Sunday, July 21, 2013

Banish Those Mid-Summer Gardening Blues

Posted by: Micaela Truslove, Broomfield County Extension

Late July is a tough time in the garden.  It’s warm--really warm--and the beautiful little transplants and seedlings you had in June are now beginning to show their age, while the weeds and insects seem to be growing stronger and more plentiful by the day.  It’s enough to make any gardener frustrated, but before you throw in the trowel and give your garden over to the beasties, let’s step back and talk about some tools that will get you through the long, hot mid-summer days, sanity intact.

Deadheading can result in
beautiful bouquets for your
home. (Photo M. Truslove)
Provide the right environment to keep plants healthy.  The first step to give plants a fighting chance is to make sure they have everything they need to remain strong in the face of mid-summer challenges.  When plants are run-down and weak, they are far more susceptible to disease organisms and insects, just like us (well, minus the insect bit).

Practice smart watering.  Making sure plants have adequate water is obviously important when temperatures begin to rise, but avoid the “more is better” approach.  Soggy soils can be just as harmful as dry soils.  Remember that ideally plants need equal parts oxygen and water in the soil to grow properly. Proper watering rather than overwatering will help keep plants hydrated and happy.

It’s never too late to mulch.  One way to conserve water and ensure even soil moisture is to mulch.  At a recent talk about caring for woody plants during drought, Fort Collins City Forester Tim Buchanan said “Good things happen to people who mulch”.  Mulching is important for many reasons, including keeping plants cool and hydrated.  Even if you applied mulch in the spring, now is a good time to make sure you still have good coverage.  Three to four inches is generally adequate.  Apply and wait for good fortune to befall you.

Fertilize wisely.  Avoid the temptation to douse ailing plants with a heavy dose of fertilizer. Some plants, such as annuals and those kept in containers, may benefit from a light application of water soluble fertilizer.  They often start losing steam mid-summer because the nitrogen reserves in the soil have been depleted.   Some vegetables are heavy feeders, such as corn and potatoes, and also benefit from a small boost of fertilizer later in the season.  A good sign that they are low in nitrogen is that the leaves begin to yellow, starting with older leaves at the base of the plant.  Remember that nitrogen promotes leafy growth over flower and fruit production, so avoid excessive applications of N late in the summer.

Avoid the temptation to fertilize perennials this late in the game. These plants are past the initial growth spurt that naturally happens earlier in spring and summer and are winding down for the year. Fertilizing late in the season encourages succulent new growth that will be vulnerable to insect attack and cold injury in winter.

Remove plants that are past their prime.  Sometimes tough love is the best love.  This goes for annuals and vegetables that are limping along so you can glean one last harvest or one final bloom.
These new beet seedlings will
be ready to harvest by fall.
(Photo: M. Truslove)

These plants are magnets for pests and diseases, so remove them, add them to the compost, and know that their death hasn’t been in vain.  Replace them with fresh, new plants, or in the case of vegetables, plant a second crop for a fall harvest.  In the Denver metro area we still have roughly 70 days until the first average frost, so choose crops and varieties that will mature before the first week of October.  Good candidates are leafy greens such as spinach, swiss chard and lettuce, beets, carrots, turnips, broccoli, radishes, and peas. Be sure to check seed packets as different varieties of the same vegetables can have wildly different maturity rates.

Deadheading.  Also in the category of tough love is the practice of deadheading.  Yup, sometimes plant decapitation is just what the doctor ordered.  By deadheading, you are thwarting the plant’s mission to reproduce, so it keeps making more flowers to complete its lifecycle, which we are artificially prolonging for our viewing pleasure.  Ingenious.

In addition, cutting flowers more or less at their prime not only satisfies the need to deadhead, you can also create beautiful bouquets for your home.  If deadheading is not your style, you can let plants go to seed, which is appreciated by many species of birds, and will increase the number of plants you have without having to buy more.  Also ingenious.

This bindweed clearly should
have been pulled long ago. There
are plants in there somewhere...
(Photo: M. Truslove)
Weeding and more weeding.  Some folks love to weed--all...summer...long. I have to admit, this isn’t me.  I do love the look of a newly weeded, tidy garden, but by the time mid-summer rolls around, it brings less joy and feels like more of a chore, but it is important to keep it up.  Weeds are contending for the same water and nutrients as your more desirable garden plants, so give your plants the advantage and keep it up.  Staying on top of the weeds will also ensure that you’ll have fewer to contend with next season.

When late July rolls around and both you and your plants are feeling less than perky, it is important to keep on top of those small tasks.  Following the tips above will keep your garden healthy and looking its best into fall.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for these helpful, easy tips. Gardening is such a comforting hobby yet it requires a lot of patience and diligence on the part of the Gardner to nurture the plants. These tips will surely be very useful.