Charlie’s Mid August Newsletter
I just returned from a fun visit to Canada and Buffalo. Yes, Buffalo, New York. Up until now I’ve mostly known Buffalo for chicken wings and snow, but the city is beautiful and has some amazing gardens. I highlight some photos of them here.
In our garden, late summer perennials are flowering and Russian sage is a great plant for sunny, hot, dry areas. I talk about this perennial as well.
The planting continues and growing greens for fall including kale, Swiss chard and lettuce is high on the list. I talk about the best greens to grow and how to do it.
Finally, it’s not summer without pests, and the tomato hornworm was discovered by my wife, Wendy, on our tomatoes while I was away. I talk about this large caterpillar and how to best minimize the damage.
Enjoy August in the garden and for those in the path of the solar eclipse, wear your glasses! Until next time, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.
As fall approaches it’s always good to have a mix of perennial flowers in your garden that will keep the flower show coming. On of my favorites is Russian sage (Perovskia). Russian sage grows 2 to 4 feet tall and wide in an open airy appearance. The silver-green, small leaves give a sage brush impression, but the stars are the blue flowers that bloom from now until frost.
The beauty about Russian sage is its low maintenance. It’s drought tolerant, loves sun and comes back consistently in zone 4, and warmer, gardens. It tolerates alkaline soil, salt spray and wind. It will flop as it gets larger and older, so some staking or caging may be needed.
Russian sage grows well with ornamental grasses and other fall bloomers such as asters and goldenrod. Look for dwarf varieties such as ‘Little Spire’, and ‘Longin’ which grows more vertical and is less likely to flop.
Make sure you have well-drained, fertile soil and heat for the best performance. Russian sage has few pests and deer don’t seem to like it.
Learn more about growing Russian sage here.
There’s nothing more startling than coming face to face with the tomato hornworm caterpillar. These beasts can grow up to 6 inches long and cigar shaped. I swear you can hear them munching on your tomato leaves and fruits.
Often you don’t see the hornworms until you see their damage and the dark green droppings on the leaves. A sure way to find the hornworm is to look straight up from the droppings or, at night, take a black light in the garden. The hornworms will glow!
The adult hornworm is the sphinx moth. It’s a beautiful insect that flies around the tomato family plants in early summer laying eggs. The eggs hatch into those small green worms that eventually become monsters.
Handpicking is the best way to control small infestations on a few plants. Drop them into a bowl of soapy water. For larger infestations spray Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt on the plants. This bacteria will kill the caterpillars but not harm other animals, beneficial insects, bees or wildlife. However, don’t accidentally spray it on other plants because it will kill other caterpillar larvae such as swallowtail butterflies.
If you see white protrusions on the hornworm’s back, leave it. Those are the cocoons of the braconid wasp that is parasitizing the hornworm and will help control it in your garden.
Although mid August in most of the country is still high summer, this is still a good time to start your fall greens. Lettuce, spinach, kale and Swiss chard are just some of the greens that grow well in the cool of fall. In warm areas the soils are probably still too hot and dry for good seed germination. So, starting seeds indoors is the best bet for transplanting into the garden in September. In cooler climates, it’s probably fine to direct sow into the garden or start seedlings indoors.
Most varieties of these leafy greens will grow well in fall. For lettuce there are some selections that are more winter hardy such as ‘Winter Density. In general, look for baby green mixes and loose leaf lettuce varieties, such as ‘Red Sails’, that you can harvest when the greens are young. These can be harvested at any stage of maturity.
Remove spent beans, cucumbers, squash and other plants. Amend the soil with compost and loosen the soil for best root growth. Seed directly or sow seedlings into the bed and keep well watered and fertilized with fish emulsion. Check the bed regularly for pests. Many insects populations are at their zenith in late summer so protect the tender plants with floating row covers.
Begin harvesting as needed in September and continue until cold winter stops the production. The nice thing about fall gardening is plants grow slowly and are less likely to bolt in the cool weather.
In Our Garden: Gardens of Buffalo
As part of the Garden Writers Association conference in Buffalo, New York last week, we were treated to garden tours of the city. One section of town, in particular, really was inspiring. The cottage garden district featured old homes, tightly packed together on quaint streets. Each home seemed to be overflowing with flowers and vegetables. Some gardens were in ground, while others used containers. Even the median in the streets were gardened by the residents.
Each year residents have a Garden Walk where individuals open their homes and gardens to visitors. It’s a great way to get gardening ideas and talk to the creators of these fun gardens. Some gardens have themes and feature cute sheds and out buildings as well as trellises and patios.
While Buffalo is mostly known for its snowy winters, it was inspiring to see so many residents embracing their gardens and happy to show them off. If you ever get a chance, check out Buffalo in summer. You won’t be disappointed.