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story.lead_photo.caption Collect slices or soil cores in a zig-zag pattern across your garden, mix in a bucket and put a pint of the soil mixture in a zipper-lock bag or a jar for soil testing. (Democrat-Gazette file photo)


August entered hot, humid and dry and seems to be leaving on a mild, moist run. We will take that for an August forecast. This break in the weather has many hoping for an early fall, but who knows what the weather will be? We have to take what we get and make the best of it.

• Signs of fall are everywhere. Mums and pumpkins are making an appearance along with other fall decor. Garden spiders and their webs are popping up in bushes, on trails and sometimes making their webs right in your pathway. Garden spiders are only with us for one season and they know they are nearing the end of their cycle. Females are busy preparing to lay their eggs before they die. While many folks are afraid of spiders and try to kill them, if they are outdoors, let them do their job — they are good at eating a lot of insects that we don't want. Just watch out for their webs when you are out gardening — it isn't pleasant to walk through them.

• The intense heat and dry weather we experienced through most of August took a toll on many plants that weren't watered. If you did water and care for your summer annuals, they should have another few months of life left in them. Fertilize, water and continue to enjoy them.

• If you have no summer annuals left, start adding fall color. It is still too early to add pansies and violas, which can get leggy if exposed to hot temperatures, but you can add some great fall-colored plants. Marigolds and ornamental peppers have great fall colors but will not overwinter — dying out with a killing frost. You could also plant calibrachoa, petunias and sweet alyssum, summer annuals that like cooler weather and can take several light freezes before they stop blooming. Sometimes they will even overwinter if the winter is mild.

• You can begin planting winter-hardy ornamental kale, cabbage and Swiss chard when you can find the plants. Snapdragons, dusty miller and dianthus can also be planted now and should overwinter fine.

• Fall-blooming perennials are a great way to add some zest. Plants that are blooming now or will be soon include goldenrod, Japanese anemones, toad lilies, Joe pye weed, and autumn sedums. Grasses are setting their plumage and most of the salvias are in full bloom now. Sawtooth sunflowers are large plants and can get a bit weedy but give you a huge display of yellow blooms. Fall asters, sneezeweed and other natives are also adding to the show.

• Long season bloomers like echinacea, rudbeckia and gaillardia are all still blooming if you have been deadheading. Begin to collect seeds in October to plant next year.

• This was not one of our best vegetable garden seasons. If it weren't for peppers and eggplants, many gardeners wouldn't have much to pick. Tomatoes played out early; then the cucurbits got hit by powdery mildew. If you threw in the trowel early, consider revamping and planting a fall/winter garden. Now is a great time to plant transplants of cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Start seeding radishes, lettuce, spinach, kale, greens and carrots. If you use season extenders (row covers, high tunnels or some other covering) you can garden all winter.

• Spring-blooming shrubs and trees have set flower buds or are still doing so. Look closely at your camellias, dogwoods and azaleas and you will see the flower buds. The only care these plants need now is water. Fertilization and pruning tasks are long over; if you prune spring bloomers now, you are removing next year's flowers.

• Summer-flowering shrubs are still blooming. If you deadhead (cut off the spent flowers) of your butterfly bush (buddleia), summer spiraea, and crape myrtles you will encourage more flowers. For plants that you grow for their evergreen foliage, a light shearing or shaping can be done, but no severe pruning — we don't want to encourage rapid new growth this late in the season.

• Regardless of how well your garden did or didn't do, weeds, insects and diseases have thrived. If you have plants that have seen better days, practice good sanitation and begin cleaning up the garden. Early blooming perennials have begun to die back, including peonies and lilies. Once they start, cut the foliage and get it out of the garden. Try to get weeds pulled or removed before they are large enough to bloom and set seeds. Put down a fresh layer of mulch. If you ignore problems, they can multiply. One season of weeds can turn into many years of weeding, so take time to maintain what you plant.



For years you may have heard me say, "Have your soil tested."

Basic soil testing is a free service of your local county extension office. The purpose behind soil testing is to know what your particular soil needs for your plants to do their best. To take a soil sample, you need one pint of dry soil. You don't just dig up a pint of soil from one spot in the yard, but you want a core or slice of soil from a variety of places throughout the area you are testing to get a fair average of the soil your plants are growing in.

You should take one sample from your lawn, one from your flower beds, one from your vegetable garden, etc.

You probably don't treat each part of your lawn differently, so you don't need multiple samples from the lawn. For an average size lawn, take 8-10 cores of soil. Put these in a bucket and mix them together and then take one pint of the soil and put it into a plastic bag. You can dump the remaining soil back into the spots you pulled it out of. Do the same thing for your vegetable garden, your foundation plantings, etc. Label each sample so you will know what they represent, i.e. lawn, vegetables, blueberries, etc.

There isn't a limit of how many samples you can take in, but only take in as many samples as you have different types of gardens.

If you have a troubled area where nothing seems to grow well, do a comparison. Take one sample from the troubled area and one from where plants are doing well.

Once you have your samples ready, take them to your local county extension office. Here's a shortcut to the list of locations: Most offices are open weekdays 8-4:30.

At the office, they will ask a few questions about the samples and what you are growing and take down your contact information. Then they will send the samples to the soil testing lab, and within a few weeks you will get a computer printout with the results and their recommendations.

If you are growing in raised beds filled with compost, bagged garden soil, potting soil or other amendments, or your garden soils have been heavily amended with bagged products, they too can be tested, but not for free. They are sent to a different lab, and there is a fee.

To get more information and watch a detailed how-to video on soil testing, click here:

Read Janet Carson's blog at

HomeStyle on 08/31/2019

Print Headline: Breaking ground


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