What to do in August

Front yard in August: runners, squash and flowers

August is usually one of the best months for harvest in the container garden. Courgettes, tomatoes, chillies, runner beans and soft fruit are all ripening and delicious.

Jobs to do in the container garden this month include

  1. Tying up and support
  2. Tidying up, cutting back
  3. Feeding and watering
  4. Picking
  5. Sowing for winter 
August home grown stir fry: courgettes, runner beans, French beans, tomatoes, kale, spring onions, Vietnamese coriander and mint.
August home grown stir fry: courgettes, runner beans, French beans, tomatoes, kale, spring onions, Vietnamese coriander and mint.

1. Tying up and support

Fruiting crops like tomatoes and squash can get quite top heavy this month as the fruit fills out. If not supported, stems may break or plants may fall over. Use canes, sticks, cages – be as creative as you like – to support your crops. Be particularly sure to check this when heavy rain or strong winds are forecast.

2. Tidying up, cutting back.

When growing in a small space, you can often find that some plants will start overshadowing others, particularly at this time of year.  You can remove some of the leaves without harming the plant. (As a general rule of thumb don’t remove more than a third of the leaves in one go). You can do this to expose tomatoes to the sun to ripen, to take off leaves that are shading over crops, or simply to remove old, withered leaves. This job is best done on a dry day to minimise the risk of disease.

FFlavour ladder in August: as you can see everything is a bit of a jungle... It's a good idea to cut back some plants and move others around to make sure that none are too heavily overshadowed.
Flavour ladder in August: as you can see everything is a bit of a jungle… It’s a good idea to cut back some plants and move others around to make sure that none are too heavily overshadowed.


3. Feeding and watering

See July notes.

4. Picking

As a general rule of thumb, the more you pick the more you get. This is particularly true for runner beans (pick them small to encourage more to grow) and courgettes (zucchini).

5. Sowing crops for winter

If your climate is warm enough, (most of the UK is, for example), sowing some things now for winter can be a really good idea because:

  • Pots full of winter veg simply look so much better than bare pots.
  • Winter crops will help prevent nutrients leaching out of your soil.
  • And of course, it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to pop outside in winter and pick a salad – and winter grown leaves often taste better, too!

Here are some ideas of what grows well in winter and when to sow it.

Your turn

How are things growing in your container garden this year? What’s doing well and not sow well? Anything you are particularly proud of or particularly enjoying eating this year?

25 thoughts on “What to do in August”

  1. Laura de Sherbinin

    Here’s a question: what can be done with the compost in pots/ tubs which have grown tomato plants that developed blight? Is it safe to grow other crops in it? Or Is it ok to add the compost to soil where tomatoes will not be grown in future?

    1. Hi Laura, it is fine to re-use the compost. Some people say you shouldn’t use it the following year to grow tomatoes again… That might be good advice – although I have grown tomatoes again in compost even though the tomatoes in the previous season got blight and they have been fine. Blight is a fungus and it is also killed if it is well composted.

      1. Hi Mark.
        May I enquire how you store your used compost over winter? I prefer not to leave it in the tubs/containers so would old compost bags be suitable?
        Thank you,

        1. Hi Jessie, I try to grow something in my pots all winter – they look better with plants and the roots help hold in the nutrients and feed the soil. However, if you are emptying your pots, it should be find in old compost bags – just try to make sure that it doesn’t dry out (it’s hard to rewet) or get waterlogged, and make sure air can get to it so it can breathe. Hope this helps.

    1. Hi Sophia.
      I think we are all guilty of ‘overdoing it’ with veggie plants. I have a tip for a great tasty way of freezing tomatoes that I am doing this year. I just grow tumbler type, haven’t tried the large types yet but sure this would work with either.
      Slice tomatoes (I slice even the little ones into three pieces), lay in an oven tray, sprinkle with chopped garlic and olive oil and pop into the oven when you are cooking something else (save energy!) but on bottom shelf. Just leave in while oven cools – in fact cook like meringue – then open freeze in same tray.
      Not quite dried tomatoes, mine when defrosted still have some moisture, but so many uses for sliced, garlicky tomatoes ! Of course if you aren’t keen on garlic sprinkle with herbs.

      1. That’s a great tip Jessie. I tend to make passata with my extra tomatoes (homegrown tomato sauce in mid-winter is a big treat), but I like your idea a lot and will definitely try it over the next few weeks. Roasting tomatoes does bring out the best taste in them.

        1. Worth a try Mark, though it takes time as I find slicing the tomatoes a quarter of an inch = half a centimetre – before baking then freezing works best. I also freeze the cherry tomatoes whole, and that is much easier I admit, but bread, cheese and defrosted roasted sliced toms can be delicious !!

  2. Hi Mark
    Really helpful and inspiring tips as ever!Re ‘additives’ – I try to garden organically so don’t use anything chemical but have had no success using coffee grounds. I think I read somewhere that caffeine stunts plant growth, is this true?However this year I tried using Epsom salts in my containers- amazing effects on my blueberry bushes and leafy salads!! I hope this counts as organic,it certainly has been really noticeable in improving the fruit harvest.

  3. Inspired by your blog and photos I planted bush French beans, runner beans, beetroot, patty pan, spinach, pak choi, Tumbler tomatoes and short carrots in pots.
    Sadly though the runner beans grew I’ve had few flowers so no beans?? My pak choi bolted, then I read advice to plant after midsummer’s day so sowed another batch but they haven’t grown well. I think the spinach is bolting too !
    I’m not put off, the yellow French beans are producing well and carrots look good and hoping the beetroot continue and the spring onions.
    Please though, what happened to the rest of my crop? Big pots, home made compost mixed with bought compost, regular watering – where have I gone wrong? I just thought runner beans were an almost guaranteed crop?
    Sowed some pea and beans last week for the shoots and they are coming up thankfully.
    Appreciate suggestions and advice, keep on keeping on.

    1. Hello Jessie, it sounds like you are having some very good successes, well done. The most important thing is to try things, learn as you go, and don’t get too downhearted if things don’t work – exactly as you are doing. One of the mysteries of growing is that, each year, some things seem to grow better than others, and nearly all of us have some things that don’t work. It’s good to try and work out why things aren’t growing – just as you are doing – and often (but not always) you can.

      Usually it’s down to one of these things: not enough sun, poor quality soil, lack of nutrients (or occasionally too much), lack of water (or too much), or a pot that is too small. Other things like the weather can affect success, too. Runner beans are one of those crops that seem easy when they work (and often they do) but there a range of reasons why they don’t always produce well. They like warmth, a good sized pot, lots of watering – and they need pollinating. But if your French beans are doing well, I’d expect your runners to as well. Are they getting enough sun – they need about 5 hours or more at least. Pak Choi can also be a tricky one, and even when it grows well, slugs love it. I sometimes find mid to late August sowings can work well. It likes the cooler weather of later summer and autumn. Good luck with it Jessie and congratulations again on all you have achieved so far.

  4. Inspired by your website,I decided to have a go.I have grown potatoes,bush tomatoes in a pot, dwarf beans in a pot,strawberries and salad leaves in hanging baskets and parsley,thyme and mint in pots.Also your tip about repotting .supermarket herbs has led to a bushy basil plant that keeps producing. Not stressing about not being a natural gardener has meant that I just planted and waited to see what happened.I am thrilled with the results.Thank you for the inspiration that led me to try.

    1. Fantastic Caroline, congratulations on your growing. I don’t think many of us are natural gardeners – it’s more about just giving it a go, observing and learning from what works and what doesn’t. Thanks for taking the time to let me know about your successes, it is very motivating to hear!

  5. Hi
    I grow tomatoes in the same spot as last year. They were planted out more or less at the same time (second half of May). Interestingly enough, this year they are a good month later ripening – although we’ve had record temperatures here in Switzerland (especially in June). A professional veg farmer told me, tomatoes need warm nights to ripen – and this we haven’t had this year.
    Best regards from Merligen, Switzerland

  6. Hi Mark, It,s like you live in my garden, you know what I need and when. I was pottering today picking strawberries and rhubarb (yes they are still fruiting really well). Clearing out tubs that are over and scrubbing them out and feeling sorry that it wouldn’t be long and I would have to start paying money for salads fruit and veg and there you were with suggestions after a plough through all the myriad of free seeds from family, friends and my favorite garden mag I have nearly all the seeds you suggested so tomorrow I start sowing again thanks Mark for keeping me fed with healthy food during the Winter. Hope your holiday was fab. Did you get any interesting photos of container gardening in France can you share them with us. Love and good growing to everyone who strives and to those of us who potter.

  7. Hi. Apart from my tomatoes everything is harvested now and was wondering if it is okay to re use the compost I have in the pots. I bought bags of the stuff this year. I even wondered if I bought a composter and put it in there. Would be grateful of any advice.

    1. My practice has been to take the top third of my planter soil out of pots each year and replace that with new compost i.e worm castings, sheep manure, fish or forest compost. etc. Mix it in well and then let it mellow until you are ready to plant in that container. I am a big believer in prepping soil early and then letting it sit for a while to encourage microbial action.

      Tomatoes are heavy feeders and their container soil needs to be replenished each season. What do I do with the soil that I have removed? I renew it as well by adding compost and then I let it mellow in a bucket or soil bag that I have saved for a few months to regenerate. Come spring I will reuse it in another planter for other veggies.

      I grow on a roof and during the winter I cover all of my containers so they are not water logged by spring and the top soil has not dried and blown away by the wind.

      You might find this article of some interest. I have not used this particular soil formula yet. I use another but I like her soil prep method and the ingredients she recommends.

      As for putting your soil into a compost bin I would not. Collect the fallen leaves your neighbours bag in the fall, chop them up. Then walk to your closest coffee shop and ask them for a bag of spent coffee grinds. Then mix both of those ingredients together and let them mellow. You will have the best compost in your neighbourhood. Spent coffee grinds are nearly 100% nitrogen and leaf mould becomes black goal for your garden. Google it on YouTube.

      Mike McGrath Everything You Know about Composting is Wrong:

      Coffee Grounds: How and why we use them in our garden

  8. I’ve been having a go with Summer Ball pumpkin/courgettes this year. They’ve produced lots of flowers and a lot of very small fruit (about ping-pong ball size) but they seem to either rot or get eaten before growing any larger! The weather being so soggy isn’t exactly helping. Any tips?

    1. Google (YouTube) hand pollination for your courgettes and pumpkins. I hand pollinated my courgettes all summer and it definitely increased my yield.

      Also research terminating the vines on pumpkins, melons etc as that will help the plant concentrate its ripening energies.

  9. Well here in Chatt Tn we have had a crazy amount of rain. My Cucumbers turned yellow the Tomatoes were rotting and splitting before they had a chance to get to a decent size. I planted a second round of Cucumbers only to have another round of rain. My Zucchini never produced anything I was told that they were probably not getting pollinated. I am going to try another round of both since we are heading back to the high 80’s the rain is still on a daily basis but I’m gonna try anyway. I found I have a critter that likes peppers and tomatoes. Other then the bugs I have enjoyed gardening and learning. Can you give any tips on Rosemary from seeds I can’t even get the first twig.I have started them indoors and out. I also bought 3 Basil plants and the leaves never got big beautiful they have been outside the whole time. Thank you

    1. Hi Brenda
      Nice to hear how you are enjoying your growing and learning.
      Rosemary is a tricky plant to start from seed. I did try and grow it from seed once many years ago – but I had no success. I then learnt that it is much easier to grow from a cutting, and that’s what I always do now. If you still haven’t had success with your seeds I’d recommend either trying a cutting or buying a plant which you can let grow and then take cuttings from in the future.
      Apologies for this long overdue reply.
      Happy growing

      1. Thanks I didn’t attempt rosemary this year and I moved from the back area to the front deck (less bugs) 6 tomatoes plants all different, 3 basil, 1dill, 3 bell peppers (yell/red/orange). All the tomatoes plants grew so much and not hardly any flowers I’ve gotten 2 tomatoes and 1 yell pepper. So I went and threw some seeds of flowers and more herbs in with the tom, added dill to dill since it had died. I now have 3 toms growing on the other plants. I’ll keep trying but it’s hard to put so much time, money and effort into this and nothing. I’m fixin to plant lettuce for the fall so wish me luck. Thanks

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