Gardening: Get out the camera, and take stock in August plantings

By Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News
A pictorial tour of the garden is to focus on the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to how your plants are doing at this point of the season.

August is a good time of year to take inventory in the garden, and my tool of choice is a camera or smartphone. That old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” never rings so true as in spring when putting together my shopping list. So, my pictorial tour of the garden this week is to focus on the good, the bad and the ugly, not the quality of photos. 

Some plants won’t make the cut next year because the flowers, though beautiful, don’t age well. High maintenance is a big issue in a garden that depends on volunteers who only work in the garden a few hours one day a week. 

Of course, there are those plants that just did not perform well. They may have looked great early in the season but petered out when the temperatures climbed into the high 80s. 

And then there are the plants that looked good in the garden center but never worked well in the garden. 

Without my August photo tour, I may well forget about those that didn’t make the cut this year when shopping next spring when my eyes glaze over and everything looks good.    

When checking out the plants in your garden, don’t overlook your trees. You may find lichens growing on the trunks of small specimens, such as redbuds and service berry. While these gray green lichens are not harmful to the trees –  they’re epiphytes and are just using the tree as a place to ‘hang’.   However, their presence may be telling you the tree is in stress. Lichens need sun in order to thrive and their presence on tree bark is often an indication the canopy of the tree is thinning indicating it needs some help.  

However, with the exception of vegetables and annuals, fertilizing too late in the growing season stimulates tender growth that often fails to harden off when frost arrives and results in excessive winter kill. But more importantly, the stimulation of new growth late in the season signals the plant, be it a tree, shrub or perennial to use carbohydrates to produce and feed that new growth when it should be storing food in its root system for use in spring when it needs to produce new leaves, which are critical to survival.

Rosarian Nancy Lindley, author of "Roses for Michigan," recommends in her book to cease fertilizing roses in mid-August. Trees and shrubs are best fertilized in vary late fall after they have gone dormant or in April or May. 

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. Email her at , Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at