compact plant that will bloom throughout the spring and fall. Harlequin Penstemon is a good choice for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, and Little Joker Physocarpus is drought-tolerant and disease-resistant.
Enjoy the season
September brings cooler evenings and mornings to most time zones while maintaining many comfortable, workable hours in the day. In contrast to blistering heat in the height of summer or the frigid cold that may be coming, late summer is an enjoyable time to dig, plant, weed and haul.
Divide the load
As the daylilies and hostas lose blooms and begin to hunker down for the next season, grab your shovel and begin dividing them into additional plants. A hearty hosta may have 70 or more “eyes”. Leaving them in groups of at least 12 can provide at least five new plants to share or plant elsewhere. Plus it gives the original plant more vigor to grow. This is true with many dividable plants, so get your pots and shovel ready.
Plant cool-weather crops
While the flurry of gardening is typically associated with spring, many foods thrive in the late summer season, providing fresh produce as autumn arrives. Plant the same cool-weather crops with short seasons you planted in the spring: spinach, lettuce and other greens, beets, carrots, peas and beans.
Feed the compost bin
While you’re cleaning out the wilting summer plants from the vegetable garden, add those valuable nutrients to the compost bin. Toss in the end-of-the-season grass clippings and some of the smaller twigs and branches from deadheading and pruning existing plants. All of these ingredients will break down over winter, preparing a compost of food for spring plantings. Avoid adding any leaves infected with black spot, mildew or other diseases that can contaminate the compost.