What to do in the garden: August

We're deep in summer. Much as we may like to laze in the hammock, there's lots to do in the garden, yet. Here's another handy to-do list from Sharon Hanna.

Credit: iStock

Summer gardening is a busy time—with food gardens, flowers and herbs, there’s always something to tend to



Monitor your tomatoes for suckers. Since they seem to sprout up overnight, it’s easy to miss them. If they’ve already produced flowers and you don’t have the heart to cut them off, prune off the top leaves and allow that set of flowers to stay and produce fruit. Allowing suckers to develop (especially in our short summers) takes away energy from the tomatoes—you want tomatoes, not leaves.

Are your tomatoes stunted from lack of light? Often trees and shrubs leaf out, and what you thought was a sunny spot is actually half shade. Next year, try to find a sunnier spot—or grow tomatoes in a pot. If you give them a large enough container, place them in FULL sun, and water and feed regularly (this is especially important) there is no reason why you should not have a bumper crop!

container tomatoes

grow tomatoes in containers

Yes, you can grow tomatoes
in containers!

Keep zucchini picked, ditto for beans, etc.—plants will stop producing when they have reproduced themselves successfully.


If potatoes are still flowering (mid to late-season ones), continue to hill soil up around the plants, and keep the bed moist. Don’t let your potatoes get sunburned—keep at least a couple of inches of soil on top of them. If skins turn green, they become mildly poisonous. Do not eat them!


On the coast, direct-sow early this month: arugula, lettuce, chard, kale, baby pak choi, mizuna, tai tsai, komatsuna (Japanese spinach mustard). All Asian greens prefer cooler weather. Don’t forget to also sow  chervil and cilantro this month, both of which do better in mild temperatures. Chervil, a major ingredient in French fines herbes, prefers a bit of shade and tends to self-sow—its delicate parsley/anise flavour complements eggs, fish and green salads.

Sowing vegetables

Don’t delay sowing carrots, beets and leeks; as days shorten, growth slows. Choose seed that will take 60 or fewer days to mature. Green onions, spinach and radishes can be reliably sown all month, even into September.

In cooler zones, sow late-summer quick-maturing veggies like arugula, lettuce, kale, baby pak choi, mizuna, tai tsai, komatsuna (Japanese spinach mustard) and other Oriental greens. Try winter-hardy varieties of carrots, beets and lettuce and extend your season using row-cover fabric or hoop cloches.



Keep basil picked—if it goes to seed it will stop growing. Try this: seedless watermelon pieces, goat (or other) feta and basil leaves. Toss with a little olive oil. It sounds strange, but it’s delicious—and watermelon has lots of lycopene. To chop basil leaves, roll tightly, then slice with a very sharp knife, creating a chiffonade.

Bay leaves

Harvest bay leaves and press them in an old phone book for a week or so. Put something very heavy on top so the leaves won’t curl. They’re now perfect for card-making, gluing or taping onto recipe cards for a friend, or making yourself a laurel wreath for your head—you probably deserve it.

Take cuttings of perennial herbs this month. (See propagation, below).


Take cuttings of shrubs and woody perennials and herbs this month: Artemisia, Calluna or Erica (heather), Cotoneaster, Daphne, Erysimum, Gaultheria (wintergreen), Hydrangea, Ilex (holly), Lavandula (lavender), Lavatera, Lonicera (honeysuckle), Nandina, Penstemon, Rhododendron, Rosa, Sarcococca (boxwood), rosemary, thyme—and lots more.

August is perfect for sowing certain perennial seeds, which will often bloom the following spring or summer: Althaea (hollyhock), Aster, Baptisia, Centaurea, Mesembryanthemum (a.k.a. Chrysanthemum), lavender, Monarda, and a slew of others.

If you are interested in propagation, check out Creative Propagation: a Grower’s Guide—a fantastic resource by Peter Thompson, published by Timber Press. Look for older versions, reprinted up until 1995. Newer reprints have omitted the alphabetical Latin list at the end of the book, giving ideal times for every type of seeding, cuttings, divisions, etc., which is my personal propagation bible. The book is written with wry humour, thus making for enjoyable bedtime reading! Here’s a quote from the title page to give you a taste of the book’s tone:

I think the true gardener is a lover of his flowers, not a critic of them. I think the true gardener is the reverent servant of Nature, not her truculent, wife-beating master. I think the true gardener, the older he grows, should more and more develop a humble, grateful and uncertain spirit, cocksure of nothing except the universality of beauty.—Reginald Farrer, In a Yorkshire Garden


Prune back wisteria and other vigorous climbers. When pruning young wisteria, focus on creating a good framework. Let the leader grow to the height you want before pruning it back. Branches that do not contribute to the main framework should be trimmed within 15 cm (6 in.) of the main framework.
Lightly prune off deadwood this (and any) month from anything you like.


Don’t worry about your lawn in summer. Yes, when grass receives less water it may turn brown and go dormant, but the grass is still alive and will green up again in fall.

Summer lawn tips:

•    Avoid scalping your lawn. Taller/longer grass shades out weeds, and makes for a healthier lawn. Set your mower as high as possible: it’s best to remove no more than one third of the grass length at each mowing.

Organic lawns

Learn more about Organic lawn care.
Video: Seed your lawn

•    If the weather is dry, water only once per week, and do it in the morning. Avoid watering at night. Water isn’t used efficiently in the dark in the absence of photosynthesis and may end up going down into the water table; and mildew, mould, and associated diseases thrive in dampness at night. If you wore wet pajamas to bed, you’d be sick too!
•    To judge how much to water, place a tuna can or similar container in the sprinkler’s line of fire; once a week, water until the can is filled to a height of 2.5 cm (1 in.). This deep watering encourages healthy grass with deep roots that will not burn and scorch in heat and sun. Frequent, shallow watering encourages shallow root growth and weed proliferation.
•    Leave grass clippings on your lawn after mowing. Clippings add nitrogen to keep the grass green—natural (and free!) mulch and lawn food.
•    If you would like to convert some of your lawn area to a food garden, check out Carolyn Herriot’s blog re “lasagna gardens.” You can create a garden in a jiffy right on top of your lawn in a sunny area, and get started with growing late summer, fall, and maybe even overwintering veggies (depending on your zone) right now!