With the first days of summer officially here, the number of must-do’s — and even honey-do’s — in the garden is easing up. But before you take off completely, run through the following 10 items. Tend to these tasks. Then you’ll be well on your way to kicking back and relaxing in your own back yard.
Watering this time of year can be tricky. With our usual June gloom, established gardens can get by with surprisingly little irrigation. However, once our overcast days disappear, it’s time to ramp up the frequency.
Set your lawn sprinklers to run early in the morning, before any wind has a chance to blow around the spray. Check your sprinkler heads to make sure that they’re distributing the water where it’s supposed to go, and not onto your patio, driveway or sidewalk, or flowing into the street.
Water your plants early, too, so that they start out the day well hydrated.
You can also reduce your watering needs by applying a fresh layer of mulch throughout your garden. The mulch will help keep the soil from drying out — especially on hot, windy days. Organic materials, such as redwood chips or compost, will gradually decompose and add nutrients to the soil. Inorganic mulch, such as decorative gravel, is an increasingly popular option in succulent gardens.
A layer 1 to 2 inches thick of any type will do. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the main stems or trunks of your plants. Heaping piles against their crowns can cause disease or death.
However, leave fallen leaves in place beneath citrus and avocado trees. The blanket of loose, brittle leaves protects their shallow roots, encourages earthworms, and slowly decays, strengthening the vitality of the trees.
That hefty dose of rain earlier this month regrettably brought up another round of weeds. Dig them out, scrape them away, or knock them down with a weed whacker. Just be sure to harvest all the seed heads so that you don’t contribute to next year’s weed crop.
The nice layer of mulch you just laid down will inhibit new weeds from sprouting as well.
4. Adjust Your Mower
Sharpen your mower blade. If your lawn is a cool-season fescue such as Marathon, raise the blade to 3 inches. By mowing higher, your lawn will stay thicker, look more lush, and the taller stalks will help cool the soil, which will conserve water. If your lawn is a warm-season grass, such as Bermuda, raise the blade to 1 to 1 1/2 inches. Any higher risks a substantial buildup of thatch.
Instead of tossing the clippings, spread them as a thin layer of mulch in the garden, or add them to your compost pile (as long as they’re not Bermuda that has gone to seed).
If your gas-powered mower is on its last legs, consider replacing it with an electric mower. You’ll never have to buy gas or oil again, there are no emissions when you mow, and the electrics are noticeably more quiet. Select a model with a rechargeable battery, rather than a cord, if your lawn is of any size.
5. Water Your Compost
Compost piles need moisture to stay active and decompose at a reasonable pace. With dry, windy days, they slow down and may even stall. Plan to pour a few buckets of water or turn a hose on your pile once a week until temperatures cool in the fall.
6. Groom Your Roses
Cut back any suckers that have shot up from below the graft. They are depleting energy that your rose bush could be putting into new flowers above, and the few, flat “wild rose” flowers that the suckers produce pale in comparison to what could be blooming.
When deadheading, cut back to branchlets that have five leaves and point outwards. The new growth will grow in that same outward direction, which will allow sunlight to penetrate the center of the bush and stimulate new flower buds.
Rake away fallen petals and freshen the mulch.
If you ordinarily water your roses once or twice a week for short periods of time, supplement that with a half-hour soak once or twice a month.
With sunny, warm days ahead, many ornamental plants appreciate a dose of fertilizer. Look for a balanced, natural or organic product that encourages beneficial microorganisms to multiply in the soil. A balanced fertilizer bears three similar numbers, such as 8-8-8 or 12-12-12. The first number, nitrogen, promotes healthy leaves; the second, phosphorous, stimulates new roots; the third, potassium, affects how the plant’s pores open and close, and improves photosynthesis and disease resistance.
If you see yellow veining on your citrus, hibiscus, camellias or gardenias, they may be suffering from chlorosis, a condition in which they’re having trouble taking up iron in the soil. Apply iron chelate to correct the problem.
Skip fertilizing native plants and succulents. Most extract all the nutrients they need from whatever soil they inhabit.
8. Tend Vegetables
There’s still time to grow corn and melons from seed. Sow corn in a block so the tassels will pollinate the silks properly. Plant melons on hills with plenty of room for the stems to trail away. It’s too late to start most other vegetables from seed. But you can set out transplants of eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and zucchini for late-summer harvests.
Stay on top of watering your vegetables. Tomatoes, especially, are sensitive to abrupt changes in watering, which can interfere with their ability to extract calcium from the soil and result in blossom end rot, an unsightly condition that damages the fruit.
Hand-pick or use a non-toxic bait, such as Sluggo, to combat lingering snails and slugs that are munching through the undersides of your vegetables.
9. Plant Tropicals
Plant tender tropicals and subtropicals, such as bougainvillea, citrus, hibiscus and palm trees. They will have time to settle into the ground and develop new roots before cooler temperatures arrive in the fall.
10. Nip and Tuck
Dead head your summer-blooming plants at least once a week to encourage more flowers. Pinch back hanging fuchsias for fuller plants and longer blooming. Lightly trim your shrubs after they’ve finished flowering to corral awkward branches, enhance their shape and keep them in bounds.
Seeds of Wisdom
Plants in containers dry out faster than plants in the ground because they have more exposed surfaces and drain quickly. On hotter days, you may need to water daily: water once, let the water drain, then water again. If you have terra cotta pots, splash the outsides of the pots, too, to keep them moist a little longer.
Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.