Nancy Brachey

A job for August: Think about changes in the landscape

When thinking about new plants for your landscape this fall, look for ones, such as this pieris, that promise beauty nearly year-round.
When thinking about new plants for your landscape this fall, look for ones, such as this pieris, that promise beauty nearly year-round. Observer file photo/DAVID T FOSTER III

We are at that in-between stage in the gardening year called August.

Summer’s not over and autumn, the great season for gardening, is still weeks away.

It’s a perfect time for contemplation, which takes only mental energy and should not make you sweat.

What to think about? Why, the state of your landscape. This is a good time to think hard about changes you would like to make this fall. Why this fall? Because that is the ideal, the best, the most favorable time to set out trees and shrubs, always a sizable investment.

Boiled down to the basics, fall is such a great time for this work because both the soil and air are getting cooler and roots have a chance to grow and develop before the more robust top growth that occurs in spring and early summer.

Preparing for this work requires evaluating why you possess already. But beyond mere possession comes the idea of whether you actually like something, either individually or as a group.

You should find beauty in your trees and shrubs, even if they are there to serve a function, such as creating a screen or defining a boundary. Flaws, too, may be evident when you take a close look. It could be such things as an overgrown shrub whose height and width take more space than you like, perhaps encroaching into a driveway or sidewalk. You remedy such problems by pruning every year or two. But is the plant’s appearance worth the trouble? Could it be replaced with something that will be the right size at maturity and produce beautiful flowers and foliage?

Or, perhaps you have plants that bore you in every season and are not interesting. But many fine ornamentals offer year-round beauty from their seasonal flowers, their beautiful foliage or their great structure and shape. These are the real keepers and you know them when you see them because they appeal to the eye.

Vast numbers of interesting shrubs and trees are in the garden centers that will liven up the landscape. That means camellias, chosen for a long season of bloom through the winter and well into spring. And Japanese maples, for example, come in a wealth of textures, sizes and leaf color.

So, you look for the uninteresting, the overgrown and out of shape that await replacement and even the vacant spot awaiting a new resident. This is contemplation that requires thinking and study. And that’s a job for the heat of August.

Nancy Brachey:

Ask Nancy

Q. Last year I planted zinnias in July and had flowers right into November. I was planning on doing the same this year but wonder if there is any chance the seedling will survive the heat. Would it be better to plant them in containers or in the ground?

A. Thanks for your testimonial on the value of planting quick-growing zinnias in late summer. I would plant them in containers so you can protect the seedlings better and then move them to beds when they get bigger. Or, leave them in containers to grow in a sunny spot.