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Change summer gardening tactics

Summer's heat and humidity can leave us feeling lethargic, and the same goes for our plants. Here are a few tips to help plants survive the hot season and use the sun to its full benefit.

Keep plants mulched:Mulching holds in soil moisture. Organic mulches are best, and you can even use your grass clippings if they are not coated with chemicals. If using grass clippings, add a thin layer, let them dry and then add another layer to keep the grass from clumping.

Keep weeding: Don't let the weeds get ahead of you. With heat and rain they can get out of hand quickly. These fast-growing pests can rob the soil of moisture and nutrients.

Add organic materials: Heat and humidity speed up the decomposition rate and increase the health of your soil and plants.

Keep yourself and your plants watered: Drink plenty of water when working outdoors and avoid yard work in the midday heat. Use sunscreen and keep work sessions short.

Water the soil deeply and infrequently, adding three-quarters to one inch at a time to encourage healthy, deep root growth.

Use the sun's heat: If you have areas of bare soil, use the sun's energy to kill weeds, their seeds and nematodes. Cover the area with plastic, black preferred, and let the sun bake it for a week or so. The heat will kill many of the unwanted pests.

Stop pruning: Some blooming plants and trees such as azalea, dogwood, redbud, spirea and some species of roses should not be trimmed heavily in the summer.

Trimming now will decrease the flowering. Trim them slightly and give them a decent shape.

Stop fertilizing: Extreme heat brings on a form of dormancy in some plants.

In fact, when it's really hot, some plants begin dropping their leaves or wilting to slow their growth even more.

Container plants are the exception because each watering leaches nutrients from the potting mix.

Don't overwater: The temptation is to overwater as the temperature rises, but this can cause as many problems as underwatering.

You don't want the soil to get waterlogged, and most landscape plants can't exchange oxygen when their roots are in standing water. As a result, they drown.

If you don't have well-drained soil, this can happen with heavy summer rains.

You may want to stop planting: The survival rate of new plants drops dramatically as temperatures rise. That's true even of so-called drought-tolerant plants. If you do plant this summer, the new plants may need extra care.

Mow when necessary: Turf grasses explode with growth during the summer. The rain and heat make mowing at least weekly a necessity.

Mowing during the heat of the day puts a lot of stress on the grass, not to mention the mower, so try to mow early in the morning (Don't wake the neighbors!) or in the evening.

Don't use horticultural oils: Oil-based products such as horticultural oil or neem oil can actually burn the leaf surfaces if applied when temperatures are above 85 degrees.

Add shade: If you want to make your summer garden more appealing, increase the amount of shade.

This can be done in two ways: planting trees or building a structure. Trees not only provide a shady retreat in the garden, but if properly sited to screen your residence from the south and western sun angles, they also significantly reduce cooling costs.

Large, deciduous (so they can allow sun in winter) canopy trees are the best candidates for shading gardens and homes. Understory trees or large shrubs trained as trees are quicker to reach mature height and still supply considerable amounts of shade, as they usually grow 15 to 25 feet tall.

Training a large shrub into a small tree requires pruning to develop a trunk and branching system, but it is probably the fastest way of getting shade in the garden, especially if you start off with a 15-gallon plant. Typically we see wax ligustrum and crape myrtle as tree-formed specimens.

Adding a shade structure is also an option. A structure with a solid roof allows the installation of ceiling fans that not only create a cooling breeze, but also deter mosquitoes, which like calm conditions.

Enclosing the structure with screening ensures a bug-free zone for garden enjoyment. The structure can be as simple as a few posts and beams that support utility panels (a farm fencing material). Any number of vines can be trained up the posts and over the panels to provide sanctuary from the summer sun.

Change summer gardening tactics 06/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 27, 2008 10:45am]
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