August....Roses, Caterpillars, Annuals

Aah August…the month of joy and disappointment for the gardener! I know you are wondering where the time went. How did the purslane take over the bare soil in between the plants in your perennial bed? You may be wondering how in the world the bachelor buttons or the raspberries or the rose mallow (or of course the mints) got into other flowerbeds without you noticing. Although this article will address the tasks you need to perform in the month of August it will also focus on the joys. Some of our readers have contacted me and I will address some of their concerns here as well.

The roses are still performing beautifully (if you watered, fed and pruned them earlier). Powdery mildew or blackspot on the leaves? Put on your garden gloves and clean up the leaves. No I don’t mean washing them. Remove the diseased leaves from both the plants and the ground. This helps remove the fungal spores and hopefully will lessen the infestation next year. Don’t feed the roses (or the trees and shrubs) any more during this growing season. Feeding at this time encourages new growth that is more easily damaged during the winter. But keep watering these plants deeply to prepare their roots for winter.

Are you noticing a silken web on your lilac, crabapples, birch, cherry trees or other hardwoods? These are not tent caterpillars! These are called “fall webworm.” The adult moths laid eggs on the underside of the leaves during May, June, and July. The larvae form webs around the leaves and feed on them. When they are ready to pupate, they drop down on the ground. If it is already healthy, the tree or shrub will survive this leaf loss as the growing season is gradually coming to an end and the leaves would be shed anyway. If this encounter with nature is disturbing to you or if you are worried about further damage to an already weakened tree or shrub, I suggest that you power hose the larvae…a simple solution involving no insecticides.

Your annuals should be in their glory by now. Keep pinching off the dead flowers and leaves so they will perform until the killing frosts take them. You will probably miss some of the annual flowers that are forming seeds. This is where gardening usually can be fun. Next year you may find seedlings coming up. I think it is a great gardening experience to find out which annuals “breed true”, or produce the same color and form the second year. Some of my personal favorite reseeding annuals are cleome, poppies, the annual hollyhocks, flowering tobacco (Nicotiana), morning glories and cosmos.

Did you place your Christmas cactus on the porch during this year’s growing season? Bring the Christmas cactus back indoors toward the end of August. Give it a good hosing first so you don’t bring uninvited guests into the house. You may wish to give it a dose of a fertilizer 0-10-10 (zero percent nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, 10 % potassium) to nourish the development of flower buds.

Keep up that weeding. And yes I hate this part of gardening too! But if weeds flower, they make more seeds and then you will have to deal with it all next year!

Go to your garden with clippers. You can prune or collect flowers and foliage to enjoy indoors. One of my favorite activities is collect plant materials for pressing. You can use these materials to make cards or bookmarks. You are limited only by your imagination.

Forever Young Magazine August 2005