Welcome to August! At the moment, you're probably still naively excited about every zucchini you harvest, but by the end of the month, don't be surprised if friends start playing ding-dong-dash. You know you've been the victim of this little game when you answer the doorbell only to see a large basket of zucchini and a "friend" zooming off into the sunset. If you're playing and you get caught, be sure to feign innocence when wryly thanked. "No, that was someone else, but would you like some of mine? I've got plenty!" Bonus points if they're confused enough to take another bag. Anyway, though using up zucchini seems to be August's primary task at hand, there are other things to tackle in the garden this month.
Buy a spiralizer. If you're running out of friends and acquaintances with whom to share your excess squash, consider using up your stash and simultaneously cutting carbs by purchasing a spiralizer. This handy little device turns zucchini and other vegetables into spaghetti- or fettuccine-shaped "noodles," which can be sauteed and eaten just like pasta. Cover the noodles in tomato sauce and meatballs, fresh pesto made with either basil, mint or fennel, or eat them cold with vinaigrette, some Cypress Grove chevre and Sungold cherry tomatoes. Inspiralized.com has tons of recipe suggestions. If you want to see if you even like zucchini noodles before picking up yet another kitchen contraption, you can use a julienne or vegetable peeler instead, though it's more time-consuming.
Fertilize tired plants. By this time of summer, many plants have finished their first bloom cycle and are starting to look a little ragged around the edges. Now is a great time to use a half dose of all-purpose organic fertilizer on anything that seems to need extra nutrients. Any plant that is due to flower soon or that is still flowering intermittently is a prime candidate for that midsummer nutrient boost, as well as any evergreen shrubs or trees that are looking a little dull. However, avoid fertilizing anything deciduous such as Japanese maples or spirea, as you don't want plants to become confused and put out new growth just when they should be preparing to lose their leaves.
Deadhead lavender. Once those gorgeously bee-filled wands of lavender have gone from a fragrant purple to a dull grayish brown, it's time to deadhead. English and most hybrid lavenders form a woody bush with a little foliage at the tips, and hold their flowers aloft on top of bare stems. For these types of lavender, use a pair of handheld hedging shears to neatly clip off all of the flowering stems as well as about one inch of foliage. This removes the finished flowers and effectively "pinches" the new growth to encourage the plant to keep a compact habit. Unpruned lavenders can sprawl open in the center, and since they can't be pruned back to bare wood to regenerate, a lack of maintenance can sound the death knell for your plants. For French (Lavandula dentata) and Spanish (Lavandula stoechas) lavenders, which grow differently, trim off the individual finished blooms with gardening scissors and they will reward you by continuing to flower for the rest of the season.
Shop for fall-flowering plants. 'Autumn Charm' stonecrop (Sedum 'Autumn Charm'), dwarf Joe Pye weed, (Eupatorium dubium 'Little Joe') and late blooming varieties of Scotch heather (Calluna vulgaris) are all choices you may not yet be familiar with. 'Autumn Charm' stonecrop, a cousin to the attractive but overused 'Autumn Joy,' has similar attributes but shines with a vivid gold variegation that makes it stand out over a longer period of time. Dwarf Joe Pye weed is a smaller version of the usual Joe Pye weed which is less prone to flopping and only reaches 2 to 3 feet tall. Scotch heathers are in full bloom now, but most varieties wrap things up by the end of August. However, bud-blooming varieties such as 'Roswitha' have flowers that never open, and the buds stay colorful much longer. 'Finale' is another that carries the season into fall, with blooms lingering as late as early November.
Treat yellowed/chlorotic plants with iron chelate. If the new growth on a shrub has pale yellow leaves with green veins, there is a good chance it is deficient in iron. This is a common problem in boxwood, rhododendrons and camellias. A host of problems can be the cause, such as damaged roots, poor drainage, compacted soil and various nutrient imbalances, but if an easy fix isn't obvious, it's fine to go ahead and treat the symptoms by giving plants an application of iron chelate in a form such as Ironite (make sure you water it in). Plants should green up within a month.
Prune and deadhead summer-flowering varieties of heather that have finished blooming. Though I don't usually like to approach plants with the hedging shears, these plants are the perfect candidates because they have tiny, needlelike leaves that don't appear chopped when hedged — just clip into the plants right underneath the brown, finished blooms. They also respond to pruning with a flush of fresh new growth, so they don't look sternly pruned for very long. That said, make sure you don't cut into any bare, woody branches unless you know for sure which variety you are dealing with. Heaths and Irish heaths (Erica and Daboecia, respectively) can tolerate harder pruning if given adequate water and good care, but Scotch heather (Calluna) should never be pruned to bare stems.
Remove new flowers on winter squash vines once the plant has set a good number of fruit. This tells the plant to put its energy into the squashes that are already ripening, so that they produce larger fruit and mature faster. Most gardeners know that summer squash blossoms can be eaten, but are unaware that the winter squash flowers are equally appetizing. These delicacies don't keep long and, like most foods, are delicious when battered and deep-fried. Squash blossoms can also be stuffed with cheese and herbs, then baked, or added to salads for additional color.
Keep harvesting in the vegetable garden. Don't get behind on picking produce such as zucchini, pole beans, peas or cherry tomatoes. Even if you are unable to use all of your harvest right away, it's better to pick them and send the signal to your plant to continue making more. If you leave these vegetables on the plant, it may stop producing and go dormant earlier than it otherwise would.
Continue planting for winter. While it seems counterintuitive to think about fall and winter gardening when the sun is shining, if you wait until the weather is cool, your plants won't get the strong start they need in order to actually produce food for you in fall and winter. Keep on setting out seeds of arugula, spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, beets, carrots and radishes, and transplanting starts of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, collards, kohlrabi and cauliflower. If you are bored of the same-old same-old selections, check local nurseries for variegated versions of kale and collards, and an array of colored cauliflowers including 'Graffiti Purple,' 'Sunset' and 'Violet Queen,' available from Log House Plants.
Genevieve Schmidt is a landscape designer and owns a fine landscape maintenance company in Arcata. Visit her on the web at www.GenevieveSchmidtDesign.com.