Tips to Keep Your Late Summer Garden Going Strong

What Your Garden Needs Now

As the growing season winds down in the temperate zones of the US, gardeners have their work cut out for them. Flower and vegetable gardens alike have mature plants that have become scraggly and leggy with brown leaves, an overwhelming array of dead flower heads…the list goes on.

How can you begin to tame this jungle and get things back in shape?


Most blooming perennials have finished their first bloom period and are getting ragged-looking by now. This is a good time to trim the plants back by about half. Remove dead stems, leaves, and spent flowers.

If you do this about late July, most perennials will have time to bloom again, sometimes giving a better display than the first round. A final dose of fertilizer now will perk up most plants and strengthen them for the winter.

You can also choose varieties that time the bulk of their blooms for the late summer and early fall.

Perennials should not be fertilized later in the fall, because they are moving into dormancy.

Herb Garden

Leggy herbs should be trimmed back now as well. Dry or freeze the trimmings from your herbs, so nothing goes to waste. A mid-season trim for some perennial herbs is the perfect way to reshape them. This is also a good time to root cuttings and start new plants. More plants! What a great way to tame that overgrown look.


Many annuals are just reaching their prime blooming period. Keep them deadheaded, and they will continue to give you flowers for a few more weeks.

Another fertilizer application will give them the boost they need, especially if the weather has been hot and harsh. Be sure everything is well watered. Check for insect damage, and use appropriate organic treatments.

Potted Plants

Pinch back leggy growth and prune out dead stuff. Try to reshape the plant so it will refill the pot with its final growth spurt of the summer. Apply fertilizer for a final time to encourage new growth, and your plants should take off.

The shortening day lengths will cause some plants to make a huge final effort to set seeds, which translates into more flowers.


Check your lawn for brown spots or worn areas. Try to determine the cause of brown spots. If they are from pet potty, water the spots really well 3 or 4 days in a row to dilute and wash away the residue, then reseed them. If the problem is grubs or insect damage, treat for the infestation and then reseed.

If the damage is from children playing, be happy that they are having fun and playing outside. When school starts, replant the grass. My advice is: Never waste time stressing about grass.

Vegetable Garden

Depending on what you are growing in your vegetable patch, you will have some spent plants and probably areas of weeds that you just couldn’t keep up with. As soon as corn is picked, pull the plants and cut them up for the compost.

All of the early cole plants are gone by now, so get them into the compost pile if they aren’t already. Break up the stems of broccoli and cabbage so they will decompose faster. Unless you’ve already replanted a late lettuce, clean up the lettuce bed.

Tomatoes are still producing, right? If not, indeterminate varieties may surprise you with some really nice sized late summer fruits. Clean up the plants a bit, make sure they are supported well, and fertilize them again. They should have some new blooms in a few days. Determinate tomato varieties like Roma will produce one crop and then wither; you can clean up these varieties as soon as you’ve picked all of the fruits.

Green beans tend to get scraggly, although as long as they are blooming, they will continue to produce. Side dress them with some compost to support them through more production. Pole or bush beans, it doesn’t matter . . . I give them similar treatment.

Summer squash may still be going strong. If you have kept the fruits picked, the plants will keep on producing for a very long time. A side dressing of compost will give them a boost. Sometimes I’m just tired of zucchini and I want the space for something else. . . so I get rid of the squash plants use the space for fall broccoli or cabbage.

Melons are ripening about now. Once they’re picked, clean up the vines to avoid carry-over diseases and insects. Winter squash and pumpkins will keep going until fall.

Side dress them with compost, and it can help them through late summer heat. All of these squash and melons and other vine based crops need plenty of water all season long, but especially during hot August weather.

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