August is the month for vacationing. It’s tough to mow the lawn, keep the flowers watered and contend with thirsty hanging baskets when you’re spending a week at the beach.
Here are a few questions from readers along with my tips for putting a garden on vacation.
Q. How often must I mow the lawn in August? If we go on vacation for two weeks is it okay to wait until we return to mow the lawn? We do not want to pay someone to mow while we are away, but don’t want a dead lawn when we return. I know, we are cheap and lazy. Don’t print my name. Anon, email
A. Cheap and lazy is permitted two weeks out of the year when it comes to lawn care. Just don’t fertilize before you leave on your vacation. You are also are not allowed to pout if you return to a lawn that has “gone golden” or turned brown during the dry days of August.
In our climate, lawns that are allowed to go dormant in the summer with no additional water do return to a healthy green in the fall when the rains return. Be sure to mow and edge the lawn before you leave – and don’t scalp a tall lawn by cutting it low when you return. Set the mower to the highest level, remove the top third of the blades then wait a few days and mow again to gradually shorten an overgrown lawn. The best advice about how often to mow in our climate is to remove one third the height of the grass when the blades get to be 2 to 3 inches tall. Usually once a week in August.
Q. What are we supposed to do with our hanging baskets before we leave for vacation? I remember once you wrote a column about leaving your plants behind. Thanks. G.T., Tacoma
A. Hanging baskets do not do well without water during the end of summer because the mature plants have roots that have grown to fill all the soil space. The best solution is to have someone water daily while you are away, but I may have written about how to cut back petunias and other hanging plants by one half right before you leave town. This is a drastic way of getting rid of faded blooms and also stimulates annuals to send out new growth for a second act this fall. The reason to do this before you go on vacation is so that you don’t have to look at the ugly results of such drastic action. The reality is that during warm weather hanging baskets may need water twice a day. You may want to just let your baskets hang out at a friend’s house while you are gone.
Potted plant tip: Some potted plants will just never have a drinking problem and can adapt to a week or so without any extra water at all. Yuccas, sedums and succulents are three that should be used in pots far away from a water source or in gardens where watering is a hit or miss affair. Notice how small pots like ornamental urns dry out so quickly? Use drought-resistant sedums or spiky yuccas in these formal-looking footed pots and they’ll be “urning” your respect all summer.
Q. I have a hanging plant that has blue flowers but it is not lobelia. It takes full sun and the flowers are kinda small but radiate out from the stem. I lost the plant tag. Can you tell what it is? P., Email
A. My best guess on your mystery plant is scaevola, either “Blue Wonder” or “New Wonder” as this is one of the few true blue hanging plants that do well in the sun. This drought-resistant bloomer is from Australia so it can take the heat. A nice surprise is that the scaevola are perennials in mild winter climates so you can move your basket into a garage or basement this fall and see if you can keep it alive until next summer. The trick with overwintering tender perennials is to keep the plants dormant by giving them just a bit of water once a month and keeping them in a cold, dark location so they sleep through winter. In April you can repot, fertilize and hang your Scaevola basket up again for an encore performance.Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and will answer questions at her website binettigarden.com.