11 Things to Do in August to Get Your Garden Ready for Fall

Updated: Mar. 13, 2024

Even in the coldest hardiness zones, August isn't yet the time to start putting your garden to rest for the winter — it's still peak season after all, and first frost is probably eight weeks away or more. But it isn't June either, so you can begin work to promote a healthy harvest and a successful fall garden.

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Small lettuce plants in garden bed
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Plant Fall Crops

August is a good month for planting fall crops in your garden. In USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 6 and warmer, you can still plant some substantial crops like beans, cauliflower, cucumber and squash. In Zone 5 and colder, your options become more limited but are definitely worth doing. Look at hardy, cold-tolerant greens like kale and chard, as well as some lettuces, spinach and Asian greens. To find out what zone you live in, refer to this chart from the USDA.

Here are the top fall vegetables for a Midwest gardener to grow.

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Plant Trees and Shrubs

Containers or burlap-ball shrubs and trees should go into the ground four to six weeks before first frost. In Northern gardens that means late August. This gives the plant a chance to establish itself before the onset of winter, but not to get so far along that it thinks a new growing season has begun. Check out our guide to trouble-free tree planting.

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Divide Perennials

Coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, hostas and other perennials that flower in spring will start to flag by the end of August. To keep them healthy and ready to explode next spring, divide the roots as the plants die back and relocate them if you can. Don’t miss this collection of the top ten tips for perennials.

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Build a Cold Frame to Extend the Season

In August, you should start preparing to defend your garden against first frost. Build a cold frame (you can use it again in spring), a hoop house or even tack sheets of 3-mm plastic to some 2x4s to have at the ready so you don’t end up trying to drape old sheets over your garden as the sun sets. Take a peek at these mini to magnificent greenhouses.

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Refresh Your Garden Mulch

July and August take a toll on garden mulch — it washes away, fades out, or simply disappears into the undergrowth. Scatter a few bags now and your fall garden will look neater and be nestled in snugly for the coming winter. Everything you need to know about mulch is right here.

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Fertilize lawn
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Fertilize Your Garden for a Fantastic Finish

Depending on the crop, your garden plants and lawn have likely expended all or most of the nutrition from your spring fertilizing. August is a great time to re-up the amendments in your garden and yard. Stay on top of this if you use organic fertilizers — it takes much longer for organic nutrients to break down and become available to plants.

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Clean and Maintain Your Garden Tools

Your garden and lawn tools have had a pretty good workout by now.  Give them some attention in August before the frenzy of harvesting hits. You’ll need to repeat the process before you put them to bed for the winter, but the job becomes much easier when you’re not dealing with a whole season’s worth of wear and grime. Learn how to sharpen your garden tools here.

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Cut Back Your Herbs

Parsley, cilantro, basil (shown here), dill and other cool-season herbs probably have bolted by August, becoming too bitter to consume. You can let them flower — a good idea because pollinators love herb flowers, and the plants will self-seed later in fall. Or cut them back a couple of inches above ground and most should grow back for a fresh fall crop. These are the all-time best patio herbs to grow.

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Order Fall-Planted Bulbs

Don’t start planting your fall bulbs in August (tulips, crocuses, hyacinth, garlic etc.). But go ahead and order them from your favorite garden catalog. Most bulbs sell out as the late-fall planting season approaches, so order yours while the selection is best. Store them in a cool, dry place until the right time for planting. Take a look at our collection of beautiful spring-blooming bulbs.

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Prune Your Summer-Flowering Shrubs

By the end of August, summer-flowering shrubs (hydrangea, mock orange, spirea) begin to wane, which makes it a good time to prune them. You can still identify any dead branches easily and you don’t need to worry (much) about damaging the plant. Properly pruned shrubs look better and live longer. Here’s how!

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Enjoy Your Garden

If you spend the whole summer with your face buried in tomato plants looking for aphids or scanning for garden weeds, it’s easy to miss the big picture. Take some time to stroll through your garden. Make notes. What worked? What didn’t? What should you do differently next year?

Snap photos (or draw maps and make sketches, if you prefer), take note of plant varieties and where they are planted. You might think you’ll remember next spring but don’t count on it. And, perhaps most importantly, enjoy your garden. This is why we do it! Check out these 25 tips for planning the perfect garden.

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