UNL Extension — helping you turn knowledge into "know how"
Help Summer Gardens to Help Themselves
submitted by Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator
Temperatures have been outrageous in the last two weeks, and even the most dedicated gardeners feel like slacking off on weekly yard and garden chores. And why not? By mid-summer, isn’t it time to kick back a bit and enjoy the fruits of early season labor?
Yet mid- to late-summer is exactly when we want gardens to be colorful and looking their best. But for gardeners with a bit of foresight and a few tricks under their belts, it’s possible to help gardens to become more self-sufficient. Following are tips for keeping late summer chores to a minimum:
Cover Bald Spots. Cruise through the garden now, spying out spots where soil is exposed. Bare ground is a welcome mat for weed seeds and they’ll waste no time settling in. Invest in a few bags of mulch now to top dress any open areas. You’ll be controlling weeds and also helping to retain soil moisture.
Reapply Your Pre-emergent Herbicide. Many weeds seeds can germinate anytime conditions are right throughout the summer, and many early developing plants set seeds mid-summer through fall. These include such weedy thugs as crabgrass, foxtail, knotweed, dandelions, and thistles. Stop those seeds before they grow by reapplying your pre-emergent herbicide now. Applied in spring and again in mid-summer, pre-emergent herbicide kills weed seeds as they germinate, including seeds newly carried in by the wind, birds or animals. If you didn’t apply a pre-emergent herbicide in spring, doing now can help minimize weed problems for the remainder of the summer. But keep in mind that pre-emergent herbicides work best when combined with well-mulched landscape beds.
Look Ma, No Hands. Unlike many gardening chores, watering isn’t strenuous. But it can eat up a lot of time. Water timers turn soaker hoses and sprinklers on and off automatically – even when you’re away. Even inexpensive timers can be easily programmed to water according to a schedule that suits garden plants and climate. In most cases, watering in the early morning is best, as this gives foliage time to dry during the day, thus avoiding issues from overnight damp and mildew. One good, deep soaking a week is usually sufficient for most landscape beds. Annual flower beds may require water twice a week when temperatures are in the 80s and 90s.
Buzz Cut Lanky Bloomers. In the first half of the season, most annuals and perennials put on a big flush of growth and a great show of color. By July and August, many plants produce fewer flowers and look scraggly. Use scissors to snip off spent flowers and cut back lanky stems. A midsummer haircut rebalances the ratio of roots to top growth and gets plants focused on producing fresh displays of growth and blossoms. Many plants will reward you with another flush of flowers in three to four weeks.
Bring on the Cheerios. To return the “Glee” to dull-looking July and August gardens, add late-blooming cheerleaders such as coneflowers, rudbeckia, perennial hibiscus, yarrow and sedum. These carefree, heat and drought tolerant perennials are available from garden centers and mass merchants now. Once planted, they’ll come back to bloom year after year, producing lots of color with little to no attention. Artemisia, lavender, lamb’s ears and many other plants with silver or grey leaves are also drought tolerant, as are most ornamental grasses.
Help for Struggling Container Plants. Small pots lose moisture more quickly than large containers, requiring strict watering regimens. Consolidating plants from small pots into larger containers will save watering time, keep plants healthier and create a bigger visual impact. Before replanting, soak each small-potted plant in water for 15 to 20 minutes to fully hydrate the root ball. Then remove the plants from their small pots and create a new arrangement in the larger container. Group large pots for drama and ease in watering. Occasional fertilizing will help maintain plant flower production and vigor.
There’s no such thing as a chore-free garden. But a strategy that includes a few tricks will minimize the fuss and keep the garden going on its own while gardeners kick back and do… whatever they darn well feel like.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office
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