In August the gardener’s focus is often on the weather and on watering. The garden can be very thirsty at this time of year so it is important to keep plants hydrated, particularly those in containers. An intermittent thorough soak is more beneficial than a daily sprinkle, and do your best to use ‘grey’ waste water as much as you can.
Fruiting plants need some attention at this time of year. Remember to carry out your summer pruning of trained fruit trees, to encourage plenty of fruiting in future years. You should also continue removing the old fruited canes on raspberry plants, and you can lift and pot up strawberry runners too. Protect blackberry and autumn raspberry plants from birds with netting or fleece. If you are lucky enough to have a grapevine, it is a good idea to cut back the leaves around bunches of fruit so that the sun can ripen them. Gluts of raspberries, blackberries, loganberries and others can be frozen for use at a later time. Cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots should also be ready to harvest this month.
Tend to your tomato plants, continuing to pinch out the tops of outdoor plants and removing lower leaves on cordon plants, up to the lowest truss. These activities allow the plants to focus on developing fruit and mean there is more light and air around ripening tomatoes. Also keep your eyes peeled for tomato blight – affected plants should be removed before the problem can spread. Looking out for blight applies to potato plants as well. You should be able to harvest maincrop potatoes towards the end of the month, once the plants have flowered and finished – although you can leave them in the ground to keep for a while if you prefer. Spring sown carrots and beetroot will also be ready to harvest, but can similarly be left in the ground to store for the time being.
Once your broad bean plants have stopped producing, you can cut them back close to the ground and feed, and if you’re lucky in a good season they will regrow and produce a second crop. Keep pinching out the tops of runner bean stems to encourage fruiting, and do this with aubergine plants as well when they have 5-6 fruits.
Hopefully you’ll be harvesting all sorts of fruit and veg at this time of year. Sweetcorn, runner beans, courgettes, tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies – and more. Sweetcorn are ready when you can pop a corn with your thumbnail and the juices look milky. It’s important to harvest as soon as the fruit or vegetable is ready, as regular picking encourages more fruiting. You should be able to harvest onions and shallots now as well. When the tops have died down just lift the bulbs and leave them out to fully dry in the sun.
Other jobs to consider include collecting seed, now that many flowering plants have finished, taking cuttings – and attending to your compost heap. You can collect seed from dill, fennel, caraway and chervil plants and dry them in a warm spot before storing. Take cuttings from rosemary, sage and mint and pot up into moist, well drained compost then keep in a cold frame or somewhere sheltered. Ensure you have a good mixture of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ compost in your heap, and don’t forget to turn it – this aids the decomposition.
It might seem a bit mad to be thinking about Winter, and Christmas, at this time of year – but the gardener is always looking ahead. You can sow hardy crops for winter picking now. These include purple sprouting broccoli, red cabbage, potatoes, kalettes and turnips.