Charlie’s Early August Newsletter

Stellar Russian Sage, Tomato Blight Controls, How Are Your Spuds, and NEW Echinacea Video
Monarch butterflyIt’s hard to believe it’s August already. We’ve had a great growing season so far, and now in our zone 5 climate, August means harvest. We’ll be canning tomatoes, making pesto, drying hot peppers, freezing lots of veggies and fruits and preserving herbs for winter. The key is to not let down our guard and get lazy about picking. A little extra work now will mean lots of good eating later.

The mid summer flowers are giving way to some late summer and fall beauties. One tough perennial is Russian sage or Perovskia. The traditional Russian sage grows large and gets floppy. But with new varieties, Russian sage is now more manageable in the flower garden and a good addition for fall color and bee activity. Learn about Russian sage here.

sauce tomatoBack to the veggie garden, we’ve done well this year keeping early blight and other foliar diseases off our tomatoes. Part of the success is the dry weather, but I’d like to think what we’re doing helps, too. I talk about tomato leaf blights and what you can do to stop its spread in this newsletter.

Are you growing potatoes in your garden? How are those spuds? The temptation with potatoes is to plant, hill and forget them. That’s fine if you aren’t bothered by mice and voles chewing on the underground potatoes. If that’s been an issue its time to check your spuds. I talk about when to harvest and how to get your potatoes to last into winter in storage.

DayliliesI couldn’t resist shooting another video from our garden. This one is of the beautiful echinacea. I recently did a video shoot at the Montreal Botanical Garden with WCAX- CBS and Sharon Meyer and was wowed by their echinacea plantings. It was loaded with color and variety. Their daylily brook wasn’t too shabby either (photo above). So, my short echinacea video is a little from Montreal and a lot from our home garden. I talk about new varieties of echinacea and how they are growing. Check out the video in this newsletter.

Enjoy August and, if you’re going on vacation, make sure someone is watching, watering and harvesting from your gardens.

Until next time, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.


Charlie & Sharon


Where to Find Charlie:(podcasts, TV and in-person)


How to Grow: Russian Sage

Russian sageSage is a great plant in the landscape and Russian sage is a good addition for some fall color. Russian sage or Perovskia, is a tall, rangy, grey leaf colored, tough perennial that produces azure blue flowers. It thrives in full sun and tolerates dry conditions. This makes it a great perennial for those hot areas that dry out in late summer. The traditional Russian sage grows 3- to 4- feet tall. Like all Russian sages, it’s attractive to bees and pollinators. The downside of Russian sage has always been it gets rangy and can flop over in a storm. Newer varieties help with that. ‘Little Spire’ has all the traits we love in Russian sage but only grows 1- to 2-feet tall. It’s great for a small space garden. ‘Blue Jean Baby’ grows a little taller at 2- to 3-feet, and has a deeper blue colored flower. ‘Lacey Blue’ is another dwarf that fits well even in containers.

Russian SageYou can plant Russian sage in your sunny perennial border to accent other plants or as a late summer highlight with fall bloomers. Before flowering, the grey foliage color looks great next to other blue flowers such as baptisia, salvia and geraniums. When planting to increase fall color, pair Russian sage with rudbeckia, asters and echinacea. The blue flowers of Russian sage contrast nicely with the reds and yellows of these blooms. Russian sage is also tolerant of wind and salty air conditions so it’s a good one along the seashore.

Russian sage is very low maintenance once established. Water it well the first year, especially if it’s dry. After that it’s drought tolerant. Deer and other animals don’t seem to like the foliage or flowers. The taller types can benefit from caging or staking to keep them upright. You can also grow them next to other tall perennials such as meadowsweet and tall rudbeckias.

After about 3- to 4- years, divide your Russian sage to make more plants and rejuvenate the old plant. You can spread the new plants around the landscape or plant a backdrop of Russian sage behind a low growing flower border.

Learn more about Russian Sage here 

American Meadows

How to Grow: Tomato Blight Control
heirloom tomatoesWe’ve all had it happen in our garden. The tomato plants are growing great, then, in mid summer you start to notice spots and yellowing of the lower leaves. Maybe you pick them off thinking that will stop it, but it continues to spread up the plant eventually causing lots of leaves to die and effects the fruits as well. There are a number of foliar diseases that can cause this condition. I lump them together as tomato leaf blight.

Late blight is a serious disease of tomatoes and kills the plant quickly. Those plants should be removed immediately and destroyed. Other tomato foliar diseases, such as Septoria leaf spot and early blight, are more gradual in how they spread, but no less damaging.

tomato blightTo control these leaf spot diseases, prevention is key. Grow varieties that have some resistance to the blights such as ‘Iron Lady’ and ‘Mountain Magic’. Rotate crops not planting tomato family crops in the same location for four years. After the plants begin to grow in spring, I start removing the lower, horizontally growing branches. I leave the lower suckers and vertical branches because they will produce fruit. After a few weeks, my plants look like someone trimmed the bottom. There’s a 1 foot space between the soil and lowest leaves. This seems to help. Usually when it rains, the water splashes disease spores onto those lower leaves and starts the disease cycle. You can mulch with grass clippings, hay, straw, chopped leaves and even wood chips to help. I find doing that and trimming the lower leaves is most effective.

tomato blight preventionThere are organic sprays than can help as well. It’s important to spray the foliage early, before the disease gets established. Once it gets going, the sprays won’t help. Neem oil, Serenade (Bacillus subtilis) and copper sprays all can be effective, if used early and regularly. 

Learn more about Tomato Blight Control here

Potato Care
potato harvestPotatoes are a crop we love to grow, but often forget about them this time of year. We’ve prepared our soil and planted in spring, hilled up the rows with soil or mulch and mostly kept the Colorado potato beetle off the plants. They just seem to be chugging along right now. But there are some things to keep in mind as you wait to harvest your spuds.

We like to plant the spuds shallowly in the soil to not disturb the soil structure by tilling. That means we mostly use hay as a mulch to hill up around the plants. Hilling helps the plants make more potatoes and protects them from the sun. Now is a good time to check those hills. Make sure the spuds aren’t exposed and turning green and refresh the mulch. We still have a few weeks more to let them grow and size up.

potato harvestWhen checking the hills, look for mice or voles damage. The one downside of using lots of mulch is it’s a good hiding place for these rodents. They love to take bites out of our potatoes reducing the yield and how long the potatoes will last in storage. If we see activity we usually just harvest early. That way we get some nice clean spuds without sacrificing the whole crop. The potatoes are smaller, but it’s worth it. I’ve tried repellents, but there are lots of mice around. Luckily, we also have lots of hawks and owls, so they somewhat keep the population in check.

Finally, once the tops start to yellow you can begin harvesting. Some people wait until the whole plants dies back, but I like to harvest earlier. Not just for mice controls, but because that way I know where the plant is growing. Most of the best potatoes will be right around where you planted. Once harvested, I cure the potatoes in an airy garage out of direct sunlight. The green color that forms is only harmful if you eat a lot of it, but it does affect the taste of the potatoes. Once dry, we store our potatoes in a cool basement on racks and they usually last into winter, or until we eat them all.  

Learn more about growing Potatoes here 


In Our Garden: NEW VIDEO: Echinacea

echinaceaOur echinacea plants are looking beautiful this year. We’ve had the right amount of heat, water and sun for them to take off. So, I wanted to feature them, and some from the Montreal Botanical Garden, in this newsletter.

echinaceaEchinacea is a native, prairie, perennial flower that looks great in meadows and fields. But I want to highlight how great it is in the garden. The classic Echinacea purpurea or purple coneflower is the one most people are familiar with. It grows 4 feet tall and spreads by self-sowing seeds. There are dwarf versions as well. I like to highlight all the other colored echinaceas out there now made possible through breeding. There certainly are other colored species of echinaceas, but these varieties are the ones that are most readily available. The ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ series features white, yellow, red, and orange colored flowers on plants grown from seed. This mix seems to be the hardiest in our garden, but even so, the purple coneflower will eventually overrun it, if you don’t stay on top of it. You can buy the different colors individually, but I like starting the mixes from seed and being surprised at all the colors.

echinaceaEchinacea is a bee and pollinator magnet. We grow it in multiple locations in the vegetable and flower gardens. After flowering finishes in fall, we leave the cones for the finches to eat the seeds and don’t clean up the patch until spring. It also adds some winter interest to our garden.

You have to stay in top of the purple coneflower species by thinning out the stands of it and removing seedlings in spring. It loves to spread. But that’s partly why it’s such a good wildflower. Grow it in places where you just want to let it go and enjoy the flower show.

Watch my NEW VIDEO on Echinacea here