Act now to keep the garden growing strong into fall

The second week of August is the time to make a stand for your fall garden. Yes, this is the week to decide if you are going to have a garden that just fades away or one that builds up strength for the fall season ahead. Both vegetables and flowers need attention this week if you want to keep things beautiful and bountiful for the autumn growing season.

  • Tuesday, August 11, 2009 4:02am
  • Life

The Compleat

Home Gardner

The second week of August is the time to make a stand for your fall garden. Yes, this is the week to decide if you are going to have a garden that just fades away or one that builds up strength for the fall season ahead. Both vegetables and flowers need attention this week if you want to keep things beautiful and bountiful for the autumn growing season.

Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation to make sure you are getting water all the way down to your plant’s roots. It is not too late to invest in these watering aids and you can look at them as part of your plant insurance policy. Water is the first need, but your flowers and vegetables also need fertilizer if you expect them to keep up the song and dance they’ve been performing all summer. Side-dress the fertilizer down the rows of your vegetable garden by applying dry fertilizer in bands about six inches away from the plant roots. Pants in pots and vegetables tucked into shrub areas are also famished and ready for a summer meal. During warm weather some plants, like beans, tomatoes, geraniums and dahlias, grow faster, so they need more fertilizer to support the growth spurt. Don’t fertilize when the soil is dry, be sure to water after you feed and never use more fertilizer than recommended on the label. If you’ve been adding compost and mulch to your soil for several years you win the garden lottery – no need to feed healthy plants growing in soil that is rich with organic matter.

If you’ve been working on a compost pile, this is a good week to check the middle of the pile and see if it looks done. You can rob the center of a compost pile any time you need a layer of insulating mulch on top of your soil. Mulch helps to feed your plants, keeps the roots cool and smothers tiny weeds.

Q. What do you think of the idea of putting ice cubes in my hanging baskets and container gardens to cool off the plants and keep them watered? I will often finish a drink and then dump any left over ice onto my plants. They seem to like it. T.K., Longview

A. Makes me feel cooler already. If your plants seem to enjoy an icy drink with you, grow for it. Some tropical plants such as canna, bananas and orchids may find the icy sips a bit shocking.

Q. I heard you speaking at the Enumclaw fair and you were giving away a gardenia plant that smelled wonderful. You said it would survive the winters here and stay evergreen. Everyone wanted to win it but I was not the lucky one. Please tell me the name of the plant and where I can get it. B.B., Enumclaw

A. That was a new gardenia called “Heaven Scent” with a heavenly fragrance, evergreen foliage, bushy growth habit and red winter seed pods that make this a compact shrub for all seasons. Hardy gardenias may still need some winter protection in our area, but if you have a protected spot close to the house – like near the front door where visitors can enjoy the fragrance – then the Heaven Scent gardenia might be the answer to your prayers. For more information on this plant, including how to find a local retailer, go to

Q. When do I start planting vegetables for a fall garden? I have already harvested peas and bush beans so I have some room in my garden. G., e-mail

A. Dig in and start planting crops now for a fall and winter harvest. Swiss chard, onions, lettuce, cabbage and kale can all be planted this week for harvest late into the fall, winter or next spring.

Q. I saw pumpkins last fall that had slogans and names scratched into the outer rind. I think they must have marked the skin on the pumpkins when they were green and young and then the scar tissue formed on the ripe pumpkin, right? Is this the time of year to write on the pumpkins? J.D., Tumwater

A. If you’ve got green pumpkins, get yourself a sharp object and nail them. Just barely break the surface of the pumpkin rind to trace the outline of a few letters or numbers. Scarring the skin of an immature pumpkin like this allows entry for the fungus among us so you do risk losing your garden graffiti to rot. Penmanship on a pumpkin is worth the risk if you know some kids you can turn loose in the pumpkin patch. Then you can tell them there’s a pumpkin waiting in the garden with their name on it.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, visit

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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