5 Tips for Summer Gardening Success

Depending on where you live, summer can be a glorious time for gardening -- or a brutal endurance test under scorching heat. But one thing is certain: Wherever you live, there’s always plenty to do in a summer garden.

Here are five quick summer gardening tips that will help you keep up with the challenges the season brings, while keeping your plants, lawn, budget – and yourself in good shape.

1. Save time and money with free expert gardening advice.

As much as you may love gardening, no one wants to waste labor or expense on the wrong plant, fungicide or pesticide – especially in the hot summer sun. While trial and error is part of the fun of gardening, you can increase your odds of success by first seeking good advice.

Fortunately, you have a place to go for reliable expert gardening advice that’s free and unbiased – your local county extension office, a program of the U.S. National Institute of Food and Agriculture -- paid for by your tax dollars. Most counties in the U.S. have an extension office with both professional horticulture agents and volunteers trained through the Master Gardener program on hand to answer your gardening questions of all types. You can get free gardening advice by phone, email and in-person, as well as online articles and frequent workshops.  

There may be a nominal fee for some services, such as soil testing and insect and plant identification, but these can often deliver big benefits by giving you a correct diagnosis, treatment and knowledge of how to care for a specific plant or problem.

One of the most valuable things about your county extension service advice is it’s tailored to your specific area and climate. What works for gardeners in New York can be a disaster in Florida or parts of California. The easiest way to find your local office is to Google “__ county extension service,” with your county name first. You’ll find detailed monthly calendars with to-do lists for key garden chores such as fertilizing, pest control, planting and maintenance that are timed for where you live. In the meantime, read on for some quick tips that work for summer

2. Deadhead and prune to promote blooms and growth.

Did you know you can get more flowers by simply removing spent blossoms? Referred to as deadheading, as in “off with their heads,” deadheading is like giving your hair a trim. Just snip or pinch off the dead flowers and you might be rewarded by a second round of blooms. At the least, you’ll be encouraging more flowers come fall. Even for plants that won’t be coaxed into a second bloom, deadheading helps keep your garden looking healthy and tidy.
While light summer pruning or trimming to remove dead branches or for modest shaping is fine, the timing for major trimming depends on the species. When trimming, just cut plants back to the first new growth you see. Generally, extensive trimming is best reserved for when the tree or plant is dormant. For specific how-to’s on pruning checking out these pruning tips and the ABCs of pruning.  

3. Be water smart.

While hot, dry summer months require more watering to keep your landscape lush and healthy, keep in mind that overwatering may actually cause more damage to plants and lawns, say the experts at the Purdue University Turfgrass Science Program in Indiana. Consequences of overwatering include increased crabgrass, disease and shallow rooting – not to mention higher water bills and wasting a valuable resource.

Here are easy tips to avoid overwatering plants and grass:

  • Step on it: Grass doesn't always need water just because it's hot out. Step on the lawn, and if the grass springs back, it doesn't need water. An inexpensive soil moisture sensor can also show the amount of moisture at the plant's roots and discourage overwatering.
  • Leave it long: Raise your lawn mower blade. Longer grass promotes deeper root growth, resulting in a more drought-resistant lawn, reduced evaporation, and fewer weeds.
  • Watch your timing: Water during the early morning to reduce evaporation. Watch for drought stress and water as needed if rainfall has been spotty. Focus watering on new plantings to get them established.

4. Prevent pests the natural way.

Most pests are opportunists, so healthy plants resist pests better than weak plants, according to The Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety. Focus on promoting health from the beginning by selecting healthy seeds and seedlings known to resist diseases and suited to your climate. Strong seeds are likely to produce plants with little need for pesticides. Plant at the proper time of year and maintain even soil temperature and moisture. Water wisely(see above).

You can also use biological controls by encouraging birds and beneficial insects that eat pests. For example, ladybugs and their larvae eat aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies and mites. Other beneficial bugs include spiders, centipedes, ground beetles, lacewings, dragonflies and big-eyed bugs.
Since many pests tend to be more active in warm weather, watch for early signs so you can start treatment before pests gain a foothold. When choosing a pesticide or fungicide product, look for the many organic, non-toxic options now available. You’ll want to look for the OMRI-listed label, which means the product qualifies as organic under the USDA’s National Organic Program, as determined by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). Organic gardening products tend to be a safer, gentler option than traditional products made from toxic chemicals. For example, Earth’s Ally and Grower’s Ally Disease Control from Sarasota Green Group are a new generation of essential oils extracted from the thyme herb to provide a broad spectrum fungicide and bactericide safe for people, pets and the planet.

5. Keep weeds from taking over.

Everything likes to grow in the summer -- including weeds, unfortunately. Avoid a weed takeover in your garden by mulching early. For an extra layer of prevention, you can add newspaper or cardboard under the mulch. Combined with mulching, this is a low-cost way to discourage weeds and is a more natural alternative than landscaping cloth since paper eventually breaks down into the soil. Plus, you get bonus points for putting all that cardboard from your shipping boxes to good use.

When weeds inevitably appear, yank them out while they’re still young and the roots aren’t fully developed. It’s easiest to weed after a rain when the soil is soft and you’re more likely to get the roots out along with the top plant. Most important: Pull the weed before it starts to flower and goes to seed. 

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