In the dog days of August in Minneapolis and St. Paul, it can feel as though summer has already slipped through your fingers. Flowers begin to droop and home gardeners harvest their last tomatoes as September breezes in.
Before you get caught up in the kid’s homework or start sipping pumpkin spice lattes, remember that summer isn’t over yet. There is still time to enjoy vibrant blooms and festive gatherings right in your own yard.
There’s Still Time for Backyard Projects
Don’t shelve your backyard dreams until next summer. Slather on some sunblock and dig into one of these outdoor projects to make the most of the last sun-drenched days.
Here are six late-summer outdoor projects from the Purcell pros. With a little prep-work now, you can keep enjoying your yard into October and ready your landscape for a glorious spring.
Number 1: Don’t Give Up on Flowers
Late August and early September are a perfect time to plant flowers. Some varieties will give you a final flourish of color before temperatures dip in October, while other, frost resistant varieties can continue to bloom in the snow.
For short-lived but stunning blossoms, try cosmos, calendula, marigolds, daisies, and mums.
To enjoy dramatic fall blooms later, look for asters, pansies, snapdragons, goldenrod, and autumn crocus.
Hardy ornamental cabbage and flowering kale can also bring rich pink, purple, red, and blue hues to your garden.
Don’t start from seed; transplant seedlings and full-grown plants after August’s intense heat has cooled but before any danger of a hard freeze. Late-summer rainfalls can provide ideal conditions for plants settling into new ground.
Visit your local nursery to see their selection of frost-tolerant flower starts that won’t mind next month’s cooling temps. Be sure to ask for recommendations of their most resilient varieties. And don’t forget to look for sales on summer flowers you can plant right away.
Number 2: Attract Birds Year-Round with a Bird Bath
Like flowers, birds are another natural wonder we typically associate with spring. But in late summer, before they begin to migrate south again, many birds are searching for fresh sources of water.
Attract birds year-round with a bird bath.
If you already have a bird feeder in your yard, a bird bath is still a valuable addition because it will attract new species that don’t eat your seed. Red robins, delicate thrushes, and bright orioles are just a few birds that may be drawn to bathe and drink from your clean water.
Bird baths come in countless materials and styles, from inexpensive designs for the DIY-inclined, to ornate statuary and solar-powered fountains. Feel free to think outside the box when choosing your bird bath, but be sure to follow these guidelines for the best results:
- Bird baths should have a gradual, non-slippery slope for easy wading.
- Don’t go too deep. Three inches of water is plenty for your feathered friends.
- Choose materials free of lead or chemicals that may leach into the water.
- To keep birds safe from predators, place your water a few feet off the ground and away from shrubs.
- Change the water every couple of days. (This will also prevent your bird bath from becoming a mosquito breeding ground.)
Bird baths can be maintained year-round so you can bird watch into the fall and winter. Avoid concrete, which may crack under freezing temperatures, and consider using a heated bird bath for the iciest months. The chickadees, sparrows, and cardinals will thank you.
Number 3: Plan(t) Ahead for Next Year
September is an excellent time to get a head start on next year’s garden or landscape. The Twin Cities sit squarely in USDA plant hardiness Zone 5, which means we have one of the shortest growing seasons in the lower 48. Make the most of these late summer weeks so you can hit the ground running come spring.
Do you want more trees and shrubs to fill out a sparse yard? Plant them now so they can establish strong roots in warm soil before overwintering.
Want to be greeted by tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth at Easter? Plant firm, dry bulbs when the soil cools along borders and pathways, or in bold clusters visible from your kitchen window.
Sunflower seeds are among the easiest to harvest and save.
If you can’t put anything in the ground right now, you can still take time to save and store seeds, pods, bulbs, and tubers that you want to grow again next season. Your favorite annuals can live on with only a few simple steps:
- Using garden scissors, cut off seed heads and pods on a dry day when plants have started to droop and fade and collect them in a paper bag.
- Remove seed husks and pods and spread seeds out on paper or a screen to dry inside your home.
- Store seeds in airtight containers in a cool, dark, and dry place. Be sure to label them.
Number 4: Show Your Lawn Some Love
August and September are crucial months for lawn care. Late summer is the perfect time to prepare your grass for its long dormancy and triumphant return in the spring.
For grass to survive a Minnesota fall and winter, it needs to fight off damaging cold, rot, and disease. Its first line of defense is vigorous, well-fed roots. Aerate your lawn when soil is still warm to break up compacted dirt and allow air, water, and nutrients to reach hungry roots.
September is an ideal time to aerate your lawn.
After aeration, fertilize your lawn to give roots an extra boost. Experts say if you only fertilize once a year, do it around Labor Day. Fertilizers that are especially rich in slow-release nitrogen are a great choice for late summer.
Finally, use this seasonal window to seed new grass in bald or patchy areas of your lawn. Cover with mulch or compost and water regularly to keep germinating seeds damp.
If you give your lawn what it needs now, you’ll not only enjoy more lush, green grass into the fall, but also see the difference next spring.
Number 5: Give Your Landscape an Edge
Give your lawn, garden, or raised beds a polished finish with some attractive edging. Whether you opt for crisp, geometric lines or soft curving borders, edging can give your landscape an instant face-lift in time for September cookouts and fall entertaining.
Landscape edging serves both aesthetic and practical purposes, dividing flower beds from lawns, and preventing mulch and gravel from spilling onto pathways. It also eliminates the need to maintain edges by hand and protects precious plants from the mower.
Steel can make a surprisingly attractive landscape edging.
September is a prime time to take up this project because you are beginning to clean out garden beds and prepare lawns for fall. While you’re at it, clear and define borders and walkways with a material that will complement your home and withstand Minnesota’s extremes.
Look for durable edging that won’t eventually be dislodged by frost heave, such as aluminum or steel. While brick, concrete, stone, wood, and plastic are popular options, they will have a shorter lifespan and are known to crack and shift. (Concrete pavers, are an exception. They are designed to stay put despite freezing and sweltering temperatures.)
Number 6: Fire Up the Festivities with a Fire Pit
A simple fire pit can allow you to enjoy your yard to the fullest during the last weeks of summer (and well beyond fall’s first frost). Create a toasty gathering place for friends and family to roast s’mores and gaze up at the stars.
Your fire pit could be as simple as a hole in the ground with rocks piled around it, but an attractive, long-lasting fire pit you’d be proud to show off is well within reach.
Two of the most common designs are stone or brick-walled above-ground pits and in-ground pits surrounded by stone pavers. Yet even these options leave plenty of room for creativity.
Log benches add a rustic feel to this masonry fire pit.
Riff on the ordinary fire pit with unique (and fire resistant) materials such as stacked stones, concrete tree rings, steel, mosaic or even an old washing machine drum. Or you may find it’s best to keep the fire pit simple and spend more time installing some elegant bench seating or firewood storage.
Ready to Tackle One of These Late-Summer Yard and Garden Projects?
Show us how you’re keeping summer alive right in your own backyard. Share photos of your yard and landscape upgrades to Facebook and Instagram using #PurcellQuality. We’d love to see your creativity and share it with our followers.