#1: Grow garlic.
“If it were up to me,” says McGrath, “This would be numbers 1, 2, and 3 on everybody’s list: Plant garlic, plant garlic, plant garlic. It’s just ridiculously easy to grow, and, because good garlic is so expensive, you’ll get a great return on your investment.” People in colder, northern parts of the U.S. should begin planting garlic in mid-August, while people in warmer climes can wait until mid-September. That means you’ll need to order your bulbs now. Order from a major seed catalog (to avoid fungus), suggests McGrath, and they’ll ship the bulbs out as soon as they’re ready for growing, which means you’ll get the best quality.
#2: Beat the bushes for bush beans.
There’s no time to mail-order seeds for these beans that grow on bushes as opposed to vines. Head to an independent garden center, scour their shelves for bush bean seeds, and plant immediately. “Some varieties will produce their first edible pods for you about 50 days after you put the seeds in the ground,” says McGrath.
#3: Troll for leftover peppers.
If you live in a warmer climate, check your local garden center for pepper plants that haven’t yet been sold, and see if you can pick up a plant or two for a pittance. Sweet peppers are a warm-season veggie and can be harvested through October, so August isn’t too late to plant. Of course, the warmer your climate (and the longer your summer), the more you’ll get out of them. If you’re a flower lover, the same goes for marigolds, petunias, impatiens, and begonias.
A rule of green thumb: “If you’re going to put anything in the ground now, plant in the evening to give the plants time to get acclimated before they fry in the hot summer sun,” suggests McGrath. “Water them well, mulch them with compost, and shade them in the afternoon sun with a beach umbrella.”
#4: Install a birdbath.
“Birds have lots of natural food during the late summer, but they may be hurting for water,” says McGrath. “Besides, a birdbath will bring in birds more reliably than a feeder.” Those birds are not only fun to watch, some will help clear your yard and garden of insect pets. Just make sure to change the water every couple of days to keep it clean and free of mosquito larvae.
#5: Dig some beds.
“If you have garden envy but haven’t done anything yet, I suggest you start planning and building a couple of raised beds right away,” says McGrath. The process may take awhile, but you can be ready to grow by fall. Here’s what you do: Pick a spot (you want full sun all day in a cool climate; partial shade in a warm climate), and remove all the grass. Next, till up the soil (which will expose dormant weed seeds to the sunlight), add compost or other organic matter, level out the bed, then water the bare soil twice a day. Weeds will sprout; give them two weeks to waste their time and energy then slice them off at the soil line with a sharp hoe. “Now you’ve got a home for your garlic bulbs in mid- to late August,” enthuses McGrath.