Busy August keeps gardeners hopping

By Tom Seymour | Sep 01, 2017
Photo by: Tom Seymour Dahlias come in a variety of colors and shapes.

August ranks as one of the busiest months for gardeners. Harvesting and putting up the harvest are time-consuming tasks, but well worth the effort.

It’s hard to believe that the summer has passed so quickly, but the fact is that we have perhaps one more month of frost-free nights. But between now and then we can still enjoy our gardens to the maximum. Summer perennials are the main focus now in flower gardens and some of these, coneflowers for instance, can stand a light frost without much appreciable damage.

Dahlias are another late-season flower that rewards us with its beauty even through September. And speaking of dahlias, noted dahlia raiser Nancy Quimby of Brooks kindly lent me her favorite dahlia catalog to peruse. This was the Swan Island Dahlias catalog, and it contains some of the most gorgeous photos of dahlias I’ve ever seen.

Dahlias come from “eyed” tubers, and these must be dug after a hard frost and kept in a cool, dry place over the winter. So it’s not too early to begin thinking of dahlias. If you have some extra space, even a few extra containers, you can grow dahlias.

Dahlia blooms, or blossoms, come in a mind-boggling number of colors and color combinations. Also, the blooms are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, which means there are dahlias out there that will fit into any garden scheme.

For some fun reading, this “coffee table” catalog is available from Swan Island Dahlias by calling 800-410-6540 or emailing the company at info@dahlias.com. Alternatively, visit their site online by going to dahlias.com.

Seed saving

Have you grown any heirloom variety vegetables this season? If so, it’s time to begin saving seeds for planting next year. Beans are easy. Just pick and dry the entire bean, no need to open. Later, when completely dry, open the shell and remove the seeds.

I like to place seeds from my heirloom, or open-pollinated, varieties in a plain business envelope. With the name of the variety written on the envelope, just place in a cool, dry place until next season. So simple.

Even tomatoes are easier than some sources might suggest. I have fine luck by simply removing the seeds, accompanying gel and all, and putting them on a small section of paper towel to dry for several days. When fully dry, just fold the towel and place it in an envelope, the same as per beans.

Also remember that many of our favorite winter squash varieties are open-pollinated and lend themselves to seed saving. Buttercup squash, one of the most popular varieties, is one example. Cut the squash in two, remove the seeds and save the largest and thickest ones the same as tomato seeds, by drying on a paper towel.

Flowers, too, often self-seed and if you wish to help them along, just save the seeds by placing on a windowsill until completely dry and placing them in an envelope for storage. Hollyhocks, for instance, are biennial and self-seed. But sometimes germination rates are low. My hollyhocks only had two “volunteers” this year, and of those, one died.

So starting hollyhock seed indoors in late winter and setting out the young plants at the appropriate time will ensure a summer’s worth of blooms.

I have a February daphne growing in front of my house, and it is a prized shrub. These are somewhat difficult to locate, so if you know of someone who has one, ask them to save a few of the red, seed-bearing berries so that you can try planting them inside early next spring.

I haven’t attempted to save daphne seeds until this year, and so cannot say how easy or difficult it will be. However, I do plan on stratifying at least some of the seeds in order to simulate their time under the snow during the winter. Starting in December, I’ll put some seeds in the freezer and leave them there until March. The balance of seeds will just go in an envelope. So next spring we’ll see which ones, if any, germinate.

Garden chores

Here are a few suggestions for late-summer garden chores. If you have picked your garlic and dried it properly, it’s time to clip the tops and roots before placing in storage. But it is imperative that the top growth be totally dry; otherwise the bulb won’t last long in storage.

And as I mentioned previously, be careful about removing any clinging dirt or debris from the garlic bulbs. Wipe dust and dirt of by hand, but do nothing that might bruise the bulb. So cared for, your bulbs should persist until some time next summer.

Also, the place where garlic grew can serve to grow some early-maturing, late-season crops. Lettuce comes to mind, as do radishes. I like to use every inch of precious garden space to best advantage. My thoughts on this are that winter always seems interminably long and fresh garden veggies won’t become available until spring. So it pays to wring every last ounce of goodness from a garden plot.

However, if you already have plenty of lettuce, you might want to make some in-situ compost. Just save grass clippings and dump them directly on the place where the garlic grew. Garlic, being a heavy feeder, will appreciate the effort. By spring the grass will have decomposed to the point where it is easily turned into the soil.

Asparagus beds deserve some tending now, too. Dead, yellow stalks are safely removed by gently tugging on them. If they are completely dry, they will pop out of the soil with only gentle pressure.

Also, look around the bed for those red berries. These contain asparagus seeds, and if not removed, will grow into seedlings next year. But asparagus hates competition, even from its own kind. However, if you wish to expand your asparagus bed or even start a new one, just save the seeds and some time in very early spring, plant them inside and set out when the soil warms.

Alternatively, you could just let the seeds germinate and then pull the seedlings early next spring.

Tom’s tips

Wild mint, Mentha arvensis, grows throughout the northern states and Maine has its share. This mint has lance-shaped, toothed leaves, with white and sometimes violet flowers growing in round clusters around the stem at leaf axils. Axils are that part where the stem of the leaf emerges from the plant’s main stem.

Our wild mint grows in wet areas, including roadside drainage ditches, and also along streams and rivers. This mint has a strong, minty fragrance and that alone can serve to identify it.

Just pick as much of this wonderful, free mint as you wish and then take it home to dry. I hang bunches of it from a beam, but any way you air-dry it is fine. After that, place the thoroughly dried mint in a glass jar and seal the jar. The mint will be as good-smelling this winter as it was the day it was picked. And in addition to using it as a seasoning, it can stand alone to make a heady mint tea.

February daphne with red berries. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
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