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Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens

Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens

Summer Checkup


Summertime = hammock time.

By mid summer, it’s easy to take a vacation from gardening chores. Our plants seem to be doing just fine on their own, and who wouldn’t want to kick back and enjoy the great outdoors?

Yet it’s also a good time to take stock of what you have, and to make a few changes and upgrades. Nothing is too pressing. But accomplish the following eight tasks, and your garden will look the better for it.

1. Check irrigation

If you use drip irrigation, walk the lines to make sure all your emitters are flowing, and that the water goes where it’s supposed to. Rather than irrigating a small circle around the stem of a mature plant, emitters should be spaced out a foot or more, to deliver moisture to the broader root zone. Insert goof plugs to block holes for any emitters that you don’t need anymore.

Retrofit your sprinkler heads with new, pop-up spray heads that have rotary nozzles. They use up to 20 percent less water and provide more uniform coverage than traditional sprays and rotors.

Make sure your sprinklers aren't watering the pavement.

Adjust your sprinklers so that they water only your planting beds or lawn, not your sidewalk and street.

Check when your irrigation controller runs, and for how long. It’s best to water first thing in the morning so that your plants start the day plump with moisture. Later in the day, overhead watering can get blown about by the wind. Watering at night means cold, damp soil and wet leaves, both of which increase the potential for disease.

Also make sure the frequency and duration are adequate as we head into warmer, sunnier weather.

Plan to water container plants more often, especially those in darker colored pots, which heat up and dry out more quickly.

2. Weed

Thanks to the many cycles of gentle rain and sunshine we had earlier this year, we’ve been gifted with a bumper crop of weeds. Plus, the May gray, June gloom and crazy weather in July have kept the moisture content high. Dig or pull out fresh or lingering weeds. Or at least snip off the seed heads to make a dent in next year’s bounty.

3. Fertilize

Frequent watering washes out nutrients faster than if the same plants were in the ground.

Lawns, shrubs, perennials, citrus, container plants and just about everything else in the garden will benefit from a dose of fertilizer now.

Use a balanced, natural or organic product that encourages beneficial microorganisms to multiply in the soil.

Avoid fertilizing most natives, which are already programmed to extract whatever nutrients are present.

4. Freshen mulch

Maintain a layer of mulch at least 2 inches deep in all of your planting beds to retain moisture and hold down weeds.

Use material from your compost pile, shredded leaves, straw, or ground or shredded bark. Or spread your lawn clippings in thin layers throughout your garden. Doing so will improve the tilth and attract earthworms and beneficial soil microorganisms.

Don’t mulch with cocoa bean shells. The trendy, dark brown product is dangerous for dogs.

According to the ASPCA, “Dogs who consume enough cocoa bean shell mulch could potentially develop signs similar to that of chocolate poisoning, including vomiting and diarrhea. In cases where very large amounts of mulch have been consumed, muscle tremors or other more serious neurological signs could occur.”

5. Prowl for pests

Be vigilant. Snails and slugs have been rampant this year. Use a biodegradable bait like Sluggo or Escar-Go. Both are composed of iron phosphate and are safe around children, pets and wildlife. Or trap the slimy guys with upside-down melon rinds, or beer in a saucer.

Paper towel tubes make good traps for earwigs, which burrow into strawberries, sweet corn and apricots. Set out the tubes in the evening, then shake out the bugs in the morning, into a bucket of soapy water.

Prevent ants from crawling into your citrus trees by wrapping electrical tape around the trunks a few inches off the ground, then applying Tanglefoot, an organic, sticky paste composed of castor oil, waxes and resins.

Hose off aphids or powdery mildew that afflict your roses.

Make life uncomfortable for whiteflies. Lay down a rough-textured mulch or sharp gravel beneath any shrubs that they inhabit. Then swat the shrubs whenever you walk by. Knocking the soft-bodied insects onto the jagged mulch should shorten their life spans.

Pick up dead fruit. It’s not a fun task, but otherwise you’ll encourage rats, possums, raccoons and skunks to make your yard a favorite stop on their nightly rounds.

7. Prune selectively

Stay on top of deadheading summer-blooming shrubs, such as this mop-head hydrangea.

Nip and tuck your shrubs after they’ve finished blooming. Dead-head flowers frequently to promote more blooms.

Trim overhanging tree limbs to eliminate gateways for ants to march onto your roof, or for larger critters to take up residence in your attic — after they’ve dined on your downed fruit.

8. Groom your roses

By the end of July, it’s time to get aggressive. After blooming, cut back your bushes by a third to a half. Just like any other time of the year, cut off stems right above a joint where a side branch bearing at least five leaves is angling away from the center. The depth of the cut may seem drastic. But it will force new growth and bigger blooms in September, and then another round just before Christmas.

Remove any suckers emerging below the graft at the base. Left to their own devices, these branches grow tall, wield nasty thorns and bear clusters of purplish-red flowers composed of just a handful of petals.

Also give your roses a boost by watering in a handful of granular fertilizer, applying a liquid dose of fish emulsion or compost tea, or sprinkling alfalfa around the base of each.

Seeds of Wisdom

It's not too late to plant tropical plants.

You can still plant tropicals, such as bananas, bougainvillea, citrus, ginger, hibiscus, palms and princess flowers, in late July and August.

Lay down organic mulch at least 2 inches deep to maintain soil moisture. Be prepared to water once or twice a day if temperatures soar or the wind picks up.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

3 responses to “Summer Checkup
  1. My plants Thank you for keeping me vigilant. We have open space behind us- I was just a tiny bit behind on “cleaning” and the gardener my neighbor and I share did me the favor of tidying up our border area.

    I will miss those plants. But it is my fault. That is what I keep telling myself….

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