Another month to relax and enjoy your garden, although there are some projects the keen gardener can undertake.
As in July, the crucial task is providing sufficient water to plants. The neediest plants are lawns (but not Bermuda or zoysia), vegetables, some annuals and some perennial shade flowers.
Many plants in containers are likely to need water daily.
Precautions against fire
The hottest month of the year brings attendant fire danger. Steps to help reduce the risk to your house are:
Shrubs and trees with lush green leaves (e.g. pittosporum) are preferable close to the house. Pine trees and eucalyptus are among the flammable plants, so keep these well away from the home.
Keep shrubs near the house low and well spaced from each other.
Some plants, such as cacti and succulents, can withstand some fire.
If space and resources allow, create a buffer zone between house and campo (surrounding scrubland) about 10 metres wide with low growing plants and keep well watered. This can be landscaped with rocks, patios, and paths.
Keep surrounding campo clean. Accumulated dead leaves, twigs, branches and weeds make for the hottest fires, so remove what you can (much of it can be shredded and composted). Recycle any glass found there.
Deciduous fruit trees
Do not apply fertiliser in August. Prune any suckers which grow from the base and any sprouts which grow from the trunk or branches in the centre. Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep roots, but don’t drown the tree. Usually two or three deep irrigations per month throughout the growing season will suffice. If the soil is sandy, more water will be needed and younger trees also require more water.
Swimming pool plants
Tidy up climbers such as jasmine. Plants which can withstand the reflected glare of the water and which do not drop their leaves into the water include many palms, yucca, bird of paradise, succulents, hibiscus, canna lilies, gazania and verbena.
Many will have finished blooming and can be cut back lightly. If the tips are pinched back for a week or so, a second flush may develop. Continue to feed regularly and deadhead. Cuttings root quickly now. Use fresh growth you have pruned and root them in small pots filled with the same potting soil the fuchsias grow in. Watch for pests.
Continue to fertilise, water and monitor for pests. Prune lightly in order to encourage autumn flowering.
Long twining stems develop during the summer. On young plants, train these stems in the direction desired and they can be tied gently in place. Eventually they will develop into thick vines from which the flower spurs will grow. On mature wisteria, keep only those stems on the outer edges where you have room. Cut all unwanted new stems back to two buds to encourage more flower spurs. Water and feed young wisteria. Give mature vines one deep watering in August.
Annuals and perennials
Continue to water, feed, deadhead and tidy up.
If you want lots of inexpensive cool-season flowering annuals, seeds can be planted now, including calendulas, dianthus, nemesia, pansies, primroses, snapdragons, and violas. In October the plants can be used to fill beds.
In general August is a poor month to plant out, although palm trees do well when planted in warm soil. Take advice on the type you are planting as some need to have all faded fronds removed and about one-third of remaining fronds to compensate for root loss. With strong twine, tie the remaining leaves upright to protect the cells around the bud and leave tied for a month or two. Keep palms well watered at least for the first year.
Warm-season grass, such as Bermuda and zoysia, should be at their best this month while the cool-season grass is at its worst. Water warm-season lawns deeply and infrequently, feeding every four to six weeks, and mowing as short as possible. Do not feed kikuyu in August. Continue to water cool-season lawns regularly, mowing them high, with only a light feed, if at all, as overfeeding now will cause stress.
Watch out for brown patches as these could indicate an underlying fungal disease which should be treated with fungicide. Other problems affecting lawns could be grubs, white, brown or grey. Most of these can be treated with a proprietary spray or powder, the earlier, the better.
Fruit and vegetables
The key work this month is watering, harvesting, and pest control. The reward of all your hard work should certainly be in harvesting and it is time to preserve or freeze as much as possible for a burst of summer sun in the winter months.
You may also find some grapes are ripe for the picking and figs are ready to be plucked off the trees right now (see get stuffed, page 25).
Seeds can be started now for planting out at the end of September or October. Keep the flats or pots in the semi-shade. Try any member of the cabbage family, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.