Late summer is assessment time in the garden

  • Article by: RHONDA HAYES , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 26, 2014 - 7:10 PM

Instead of grabbing a rake, get out a notebook and your cellphone to record your season’s successes and failures.

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If you want to refresh your containers or plantings, buy a few fall plants now, while there’s more of a selection.

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Every gardener knows which garden is the best of all: next year’s.

That’s why even though many of our yards are at their peak, we’re already making plans for spring. It’s kind of hard not to take stock of your garden toward the end of the growing season.

So go ahead, give your garden a thorough going over. Take notes on what worked. Was there a flower or foliage combination that really popped? Make plans to repeat it again. Did you end up with too many eggplants (or ugg-plants, as I call them) and not enough peppers? You’ll want to adjust your planting plans.

Just make sure you take the time to enjoy your garden. As it is. Now.

Take pictures of your garden — from as many angles as you can, up close, from the sidewalk, even from across the street. If you had a successful year, those pictures will be a source of comfort during what may be a long, cold winter. Even if this wasn’t your best year, those pictures can help you evaluate your garden with a critical eye.

One trick is to take black-and-white photos. (Just use the edit function on your phone or computer.) Colorless photos weed out distractions and help you focus on the design and structure of your garden.

If it looks like a monotone gray blob, maybe you need more variation in the tones of your foliage. Consider adding plants with silver, gold or variegated foliage to lighten up your garden.

If everything is the same height, include a small tree or several larger shrubs. If the plants all have the same shape, change them up. If the leaves are all the same size and shape, introduce different textures. Feathery grasses can help to blend plantings, while one specimen plant with oversized foliage or interesting structure can add just the right accent.

Manage your harvest

Keep picking your vegetables so they’ll continue to produce. (Even if you’re overwhelmed with cucumbers or tomatoes, pick them, then donate them to a food bank.)

Freeze all the fresh veggies you can and sign up for a canning and pickling class and learn how to safely preserve your bumper crop.

When the harvest is over, think about which garden goodies you and your family enjoyed most and which were shoved to the side of the dinner plate. Next spring, vow to be in better harmony with your harvest.

To make even more delicious veggie dishes next year, plant more herbs. You’ll thank me.

Also, aim to maximize your production by using the succession-sowing method. Once the spinach is spent, sow beans in that same spot. When the beans have run their course, consider a fall planting of carrots.

If you’d like to expand your garden, but don’t have the room, go vertical with space-hogging plants like squash and melons next year.

Refresh your containers

Until you’re ready to replace the plants in your containers, continue to deadhead and trim them to keep them looking nice.

If your containers look a tad ratty, buy fall plants now, before they’re picked over. If your petunias went kaput, pop in some ornamental peppers or curly kale.

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