The Late Summer Garden ~ Five Suggestions for the Discouraged Gardener

Late summer is the most difficult time of year for me. Plants are dying back and rabbits have been nibbling on the others. Grass has gotten a foothold in my side yard. My garden looks pitiful and it’s too hot to do much about it. It makes me downright depressed. What’s a discouraged gardener to do?

Being a glass-half-full kind of person, I came up with some ways to turn those negatives into positives. If you get a little down, too, here are five suggestions of what you can do in your late summer garden.


When summer heat causes some plants to die and others wither, it reveals weeds that are getting a foothold among them. Taking advantage of that situation to pull them makes me feel better, and when temps cool and the plants start to revive, the bed will look better.

While weeding, I made mental notes about plants that weren’t thriving, or what an area needed.

The heat and dryness are a benefit while trying to get rid of the grass. Weedeating some of it gave immediate relief and I’ll work on pulling it all up by the roots as the weather cools.


While looking over my garden, I realized that I’m not loving all of the sedum. Since it’s a succulent and easy to transplant, I’ve used it when starting new beds for immediate gratification. But this time of year, it lays splayed in an unattractive manner. So you know what? I decided to pull some of it up. However, I’ve noticed that it provides food for butterflies, insects, and even hummingbirds this time of year, so I’ll try to leave some for them in areas that don’t bother me as much.

A Zebra Swallowtail on Sedum

As much as I love peonies, they are starting to die back and are turning shades of yellow and brown. Fall is the time to cut them back and dispose of the foliage. That makes an instant improvement!

You might notice plants in your garden that just aren’t thriving. Whether it’s your micro-climate or gardening style, y’all just aren’t getting along. Or maybe it is thriving, but you just don’t like it. Now’s the time to consider removing them and preparing the site for something new.


Last fall, we had to cut down a large oak tree in the side yard that was dying. That area was “mostly shade” because of the heft of that tree, but when we cut it down, the area became “full sun.” There were some hostas under that tree that were doing well, until deer came and snacked on them. For some reason the deer don’t usually venture to the front yard under the other large oak, so I’ve started transplanting the hostas to the newly themed “Hummer and Hosta” area.

I have some large colonies of Naked Ladies (aka Surprise Lilies or Amaryllis Belladonna) that I want to move. I’ll be transplanting those as I find places for them. I’ve noticed that not much will grow on top of them, so I’m going to try planting some under my bird feeders. Maybe they’ll help keep the fallen seed from sprouting?

A patch of Naked Lady bulbs I’m starting to transplant

While weeding, I discovered some volunteers and began considering where their new home might be. As it starts to cool down and rain more, it’ll be a good time to move them.

A Rose of Sharon “Volunteer”

As annuals mature and set seeds, this is a good time to collect and save some for next season. Some flowers self-sow pretty easily, so you can leave them to do that, or sprinkle some of the seeds where you’d like them to come up next year. Some of the flowers I do this with are marigolds and morning glories.

Marigolds in late summer


Are there other changes you’d like to make in your garden? This is a good time to do some planning, and you may be able to implement some of those changes immediately. Others may need to wait until spring.

I have an ongoing battle with deer and rabbits. Putting shaved Irish Spring soap around my plants seemed to really help this year, but I’ve had a couple of bunnies hanging out in my garden. They’re so cute, it’s hard to get too mad at them, even when they’re nibbling on my daylilies. Maybe someday I’ll have a better fence, but in the meantime, I’ll try to add more plants that they don’t like. I’ve read that deer don’t like strong scents, so I plan to add more herbs and strongly scented plants that repel them to the side yard where they visit most.

I’d like to add some height to my garden. There are young plants that will be quite large when they mature, so I want to keep that in mind as I consider what new plants to add either fall or spring.

There are some landscape timbers that have been around the big oak tree since we moved here 16 years ago. The tree has gotten larger and is pushing them out, so I decided to take those out altogether. The iris and tulips in that bed need to be thinned, and that will be easier with those gone. (More to add to the transplant list.)

It’s time for those landscape timbers to go.

Another area that I’ve decided to rework, is the front corner of the garden. I had a butterfly bush there that died, so I’m establishing a path through there to make it easier to maintain. I’m starting to move some plants to that area, and thinking about giving it a theme to plan around. The little tree in the corner is a redbud that I relocated from elsewhere on the farm years ago. I’m enjoying watching it grow, and shaping it into a beautiful tree.

This corner of my garden is getting a makeover


Feeling discouraged makes me want to improve my skills. When it’s too hot to work outside, I can do some reading. I’d like to learn more about roses, so I reached for a book about organic rose gardening.

Beautiful photos in my collection of gardening magazines will re-inspire me, giving me a new vision to work towards. A glass of iced tea helps, too!

Now I’m feeling more encouraged. It may not seem like much, but those five things will go a long way towards a prettier garden.

Maybe some of the changes I’ve started to make will help things to look better next season. A gardener always has hope!

I'd love to hear what you have to say!