Tropical Style

Northeast Gardener's August Checklist

February 12, 2019

The final month of summer is bittersweet, even though I’m swatting mosquitoes left and right as I weed in my shade garden. With significant rains in the Northeast in June and July, the mosquitoes are especially awful in August. Many homeowners are visiting the harmful effects of storms dirt driveways that are partly washed out, or sections of asphalt that have collapsed. In addition, a lot of men and women are managing poor drainage problems where clay soils have triggered flood.

Below are some methods to fight both dry and moist conditions using sturdy, flexible plants that could resist day thunderstorms and unrelenting heat.

Paintbox Garden

Create motion with ornamental grasses. I was hooked when I first discovered the beauty of ornamental grasses. What is not to love? They’re simple and hard, and several are drought resistant, excellent for popular websites where water is rare.

That I love the way these grasses unite with a kinetic sculpture at the Coastal Maine Botanic Gardens in Boothbay, Maine.

Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster,’ zones 4 to 11) creates a solid vertical mass on the right and hits its peak with tawny-colored flowers this month.

CYAN Horticulture

Another popular is maiden grass (Miscanthus spp.) , which forms billowing mounds when planted en masse. The slightest puff of wind will cause the flowers to wake up and rustle, making a perceptible and synergistic effect.

Look for Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light,’ zones 4 to 11), which has thin white stripes on its own fine leaves. This creates a great companion plant using native Helen’s flower (Helenium spp.) And coneflowers in large summer borders.

Once established, Miscanthus can be tough to split and even more difficult to proceed, so choose your site carefully, and be prepared to cut everything back in late summer.

Paintbox Garden

Take shelter with a rustic grape pergola. Beat the heat with a structure that provides a shady spot to sit and unwind, but also serves a purpose.

Hardy grape plantations to the Northeast comprise ‘King of the North,’ a late August white avocado, ‘Sabrevois,’ a blue black avocado out of Quebec, and ‘Louise Swenson,’ a white grape for juice, wine and fresh eating. All grapes need good, well-drained soil and full sun for best production.


Use drought-tolerant perennials. Plants that don’t need a good deal of fuss are your friends. They’re worth knowing about because you want your backyard to perform and look good, particularly when the rain gauge is vacant.

Russian Sage, the flowering plant on the top of the rock wall, is among the longest blooming perennials plus it may take hot, arid conditions.

The New York Botanical Garden

Commonly called Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia, zones 4 to 8), these plants are frequently available. The species grows 36 inches tall; smaller ‘Little Spire’ grows to 25 inches and might be a better choice for small spaces. Both peak in August with spikes that attract pollinators.

Yarrows (Alchillea spp.) And tall ‘Powis Castle’ wormwood (Artemesia ‘Powis Castle,’ zones 3 to 2) are stalwart companions along with hyssop, rosemary and lavender.

Paintbox Garden

Boggy, wet websites can be beautiful too. Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium spp.) Is blooming along roadsides and in meadows. This native wildflower is widely flexible and grows well in poor soils so it’s a fantastic selection for a rain garden or swale, or even to devote an area where water pools when rains are heavy.

The species is a bit intimidating — only too tall for many gardens, but there are shorter versions. That is ‘Phantom’ (Dupatorium x ‘Phantom,’ zones 4 to 2), a dwarf that grows about 40 inches tall and brings honeybees and butterflies.

Watch more beauties of the meadow

Lobelia and blazingstar (Liatris spp.) Are other leading perennials (and U.S. natives), but the plant that takes centre stage is purple cohosh, also called bugbane, seen here in the middle of the photograph.

‘Hillside Black Beauty’ (Actea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty,’ zones 4 to 8) prefers moist soils and afternoon shade. There are different purples to select too, so find out exactly what your garden centre has to offer you.

Fragrant wands look that month on airy stems — white or light pink, and they accent the garden and odor particularly good at dusk.

Paintbox Garden

Late bloomers make their appearance. Timing is everything, so they say. There aren’t a lot of perennials that bloom this month, however, those that put on a series late in the season are superstars. When everything else is shot and bedraggled, they glow.

Japanese anemone is a star of the late summer border. Called windflower because of its delicate motion and slim stems, plants produce mounds of stunning foliage that may stand by itself. Anemone ‘Robustissima,’ sets 4 to 2 (pictured here) will probably be blooming in my backyard by late August, along with asters.

Other August garden tasks
Fertilize planters using a slow-release fertilizer or fish emulsion and continue to deadhead.Keep ornamental sweet potato vines clipped if they’re in planters to keep shape.Deadhead zinnias, Mexican sunflowers along with coneflowers.Sow cool-season crops such as arugula, lettuce, spinach, lettuce and lettuce for a late-fall harvest.
Your backyard calendar: Month-by-month guides to gardening in the Northeast

See related