After a wet, and cold spring, the warm days of summer are happily greeted by gardeners. Summer is for harvesting vegetables and herbs, and enjoying the parade of flowers and foliage in beds, borders, and container gardens. While the bulk of planting may be done, there are always tasks that you can do to promote healthy plant growth.
6 Tasks for the Summer Garden:
Watering is the most important chore to remember when summer temperatures rise. Established trees, shrubs, and perennials generally don’t need to be irrigated unless there is a prolonged drought. Annual plants, vegetables, herbs, and container gardens on the other hand, need consistent and frequent watering.
I like to use a watering wand to irrigate my plants as it extends my reach and makes watering more comfortable. You can reduce the need to water by using mulch on the soil around plants. A two to three inch layer of bark mulch in perennial and shrub beds, as well as around trees makes beds look tidy and retains moisture. In the food garden, a mulch of straw or shredded leaves around tomatoes, cucumber, squash, peppers, and other crops does the same job.
Weeds are inevitable, but there are ways to minimize both their occurrence and spread. If you don’t have time to pull weeds, at least find time to remove the flowers. Why? Flowers quickly turn to seed heads which can spread thousands of weed seeds all around your yard.
I try to stay on top of weeds, pulling any that appear, especially in my vegetable garden. In the lawn, a tool like the Troy-Bilt Premium Garden Weed Remover is a fast way to remove stubborn, deep-rooted weeds like dandelions. As noted above, a mulch on top of the soil in shrub and perennial beds helps hold soil moisture, but it also discourages weed growth.
Permanent plants like trees, shrubs, and perennials benefit from a spring application of a slow-release organic fertilizer. Avoid fertilizing these plants after mid-summer because a surge of nutrients late in the season promotes tender fresh growth that may not have time to harden off before the cold weather arrives.
In the vegetable garden, I add compost or aged manure to the soil between successive crops. I also use a liquid organic fertilizer every few weeks on long-season vegetables like tomatoes and peppers which appreciate a steady supply of nutrients. The containers and baskets on my deck are also fertilized regularly with a liquid food to keep flower production high.
Once the early vegetables, like spring peas and salad crops have been harvested, it’s time to start succession planting. Succession planting is planting one crop after another and is the best way to enjoy a long harvest of homegrown vegetables.
In early summer, I replace finished spring crops with quick-growing vegetables like bush beans, zucchini, and bush cucumbers. As the season begins to wind down, I sow seeds for fall and winter harvesting - turnips, beets, carrots, and salad greens like kale, leaf lettuce, spinach, and arugula.
Dead-heading is removing spent flowers on annual and perennial plants as the blooms fade. If left on the plant, these dead blooms turn to seed heads and stop producing new flowers. Many flowering plants respond to dead-heading by pushing out fresh flowers, prolonging bloom time.
I try to dead-head every few days in summer and use pruning shears to remove the dead blooms. Annuals like zinnias, petunias, and marigolds and perennials like coneflowers, rudbeckia, and Shasta daisies all benefit from dead-heading.
Pest and Disease Management
The best way to reduce damage from pests and diseases is to promote healthy plant growth. I do this by leaving adequate space between plants, feeding the soil, and providing consistent moisture; however, sometimes even the best laid plans go awry and I end up with powdery mildew on my cucumber plants or slugs on my lettuce.
I hand pick slugs, but when I spot aphids in my vegetable garden, for example, I don’t usually take any action. Instead, I leave the aphids in the garden so they can become a food source for beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings. I want strong populations of these good guys in the garden to keep pests in check.