"First week of August," by the Whistling Gardener

Are you a princess? Do you need a princess flower?  Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Are you a princess? Do you need a princess flower? Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

This is it folks, the final lap of the summer gardening season when all our hard work should come to a crescendo. August is high summer for us and perennials should be at the height of their glory, ornamental grasses in a state of perfection, roses resplendent with color and annuals still lush and inviting.

While spring is a beautiful time of the year, summer has so much more to offer in terms of color, form, and texture. The choices are almost endless and with a little planning and some consistent maintenance, this seasonal climax can happen in our gardens year after year.

The truth of course is that perfection in the garden is a moving target. The entire composition of a garden is constantly changing as the season progresses, so it is difficult to bring it all together at one time. But with enough variety, we should be able to create the overall illusion that everything looks fabulous (despite having some plants that will be past their blooms and fading away).

The trick is to be ready to fill in the gaps when they appear and keep the eye moving from one star to another.

Just yesterday, I noticed that the black aphids had arrived (seemingly overnight) to finish off the nasturtiums. They will come out this week and something, yet to be determined, will replace them for the balance of the summer.

My wife’s Campanula lactiflora, with its powder blue flowers that stand four to five feet tall, are just about finished but right behind them are Joe Pye and Helianthus Lemon Queen, ready to take center stage and keep the excitement going.

Gardens are a lot like stage productions. There are many different actors, changing sets and scenes and a series of acts that all come together in the end to form the play. As the play progresses, it ultimately ends in some sort of crescendo and that is exactly what should happen in the month of August in our gardens.

This is not the time to toss in the towel but rather it is the time to get our second wind and finish off what we started five months ago. All it really takes is some consistent food, water and a generous layer of mulch to keep our gardens looking their best well into September. Here are few other pointers…

Pruning - Call it “editing” if you like, but this is an excellent time to thin plants out, shape them, remove suckers and water spouts and generally fine tune the garden. Just like a haircut, every four to six weeks we need to take a little off the sides and on top. Don’t forget to stake up taller perennials now before they flop.

Roses - Still lots of blooms to come on roses if we keep deadheading and fertilizing. Watch for mildew. It’s a whole lot easier to prevent then it is to get rid of once you have it. Whether you use a synthetic or natural product, don’t wait.

Lawns - August is usually a slow month for lawns. By the end of the month the nights will be cooling down and lawns will be kicking into gear again. That will be the signal to reseed, aerate, de-thatch, overhaul or plant a new lawn - more on that later in the month.

So don’t give up. Get out to the garden center and see what you can add that will keep your garden looking interesting and exciting. Our goal should be nothing short of a standing ovation.

Sunnyside will be hosting a free class next Saturday, August 5th, 2017, at 10 am on “Perfect Perennials For Summer.”

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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