University City

August tips for University City gardeners

Everybody knows our climate is ideal for Asian plants. Crape myrtles, camellias and landscape azaleas may seem as Southern as grits and sweet tea, but all are actually immigrants from places like China, Korea and Japan.

It makes me wonder whether the support for immigration reform expressed by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina comes not from any political calculus, but from a stroll around his landscape with a botany book one Sunday morning.

Maybe the senator experienced an epiphany. Maybe he realized that, given a fair opportunity and good soil, immigrants can make a tremendous contribution to our American identity – in both the cultural and as well as horticultural arenas.

True, there’s always kudzu; but it is neither sensible nor charitable to lump the good with the bad.

The Asian connection gives me another inspiration this relentlessly wet summer.

With the garden flooded and parts of the yard under water, I’m thinking of trying rice. It, too, is an Asian plant that should thrive here, at least as long as these relentless rains keep up. Or maybe I’ll try fish – koi, for instance.

Rainy or not, August is traditionally a busy time in the University City area, both in the garden and in daily life.

By the middle of the month, school will be starting again, with the annual migration immigration of UNCCharlotte students returning to classes.

In the food garden, it is time to swing from summer to fall, one of the most important pivot points of the gardening year. At least the landscape and lawn are in something of a holding pattern until the fall, so we can focus on edibles.

Care for clay

Care for clay: A reminder is in order as you prepare to work in the garden: Before you do any heavy work on clay soil, wait until it dries out enough to crumble in your hand.

Our clay soil is wonderfully productive – if you treat it right and unlock its potential with a bit of compost or other source of organic matter. But you must respect it, and leave it alone when it gets too wet.

Fall crops

Fall crops: Fall is the favorite time of year for many old-time Carolina Piedmont gardeners. Lettuce, broccoli, greens and root vegetables all thrive in our mild fall weather. The trick is to start them now, in August. Nurse them carefully through hot spells with mulch and religious watering. Some gardeners even improvise shade.

Lettuce and root crops are started from seed; broccoli and cabbage are usually from transplants. Transplants used to show up in local hardware stores at about the right time. That’s still true of Renfrow Hardware in Matthews, which also has a fine selection of organic and local seeds.

Locally, it’s worth trying Davis General Merchandise and Whitener’s Greenhouse, both on Old Statesville Road, and Faulk Brothers Hardware on North Tryon Street. Maybe we need something like food truck: a “garden truck” that drives around offering good seeds and transplants at the right time for planting.

Summer vegetables

Summer vegetables: Tomatoes, green beans and other summer crops – at least those that haven’t washed away – should be going strong. Keep okra, squash and green beans picked regularly, and get weeds under control.

Any tomatoes that are blasted by blight, where leaves turn brown, should be removed. As long as the plant is living, it can spread the disease. Feed eggplants and peppers with a side dressing of organic fertilizer.

Storms bring heavy winds. Consider bracing peaked peppers and other plants with bamboo or other tastefully inconspicuous (and cheap) stakes.

Choices, choices

Choices, choices: Most of us home food growers face a choice, since we have limited space. Do we plant a last round of summer crops or go all out for fall? Planting quick (60-day) varieties of bush beans – contender is a tried and true variety – and summer squash, or even Long Keeper tomatoes (the kind you wrap in newspapers to ripen in November and December), will all work, but that takes space away from the fall crops.

I used to always go for fall crops, but with the heartening increase in local vegetable growers, there should be lots of cool-season crops available in farmers’ markets at Newell, Davidson, Atherton Mill and elsewhere round the region, come October.

Either way, as a home or community gardener, you should plant whatever you want.

Brown patch in lawns

Brown patch in lawns: Be on the lookout for brown patch, a fungus disease that kills areas of the lawn. If your lawn experiences this problem, call Cooperative Extension and talk with a horticulture agent or one of their trained Master Gardener volunteers. It may not be fungal, but a sign of grubs, and treating for the wrong thing just wastes money and hurts the environment.

Hold off on adding fertilizer to fescue lawns. You can apply a small amount to Bermuda grass lawns. If you don’t know the difference, that’s another good reason to call the good folks at the Extension.

Shrubs and trees

Shrubs and trees: Wait until later in the year to fertilize shrubs and trees. Fertilizing now will stimulate new growth and prepare your plants to handle the stress when autumn temperatures drop.

Plan ahead and prepare the soil. Later this fall will be prime time for transplanting and adding new woody plants to the landscape, including fruit crops such as blueberries and figs.