Entries in summer (10)


Summer Proof the Garden

The doldrums have arrived. Gardening is at a minimum. I prefer to be inside, reading my newest garden magazine. Outside, plants may be loosing their vigor with bright green leaves fading to pale blueish gray, leaf edges crinkled, leaves dropping — all signs of heat stress. Meanwhile, bugs select the weakened plants for midsummer's wildest party, sucking and munching and having an orgy with all their friends and relatives. What's a gardener to do?heat stressed leaves

Don't let the doldrums get you down! Here are ten things one can do to summer proof the garden:

1. Choose the right plants. Many ornamental plants now have heat zone recommendations as well as hardiness zones listed on their tags. Developed by the American Horticultural Society in the late 1990s, the heat zone map identifies 12 heat zones in the US. These heat zones are based upon how many days a year the temperature rises above 86 degrees, the temperature when plant cells begin to deteriorate. I am in heat zone 8, which means there are 91-120 days when temperatures rise above 86. Look to see if a tag has two ratings for a given plant, such as 3-7/4-6. The first set of numbers indicates the plant is winter hardy in hardiness zones 3-7, and the second set of numbers indicates the plant will survive summers in heat zones 4 through 6. Remember the hardiness and heat zone maps are two different maps, so one needs to know both zones for one's location. I am on the edge of hardiness zones 7b/8a, but I am firmly in the middle of heat zone 8. There are plenty of plants that can take my winters but not my summers! Replace plants that die with others that are more likely to survive. Native plants are usually reliable, because they are well adapted to both winter and summer conditions.

2. Another thing that you can do to summer proof your plants is to add compost to the soil. This improves soil texture, creating large pores for water movement and air infiltration. Roots can also spread more easily, allowing the plant to reach nutrients and moisture. One trick to help retain moisture in sandy soil is to add clay based kitty litter.

3. Add a 3-4 inch layer of good organic mulch around the plant, but avoid piling the mulch directly against the base of the plant. I use a lot of pine straw, which complements my naturally acid soil. Avoid artificial mulches or gravel, which will radiate heat around the plant and is more suitable for desert type plants. 

4. Mow lawns high. This allows more leaf surface for photosynthesis, the process by which plants turn sunlight into energy. Do not fertilize lawns, except with a weak water based solution or with a top dressing of compost. 

5. Water deeply, less often. Frequent shallow watering encourages shallow root growth. Early morning watering is best. Drip irrigation systems winding their way through the plants are ideal. Bury them under the layer of mulch.

6. Group plants according to their water needs.

7. Windbreaks can protect plants against harsh summer winds. Trees, hedges, and fencing are options. Fences should allow air movement through the structure. Solid fences can create heat traps. 

8. I like to mix up a summer tonic for my garden. This consist of 2 tbs. of Epsom salts per gallon of water. To this I add fish emulsion or a seaweed fertilizer, prepared according to directions. The Epsom salts provide magnesium and sulfur, which promote photosynthesis. Fish emulsion and seaweed fertilizer supply many trace elements, amino acids, and enzymes that promote plant health and stress tolerance. I apply this to the soil around just about everything in my garden, especially those plants showing heat stress.

9. Provide shade during the hottest part of the day. You can make temporary shades out of shade cloth or other materials. I have seen colorful umbrellas propped here and there in a garden, giving relief to hydrangeas and other heat stressed plants.

10. Move plants in pots to more protected locations.This recent view of my lawn and garden shows that, so far at least, my garden is coming through this year's summer without too much heat stress.It may be tempting to ignore the garden when the summer doldrums strike. There have been years I wanted to give up and let the weeds have it. Don't! Early morning or late afternoon strolls give you an opportunity to check out plants when the temperatures are a bit cooler, and that is also is the best time to get garden chores done. And if you have summer proofed your garden, you and your plants can stay happy, even when the heat and humidity soars.



A Time to Persevere

Hot and sticky today with forecasts of more to come, and it's time to retreat from the garden. The grasshoppers, the white flies, the molds and fungus will thrive, while I neglect my duties in favor of air conditioning and icy drinks. 

Our summer will test the mettle of both plant and gardener, and the weak ones die or go dormant. I make quick forays in the mornings and evenings, yanking a few weeds and checking on the status of my tomatoes and green beans. I hastily tour other parts of the garden. It's green and lush, but on closer inspection I find leaves that are wilted and pitted with tiny holes. Something has been chomping on the foliage, leaving jagged edges. Weeds are sensing my flagging efforts and are putting on a new offensive, determined to take my paths. I won't let them. I will get them with the hoe this Saturday morning. Early.

Normally, people in my part of the country visit the Gulf this time of year. It is part of our culture. In the summer — and other times, too, if we can get away — we go to the beach. Now a great sadness has descended, and we wonder if the oil has reached our favorite spot. I heard that it has come upon Orange Beach. I am glad I spent a few days at Orange Beach earlier this year, before the greatest oil leak in history began its deadly flow into the Gulf. I sigh when I look back at my photos. It seems that summer has no redemption this year.

But I am an optimist. Gardening has shown me the resilience of the earth, and it has demonstrated resurrection and new life. It has taught me to take up my trowel and persevere, for there will be joy in the morning. 

Enough with gloom! Here is what is happening in my garden, today:

Trees are prospering, invigorated by the deep, soaking rains we experienced all spring.

The woodland garden is a quiet retreat.

Hydrangeas are still beautiful.

And a few other flowers bloom, too.top: Caryopteris ( blue mist spirea). Clockwise from above: Asclepsias (butterfly weed); Crepe myrtle; Gardenia; Speedwell

May you never lose hope. May you have courage, and may you have eyes to see things that are beautiful and good.

Happy summer!  Deborah 

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