Here are some secrets to successful summer gardening

Richard Bogren  |  6/1/2009 6:54:09 PM

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For Release On Or After 06/26/09

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

When I’m asked about what should be done in the garden this time of year, I generally reply, “As little as possible.” The period from late June to mid-September is the most stressful time of the year for gardeners and their plants. Indeed, the summer season essentially defines the trees, shrubs, ground covers and perennials we can grow successfully in our landscapes.

When you walk outside this time of the year, the heat and humidity are almost unbearable. At times you can hardly breathe. Imagine you are a plant in your landscape enduring the heat day after day, night after night – it’s enough to make you wonder how anything survives. Although summer can take a toll on landscape plants, especially those planted in the past year or so, most plants manage to make it through. And some plants – like tropicals – even enjoy our torrid summer weather.

Despite the heat, gardening activities do still continue – but certainly not at the pace of the past few months.

Take care of yourself

Weekend gardeners are often more accustomed to air-conditioned homes and offices than the heat outside. Working outside in hot weather places extra stresses on the body. To prevent dehydration, drink cold water before, during and after working outside. It is especially important for the body to have a good storehouse of fluids well before the start of outdoor activities. Since you won’t be inclined to stop what you’re doing to go inside for a drink, keep a generous-sized insulated container of ice water with you outside where you are working.

Try to work in your garden in the early morning or late afternoon when the weather is cooler, and stay in shady areas as much as possible. I tend to move out of areas that become sunny and hot and go where there is shade to continue working. I have also been known to use a beach umbrella on occasion. If the day is not too windy, this form of mobile shade can help keep you out of the sun when working in sunny areas.

Wear a hat that shades your face and ears and back of your neck and loose, comfortable clothing. I wear a big, floppy straw hat. I suppose it doesn’t make me look elegant or sophisticated, but I’m not trying to make a fashion statement when I’m gardening.

Use sunscreen on areas of skin that will be exposed to the sun. Also, apply mosquito repellent whenever you go out to work in the garden. Early morning and evening are when mosquitoes are most active, and West Nile virus is still a concern.

Finally, take frequent breaks and try not to stay outside in the heat for extended periods.

Work outside as little as possible

I think one of the best ways to enjoy your garden in summer is indoors, sitting in your favorite easy chair looking out of a window or, perhaps, from a chaise lounge on your shady patio or deck.

Weeding is one of the least enjoyable gardening jobs under the best of circumstances, and heat certainly doesn’t improve the situation. Minimizing the amount of time needed for weeding by keeping your beds well mulched. Experts recommend 2 to 4 inches (deeper around larger plants like old shrubs and trees, less around bedding plants and new plantings). Mulching beds also will reduce the amount of watering they need, and that’s another area where we can minimize time spent in the garden.

Watering properly is critically important in the summer. Plants in containers will likely need to be watered every day. Landscapes will need supplemental irrigation whenever the weather doesn’t provide enough rain. This is especially true for vegetables, bedding plants and newly planted trees and shrubs.

For containers, hand watering works well. But for watering beds and lawns, it’s not efficient and keeps you out in the heat longer. Soaker hoses provide an easy-to-install, efficient and effective way to irrigate beds. Sprinklers also work well and are the most practical way to water large lawn areas. Professionally installed irrigation systems are great and save a lot of work. Should you decide to do this, make sure the person installing the system is licensed by the state (required by law). Using irrigation devices minimizes the time you have to spend watering your plants, and they will water more thoroughly and effectively than you will by hand.

Stay on top of things

Savvy gardeners know that promptly taking care of any problems that arise is an important part of surviving the summer. One day you notice some weeds in one of your garden beds. At that point, it might take you 10 or 15 minutes to deal with it. Two weeks later the problem is much worse, and now it will take 30 or 45 minutes to clear out the weeds.

Addressing a situation promptly applies to many summer gardening jobs, like controlling pests, grooming plants, pruning and most other jobs that keep plants healthy and the landscape attractive. Just try not to procrastinate too much.

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