As summer’s heat starts to wane, it’s time to enjoy the last of its bounty while preparing for the cooler months ahead. There are key jobs to do this month to make sure your garden keeps on giving this year, and to avoid problems that could carry over into next season.
So, let’s check off 12 essential tasks to complete over the next few weeks…
1. Multiply Strawberries
Late summer and early autumn is a great time to plant a strawberry patch or add to an existing one. And the great news is it’s really easy to grow new plants from any you might already have.
Strawberries send out lots of long, wiry runners after flowering in summer, and we can use them to grow new plants. Little plantlets grow at intervals along the runners. Just pin these down onto the soil, or into pots if you want to plant them elsewhere. I use U-shaped pins made from thick-gauge wire. The plantlets will often root successfully without pinning them down, but this just makes sure and holds them in place. Keep an eye on them to make sure they stay pinned down, and water in dry weather to encourage growth. Cut the young plants from their parent plants once they’ve rooted, which should take about a month.
I’ll overwinter my new plants in pots either the greenhouse or my cold frame to plant in spring. If you find that your runners have already rooted into the soil and you want to move them elsewhere, carefully dig them up and pot them up for the winter.
2. Ripen Squash
There’s a clever trick we can use to encourage blemish-free ripening of winter squash and pumpkins. To avoid damp soil rotting the fruits, simply slip a tile or slate underneath each one.
3. Save Seeds of Your Homegrown Vegetables
As the end of the growing season approaches why not take your self-sufficiency up a gear by saving your own seeds? I’m still picking my beans right now, but towards the end of the month I’ll leave some pods on the vine to mature into viable seed. Once they’re straw-coloured and brittle, I will shell the pods then bring the seeds inside to finish drying for another week or two before storing them.
It's easy to save seeds from vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and lettuce. Biennial vegetables such as onions, leeks, carrots and chard won’t produce seeds until the following season. To save seeds from those, simply leave a few plants overwinter so they can flower and set seed next summer. If you have the space, this is well worth doing because saved seed means saved money, and you’ll have super-fresh seed better suited to your conditions in your garden.
4. Clear Away Old Crops
It’s a time of transition in the productive garden. Many crops will be coming to an end over the next few weeks, and once they do it makes sense to clear them away to the compost heap as soon as possible to make space for the next crops or to improve the soil for next year.
Dig up and remove the old crop, making sure to remove any fallen bits of leaf or stem, as well as any annual weeds that have snuck in. You can replant immediately, or top up fertility by spreading a thin layer of organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure – about an inch (3cm) thick should do the trick.
5. Plant Spring Cabbages
One vegetable worth making space for is spring-maturing cabbage, which become sweeter after the frozen conditions of winter. Plant seedlings now about 10in (20cm) apart in both directions. Don’t forget to net plants against pigeons or other birds if they’re a nuisance in your garden.
6. Trap Warmth to Protect Plants for Longer
Once evenings turn cooler, shut greenhouse doors and windows by late afternoon if you can to trap daytime warmth for longer. The same goes for cold frames and mini-greenhouses – or any covers you use. It only takes a moment, but will help to speed up ripening of crops like tomatoes and peppers before the end of the season.
7. Sow a Cover Crop
If you have areas of bare soil, sow a cover crop, also known as a green manure. Cover crops are really great because they can help add to add fertility to the soil, suppress weeds, and improve soil structure while you’re not growing anything else.
Which cover crops are suitable for sowing this later in the season? Well, that depends on how harsh your winters are. In my temperate climate there’s still time to sow the likes of mustard, grazing rye, vetch (winter tares), and field beans.
Cover crops are a simple, low-fuss and cheap way to elevate next season’s growth, and are especially useful if, like most of us, you struggle to make enough compost to keep the soil in top-notch condition.
8. Finish Lifting Potatoes
Dig up the last of any spring-planted potatoes before the slugs get at them! Cut back the foliage then dig the tubers up on a dry day. Leave them on the soil surface for a few hours until the skins are completely dry, then store in breathable sacks somewhere cool, dark and airy.
9. Keep Picking
Summer is a time of abundance, and there’s still so much to pick. Harvesting can hardly be called a ‘job’ though, can it? Popping out and picking, plucking and pulling up fresh produce is why we garden, right!?
Warm-season staples like tomatoes, beans, and zucchini will only continue to produce if you keep picking them, so don’t let up. I’m in the equivalent of US hardiness zone 8, which means the end of the growing season isn’t far off now. I want to indulge in as much garden-grown goodness as possible before things slow down so regular checks for ripe fruits and pods are essential.
10. Make Quick Pickled Cucumber
The end may be in sight, but while harvests are still coming thick and fast this is a good opportunity to preserve some of those warm-season vegetables to enjoy later. There are plenty of ways to do that: canning (bottling), freezing, or perhaps dehydrating some of your produce to capture a little taste of sunshine for the colder, less productive months.
If you’ve never preserved before, making quick pickles serves as an excellent introduction as it doesn’t require any special equipment. Gluts of cucumbers are common at this time of year, so they’re a great vegetable to start with. Slice the cucumbers into fairly thinnish rounds then pack them intol heat-proof bottling jars. Leae about a half inch (1cm) gap at the top, so there’s room for the briny pickling liquid.
Pour into a pan 240ml of water and 240ml of distilled white vinegar (or you could use apple cider vinegar for a mellower taste, but expect a pinkish tinge to the final pickles). Next, add a tablespoon and a half of salt, 60ml of sugar, a tablespoon of peppercorns, and a few cloves of garlic. Get this bubbling away to a rolling boil till the salt and sugar have dissolved and then turn off the heat. Once your pickling brine has cooled off a little, pour it into the jars. Make sure that some of the peppercorns and garlic make into each jar.
Screw on the lids then leave it to cool off for an hour. Then add a few sprigs of dill for that classic pickle flavour and – because I can’t resist a punch of heat – a teaspoon of chilli flakes too (you might want to use less!). And then screw the tops back on and put the jars in the fridge.
The pickles will be ready to enjoy within a few days but, let me tell you, the taste only gets better with time! They’ll be good to eat for at least a couple of months.
11. Trimming Hedges
Hedges and shrubs put on tremendous growth over the summer. Mine are definitely in need of a trim now, especially where they’re getting in the way of paths and overhanging growing areas.
Trimming hedges not only tidies them up, it helps to keep them nice and dense too, so they’re better at filtering out air pollution and reducing traffic and other background noise.
Nesting birds should have fledged by this point in the year but check for active nests before cutting just to be sure. To make clearing up easier, lay down tarpaulins to collect the trimmings. When you’re done, bundle it all up and drag it over to the compost heap.
I use a powered hedge trimmer, but hand shears will do the job just fine too. Don safety goggles if you’re pruning anything spiky, and wear thick gloves and sturdy boots when using any powered gardening tools.
Trim off the straggly growth to tidy the hedge up. You could use a stringline if you wanted to make a neater job of more formal hedges. Trim the sides before working on the top. Stand back every now and then to check progress.
12. Sow Winter Salads
And there’s still time to sow a surprising number of other crops, including winter-hardy salads and Asian greens. They are super-fast to germinate at this time of year. Check out our video on this to find out more!