“Can I start a garden in August?” Yes, you can! Around this time of the year, many gardeners give up. Their once thriving June crops are slowly dying and turning yellow, beaten down by the summer heat and wildlife. Or they may simply be tired of tending to their garden as the novelty of growing their own food has worn off.
I get it. I recently pulled out some cucumber plants that had been destroyed by insects. While it can be frustrating to lose a crop to pests or wildlife, there is hope in August. Instead of throwing your arms up in despair, plant a fall garden through succession planting.
Garden in August
What is Succession Planting?
Succession planting is planting is the practice of making use of both your time and available garden space when it comes to planning your garden. It takes some planning but with the right plan you can enjoy a spring garden, summer garden and a fall harvest and really take advantage of every single growing day in your season.
Where I live we have a hard winter so for me this means I need to plant a fresh set of short-season crops in the location where I had another crop previously. As one crop reaches the end of its useful growing season, you plant another.
In the example above, where my cucumbers were I have now planted snow peas, spinach and green onions. In another bed that house my spring peas and carrots I have planted some fall squash.
Timing Your Planting
Timing your succession planting with your typical first fall frost date is essential in order to start a garden in August. Here in Northern Ohio the first chance of frost typically falls mid-October. This means I need to select and plant crops that will grow quickly and mature before that date.
As you reach that date you will need to pay close attention to the forecast, and if frost is expected, cover your crops with a protective layer such as a bed sheet. In addition to covering when frost is expected you can also try to keep some crops and cover them more permanently throughout the fall and winter to extend the season.
Crops that work best for this are cold hardy or frost tolerant. Examples include carrots and some varieties of lettuce. In the photo below you can see my lettuce growing in the dead of winter when there is also snow on the ground. The lettuce did well that year also because we had a mild winter.
What to Plant in August?
When you start a garden in August you will want to pick crops based on their maturation date. Some cool season crops such as lettuce, spinach and mustard mature quickly. They could be ready to pick in as little as 30 to 45 days.
You will want to count back from your average first frost date to determine how many days you have to grow a crop. In addition at looking at how many days it takes a plant to mature, you need to add on the days it will take the seed to sprout. This is usually anywhere from five to 14 days.
Finally you need to consider how much time you will have to harvest and enjoy the crop. If you are planting snow peas for example, you would not want them to be ready to pick on the frost date. Ideally you want to start even sooner so that you can pick peas for several weeks before that frost date.
When planning a fall garden you will want to plant these seeds in August, or in July. Other popular cool season crops include radishes, carrots, peas and broccoli. Here’s a full list of plants that are popular to plant in August because they mature quickly and/or they grow well in cooler temperatures:
- Peas or Snow Peas
- Mustard Greens
- Green Onions (also called Scallions)
- Regular Onions
- Swiss Chard
If you are like me and grow from seed (I recommend Botanical Interests) you will want to purchase and plant your succession crops ASAP. I almost always grow from seed so my experience is a little biased toward the very quick maturing vegetables.
When looking to plant a garden in August I typically will only plant vegetables that will mature in 65 days or less. On the shortest end, I have some mesclun lettuce that will mature in only 30 days.
Also be sure to look at different varieties when selecting seeds for fall harvest. Some carrots will mature in 55 days, others will mature in 75 days. Those 20 days can make a huge difference when planning a fall garden. Usually you will want to select the variety that matures quickest, and a variety that preferably also says “cold hardy” or “frost tolerant” on the package.
Another option is to check your local garden center for marked down vegetable plants. If you were to find a cabbage or cauliflower plant that is already decent size you might be able to plant it in August and still be able to harvest it on time before your fall frost.
Purchasing a live plant can cut reduce the number of days until maturation. These plants were probably intended for sale in May or June and you are buying them on markdown in July or August.
Water and Fertilize Your August Garden
Now that you have selected your seeds or purchased live plants, you want to set your fall garden up for success. I like to loosen up the soil and mix it up a bit before starting new seeds. Water your seeds adequately to ensure they sprout.
Continue to be mindful of watering if you do not receive much rain, which is common in late summer. Most vegetables will want about 1 inch of water per week. Once seedlings appear after you start a garden in August, top dress your garden beds with grass clippings or mulch to help retain moisture.
Keep weeds at bay so they don’t choke out your seedings. Also apply wildlife deterrent, such as Liquid Fence if you think deer or rabbits will threaten your new crops. It can be especially devastating if a rabbit comes along and eats an entire seedling. And this will set back your progress. Every day is essential when planning a fall garden.
Once the plants are established I liked to fertilize to give the fall garden a small boost. You can fertilize up to once a month with most products. So you might plant to fertilize in August, September and then October. Fertilizer (I use Espoma’s Organic Plant Tone Fertilizer) will help to add nutrients back to the soil that your spring and early summer season crops used up.
Use a Cold Frame Box
As I mentioned earlier, if you have a cold frame box you may be able to keep your garden growing well past your frost date. I have included another photo above of our box with snow on it, while lettuce was growing inside. A few years ago I had lettuce growing until December.
Another option to extend the growing season is to build or buy a hoop house. There are tutorials online or you can even buy a kit and follow the directions to assemble it. There are other terms for these as well such as tunnels or row covers. There are a lot of different sizes available so depending on the size of your property and the size garden you want you can buy a small or large one.
You can also cover crops with blankets but these must be removed and reapplied daily which can become work and they will only work until a certain temperature. I find that method works best when my region is experiencing occasional frost, but it’s warmer and sunny during the day.
Start a Garden
You can easily start a garden in August. It will take some advanced planning and effort but being able to enjoy your harvest, or a second harvest into the fall is wonderful. You will want to plant your seeds in August or perhaps July, depending on where you live and your growing season.
This year I have planted an August garden and it includes carrots, spinach, green onions, snow peas, kale and mesclun lettuce. I look forward to enjoying these crops into the fall and, if I’m lucky, the winter.
I hope these tips help you start a garden in August. What will you plant?
*This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated and republished for accuracy and comprehensiveness.