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Q and A: Dog days of summer in the garden

Should you fertilize in August? What about new growth on your veggie plants? Garden expert Jim Hole has the answers.
tomatoes
Pinch any new flowers off your beefsteak tomatoes; they won't have a chance to grow before frost. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

Alberta gardening expert Jim Hole knows plenty about the garden at all times of year, but when it's late summer, and the sun is ripening the tomatoes, pepper, corn and other heat-loving veggies, he's in his happy place. Here's a few thoughts on what to do in the dirt this month.

Q: Should we thin our tomato plants and other ripening vegetables?

Hole: For the big beefsteak-type tomatoes, pinch any flowers now, because those won't have a chance to become fruit and grow. Those tomatoes take six weeks to grow the big fruit. Don't be scared to trim the leaves either, because any growth now is taking energy away from growing the existing fruit. You don't want to prune cherry tomatoes much, because they'll continue to produce fruit. But the same goes for big squashes or pumpkins, zucchini--any new flowers coming out in August won't have chance to grow and ripen.

Q: We're already at that point in the season?

Hole: The longest day was June 22, so we've been losing daylight ever since. And we usually get a frost between Sept. 15-20. So yes, through August you're trying to get the most heat and sunlight exposure to the plants as possible. Things like beans, potatoes, onions and carrots can keep going, and herbs and other container plants can keep growing too.

Q: What about garden pests? Fertilizing?  Watering?

Hole: If it's dry, water about an inch a week on lawn and garden--but don't water the sidewalk, it drives me crazy and wastes water when we have irrigation issues. Don't fertilize in August, you should be pretty much done with that. For pests, the hot, dry summer means we've had little worry with slugs. But aphids, spider mites and ants love the weather. You can wash plants with insecticidal soap, but you can also use your garden hose to spray off a lot of pest problems, on top and underside of leaves. You can just get used to living with the few anthills in your yard, but if you want to get rid of them, pour boiling water into overturned anthills. They hate water.

Q: Are you learning any lessons from this year's planting season?

Hole: Plant early and plant often. I'm going to do more frequent plantings next year. This year I put peas in a few times, but next year, I'll do sow them in six times. Put a little in at a time, and you'll have a steadier harvest throughout the growing season.