Dog Days

August 3, 2019

It’s that time of year again: The dreaded “dog days” of summer when it is so hot and humid that gardeners have to rise early to scurry about completing chores before heat exhaustion overcomes them.


Believe it or not, the expression “dog days” was coined by the ancient Romans. The hottest days of summer coincide with the rising of the dog star Sirius. It is the brightest star in our sky. The ancients believed that it produced heat along with the sun and so made summer miserable. Our dog days run from July 3 to August 11 so we only have about a week left for this year.


(Photo: These have already rebloomed after deadheading 10 days ago.)


By now some summer vegetables plants are kaput. As these fade, remove them from the garden to make way for an autumn harvest. The abundant rainfall leached nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil. Add to this the brief life cycle of spring and summer crops and it is time to apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer in preparation for the fall garden.


Romaine and looseleaf lettuce can be planted from seed until September 15 and harvested on a cut-and-come-again basis until frost. Set out transplants of broccoli,

cauliflower, and cabbage by mid-August. Seeds of winter greens kale, collards, mustard and turnips may be sown in August, but wait until the second week of September to plant spinach.


(Photo: These petunias need pinching back!) 


Annual flowering plants sprout and flower in one season. Once sufficient seed has been set, flowering ceases and the plant dies. As your marigolds and zinnias go to seed, it is essential to deadhead if you want color until frost. In the case of petunias, pinch them back and apply a liquid fertilizer for renewed vigor to go the distance.


Perennial flowering plants also benefit from deadheading. Monarda, coneflowers, tall phlox and Shasta daisies will rebloom, although the first flush of flowers is the showiest. Certainly the landscape looks better manicured if spent flowers are removed. Roses need deadheading to continue blooming. Some, though, form seed containing “hips” which may be decorative and are a great source of vitamin C.


(Photo: These Shastas are already looking much better after deadheading.)


Annual warm-season weeds are also flowering in order to produce seeds all the better to plague us next summer. A blooming weed is top priority. Hoe those first! Then bag and throw them in the trash. As perennial problems like dandelions bloom I pick and toss the flowers. As they store sugars in the roots for winter, grab the broadleaf herbicide. The plant will take it into the roots and die.


Our average date for the first visit from Jack Frost is October 25. This means that once the heat lets up we have plenty of time to divide spring- and early-summer-blooming perennials. They need about six weeks to become established to survive winter and put on a flower show next year.


(Photo: These beans are finished. Time to think of a crop for fall!)

This is a great time to look around the landscape and plan to add new shrubs, trees or perennials. There are bargains to be had at garden centers as they slash prices to reduce inventory. Last August I found a rose I wanted to try marked down 70 percent! My husband snagged hostas at half the spring price.


The dog days have been a challenge. Fortunately the end is in sight. I love being able to move plants around and add things at the end of the season knowing how

wonderful it will be when spring returns.


Master gardener Ann Bartlett doggedly tends the ornamental beds surrounding her home through the hottest days of summer. You can email her at

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