Author Barbara Leach, Retired Horticultural Technician, VCE Roanoke and active Master Gardener
Conditions and plant reactions change continually. In other words, from seed to bloom and beyond, plants are continually changing. Watch how things are changing whether it is for good or bad and you can be a better plant parent. Working on the plant’s schedule instead of your own will help you be a better gardener as well. For example, summer annual weeds appear in lawns and gardens as the heat begins to set in. They become more visible as lawns begin to go semi-dormant in mid-summer. While it may seem sudden, the weeds actually started germinating when the warm weather began. That means that their toddler and teenage days, when they were most controllable, have passed you by.
The only thing left to do now is to remove them or cut them back regularly to prevent the weeds from sprouting seeds. Try using crabgrass preventers in the lawn during mid-late August, and use weed preventers in flower beds any time the weeds are freshly pulled. If you use chemicals, FOLLOW THE LABEL instructions! The manufacturers want you to apply weed killer when weeds are actively growing which is in spring or fall, not during the hot hazy days of summer when their metabolism slows. Timing is everything.
Fertilizer should be applied when things are actively growing, too. If we apply it too early, we force things out of dormancy prematurely. Too late and we interrupt their ability to prepare for winter hardiness. After the initial flush of spring growth, trees and shrubs won’t need a lot of fertilizer, while your vegetables and bedding plants will. Generally, feed perennial plants until mid-July. Annuals and vegetable gardens that die at the end of the year need fertilizer until they are spent. Often, dying lower leaves of vegetables indicates a lack of fertilizer.
Water infrequently, but deeply. Sprinklers are the least effective way to water, due to evaporation. Consider conserving water resources. Soaker hoses, a pail with a nail hole in the bottom, drip irrigation, rainwater and grey water collection, are all things we should consider. In our Virginia heat remember to water your potted plants frequently.
Time to prune varies by plant. There is the ideal time, and then there are things you can get away with if you don’t mind sacrificing bloom or berries. Consider the plant by reading up a bit on your plant or ask us at the Help Desk. Pruning in the summer is hard on a plant due to water loss and the relentless attack of insects and disease. Dead-heading blooms is altogether different. This perpetuates the life of the blooming stage of the plant. Cutting flowers for the kitchen table will accomplish the same result.
Dead-heading blooms is altogether different. This perpetuates the life of the blooming stage of the plant. Cutting flowers for the kitchen table will accomplish the same result.
Planting is best done in spring and fall. However, if you can water and provide shade temporarily, you can plant any time you can dig a hole. The question is, are you prepared to monitor it frequently and react quickly? Water stressed plants lose their shininess and appear dull. They move to the point of no return quickly.
Drought stressed plants are prime targets for insects and disease. There are insects that appear immobile, like scale. Sucking insects like aphids and spider mites are masters of disguise. Not every insect is your enemy, so investigate! Go to the Help Desk page and complete the form. Add pictures if you want.
Pesticides are just one of the controls we can employ. Each of us needs to decide if we want to be organic or just the least impactful. Some organic things are more toxic than synthetics. It is not just what you use, but when and where. Avoid spraying blooms that bees are visiting. Make every minute and decision count in the hot summer garden, but stay with it!