Tips for keeping plants and lawns happy during the dry days of August

·3 min read

August can be the driest month in Western Washington and the plants that will need the most supplemental water will be those in containers and shallow-rooted shrubs such as rhododendrons and azaleas.

Your lawn will need about one inch of water a week to keep it green, but letting a lawn “go golden” in the month of August does not mean it is dead. When the fall rains return, dormant and dry lawns will return to a shade of green. Do not fertilize lawns this month.

Q. I loved your tip on Facebook about shading hydrangeas with an umbrella on hot days. The photo of duct taping the umbrella to the handle of a shovel so you could move it around was brilliant. My question is: Should I also provide shade for my beautiful purple smoke bush on hot days? — S.H.

A. No need to shade a smoke bush as the Continus coggygria is one of many trees and shrubs that will thrive in our summer heat. Lavender, junipers, lantana, salvias, sages and many other plants that originated in hot, dry climates do not need supplemental water or shade from the summer sun.

A great way to get more ideas for heat-loving, unthirsty plants is to notice what is thriving in landscapes that get no extra water ever. This could be abandoned properties or commercial spaces with no sprinkler systems. Invite these tough survivors into your garden and you won’t have watering worries or the need to provide shade when temperatures sneak above 90 degrees.

Q. How do I know when my corn is ripe? — T.K. , Sumner

A. Pull back the husk, just a bit while the ear is still on the stalk. Next, pierce the skin of a kernel with your fingernail. If the sap of the corn is clear, it is not ripe. If the kernel bleeds a sap that is thick and white like cream, it is too ripe. But if the pierced kernel leaks a milky liquid, it is just right.

When it comes to corn, the quicker you cook it after harvesting, the sweeter it will be. To enjoy the sweetest harvest of the year, boil the water on the stove and then harvest your ears so you can plop them into boiling water just minutes after harvesting. The sweet reward for growing your own.

Q. I had beautiful delphiniums in my garden for the first time because I bought a large potted plant from the grocery store. I transplanted it into my garden and it grew almost 6 feet tall! Now the flowers are spent. Do I cut them back? Leave them alone? I am a new gardener. — P., Email

A. Delphiniums win the award for being the most dramatic blue, white or lavender perennials you can grow in a Western Washington garden. After delphiniums put on their big show in July, you can cut back the tallest blooming spikes and this will encourage side shoots to flower for a second cycle of blooms. Once most of the petals from these side shoots have turned brown, cut back the entire delphiniums plant so that it is just 2 to 3 feet tall. Now fertilize, water and wait for an encore of blooms later in the summer.

When fall arrives, you can let your delphinium turn brown and go dormant over the winter. In early spring, remove any old growth to make way for the fresh green leaves that will sprout in April. Fertilize and protect delphiniums from slugs in the spring.

If you pamper this diva spring, summer and fall, you will be applauding a fantastic delphinium show in your summer garden for years to come.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at