The Dog Days start July 3 through August 11. Dog Days have the well-earned reputation of being hot and miserable. Dog days are named for the star Sirius which is the brightest star and is in the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog. Sirius rises and sets with the sun this time of year.
Ancients believed it added heat to the sun. This, they believed, made the dog days the hottest, muggiest, most uncomfortable days of the year causing lethargy, illness and dogs to go mad. They sacrificed a brown dog as a way to get some relief. I do not recommend this. Dog is man’s best friend and, as we all know, every dog will have his day.
By now the Dog Days are getting old. And, like an old dog, the summer is waning and slowing down. Like old Rover, August can have some “lazy days” of summer. But old dogs need a lot of maintenance just like a garden. If you care for an old dog you also know it can be rewarding. If you have been caring for your garden, this month will be the most rewarding for harvesting vegetables and for enjoying flowers.
By the end of the first week of August we will be at mid-summer, half way between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. By mid-month days are getting noticeably shorter. Although this is true the heat is not over. Maintenance in the garden will be key as August can be dry and hot. Long range predictions are for hotter and an equal chance for drier, weather for the Midwest.
All this heat and drought is stressful for us and dogs, young and old, and all plants. Newly planted lawns, trees and shrubs also need our special attention. Water deeply weekly not lightly frequently. Plants in containers are an exception, they may need watering daily. Stressed plants are an invitation to all manner of insect pests and diseases. Be vigilant. If you see trouble, investigate to see if the problem is caused by the weather, disease or by a pest.
August produces butterflies, dragonflies, fruit flies, houseflies and time flies. The daylily blooms are already gone their bare scapes reminding us of what was. Yarrow's blooms are browning. Sunflowers are drooping. Bird migration has begun. Cicadas, crickets, and katydids begin their chorus not to be silenced until the frosts of fall. August brings meteors, tomatoes, sweet corn, watermelon, Black-eyed Susans, hibiscus, iced tea and lemonade, berries and ice cream. Like an old dog, we know these times will be gone too soon. Let’s enjoy them while they’re here.
Things to do in the garden:
August is Tree Check month. For advice on what trees to plant and where to plant them, go to www.arborday.org or contact our City Tree Commission. Water if we don’t get at least an inch of rain each week. Water at the base of the plant and do it in the morning. Water trees and shrubs planted in the past two years or if they look distressed.
You can still have a garden for food. Plant healthy looking broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants if you can find them early in the month. Direct-seed beets, lettuces, spinach, radishes, turnips, and snap peas mid-month, for a fall garden. Keep the seeds and soil moist for best germination. Harvest vegetables and herbs in the morning for best results. Dig potatoes if the vines have died. Harvest onions when the tops fall over and cure in the sun for a few days.
As plants die back or stop producing remove them so bad insects and disease don’t have a place to over- winter. This is particularly important for the vegetable garden. Some landscape plants, such as coneflowers and those with hollow stems, also native ornamental grasses, you can leave alone for seeds for wintering birds and insects and for visual winter interest. Put the debris of healthy plants in the compost bin, diseased plants in the trash. Pull crabgrass and other weeds before they go to seed.
Want to have a new garden next year? Now is a good time to prepare the site. Cover the area with black plastic, thick cover of newspaper or cardboard weighted down; anything that will block the sun will leave bare earth come spring. This is the time to renovate or build a new lawn. Do your research at ohioline.osu.edu. Start cuttings of coleus, begonias, geraniums and impatiens for growing indoors this winter. Move houseplants to a shady spot to prepare them to move indoors.
Disbud and fertilize your dahlias for bigger blooms. Fertilize (side dress) peonies and roses with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 12-12-12. Order garlic and spring flowering bulbs, plant biennials. Divide, transplant or give away perennials that are overgrown and plant new container grown ones. Add new mulch where needed.
By the end of the month consider disbudding your tomato plants. Remove the growing tips of each branch and pinch out all the blossoms that bloom. It takes six weeks from blossom to fruit. This practice will give bigger tomatoes and prevent all those marble size tomatoes that the frost gets and never reach the table. Experiment! Try this also with melons and winter squash.
Consider picking tomatoes before they are completely ripe. They will ripen off the vine if they show a blush of green on an otherwise red, purple or yellow tomato. Totally ripe tomatoes still on the vine can burst with a glut of water from rain or the hose. They can be sampled by birds and mammals. Follow this advice and you will enjoy more and better tomatoes.
Monitor for pests. Check under the leaves. Think before you spray. Know your enemy. Use organic methods first. Remember, 97 percent of insects are either good or neutral. As Joe Boggs, OSU Extension Educator recommends, use the digital method, in this digital age, to eliminate some bugs. The two-step stomp technique can also be quite effective. Or, just flick them into a cup of soapy water. No bug species has developed a resistance to these tactics.
Need gardening advice? Call the Gardening Helpline at the OSU Extension Office 474-7534. Other resources are ohioline.osu.edu and, to read a weekly discussion of plant problems check out bygl.osu.edu. Buckeye Yard and Garden Line (bygl) is a real education.
This article was written by Paul J. Hang to be published in The Circleville Herald. Hang is an OSU Extension Master Gardener. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.