What to do in your garden in August
Buy garlic Bulbs come in hard-neck and soft-neck varieties. The soft necks, including silverskins, are common supermarket types; the hard or stiff-neck varieties, including the porcelains, purple stripes, rocamboles, and Asians, are harder to find but favored by chefs. Fist-size elephant garlic isn't true garlic, but its mild flavor will win you over. Good local sources include Irish Eyes–Garden City Seeds, Nichols Garden Nursery, and Territorial Seed Company. Plant in the coldest parts of the Northwest just before the ground freezes, or in milder areas in mid- to late autumn.
Plant annuals Sunset climate zones 4–7: With a couple of months of nice weather still ahead, you can plant annual flowers for a good, long show. Impatiens and coleus grow well in partial shade, while marigolds and pelargoniums add color to sunny spots. When frost threatens, dig up the coleus and pelargoniums and pot them for overwintering on a sunny indoor windowsill.
Start fall crops Zones 4–7, 17: As you pull out early-summer crops, replace them with beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, peas, radishes, and spinach. Most will be ready to harvest in autumn.
Plant saffron This pricey spice comes from easy-to-grow saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). Plant corms late this month or next, then harvest the saffron about five weeks later by plucking the three orangey red stigmas from each lilac-purple flower. If you can't find corms locally, order from White Flower Farm (800/503-9624), which begins shipping them in early September.
Late-summer color Zones 4-7: Buy the largest potted annuals you can find for a good show until first frost. For sun, choose cosmos, marigolds, pelargoniums, petunias, and zinnias. For shade, begonias, coleus, and impatiens are good choices.
Lawns Zones A2-A3: Sow new lawns or repair old ones before mid-August. Zones 1-3: Sow grass seeds now through mid-September or lay sod anytime. Zones 4-7, 17: Wait until the weather starts to cool off in early September, then sow grass seeds or lay sod.
Gather warm-season crops Loads of edibles are ripening now, and each gives clues to when it's ready. Cantaloupe: When the skin becomes netted, a ripe fruit will slip (separate) from the vine when you lift and twist. Corn: After the silk has withered, peel back a husk and pop a kernel with your thumbnail. If the juice is watery, it's too early; if pasty, too late; if milky, just right. Potatoes: Dig after tops start to die down. Summer squash (including zucchini): Pick any time before they get too big to handle. Watermelon: Cut from the vine when the bottom of the melon shifts from white to yellow, the tendrils nearest the fruit begin to wither, and the melon goes "thunk" when you tap it. Winter squash: Cut from the vine after skins have hardened and leaves have started to dry and die.
Pick herbs In the morning, just after dew has dried, pluck leaves and dry them on a clean window screen in a cool, dry spot. Store in airtight jars.
Water Soak moisture-loving plants like rhododendrons every week to 10 days (more in extra-hot weather or if soil is fast-draining) and hose off foliage.
Make compost Alternate layers of grass clippings and nonmeat kitchen waste in a pile 4 feet in diameter. Water the pile and turn it once a week to make compost for the fall garden.
Propagate shrubs Grow new plants from cuttings of existing evergreen shrubs, including azaleas, camellias, daphne, euonymus, holly, and rhododendrons, as well as certain deciduous plants like hydrangeas. Snip 4- to 6-inch cuttings and strip off all but the top three or four leaves. Dip the cut ends into rooting hormone, insert them into 4-inch pots filled with sterile soil, and water well. Place the cuttings in a spot that gets indirect sunlight and keep the soil constantly moist. Before first frost, move them into a greenhouse or other warm place. By spring, you'll have well-rooted plants ready to transplant into larger pots or set out in the garden.
Next: Grow colorful carrots
Grow colorful carrots
Move over, orange! This year, plant carrots in hues of purple, cream, and yellow. In Sunset's Menlo Park, California, test garden, we grew 'Yellowstone', 'Purple Haze', and 'White Satin' and loved the color and taste of all three. Prep a sunny bed by removing stones and clods 1 foot deep to ensure smooth, straight carrots; sow seeds directly, and keep soil evenly moist. When seedlings are a few inches tall, thin to 1 ½ inches apart. The above varieties reach maturity in 65 to 75 days; check for size before then by pulling a few, and enjoy them as finger-size baby carrots. Seeds are available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (877/564-6697). –Johanna Silver