As temperatures rise and the beach beckons, even the most dedicated gardeners feel like slacking off on weekly yard and garden chores. And why not? By late summer, isn’t it time to kick back a bit and enjoy the fruits of early season labor?
Yet mid- to late-summer is exactly when we want gardens to be colorful and looking their best. For most, that takes work. But for those with a bit of foresight and a few slick tricks under their belts, it’s possible to help gardens to become more self-sufficient.
Following are tips for keeping late summer chores to a minimum:
Cover Bald Spots. Cruise through the garden now, spying out spots where soil is exposed. Bare ground is a welcome mat for weed seeds and they’ll waste no time settling in. Invest in a few bags of mulch now to cover any open areas. You’ll be controlling weeds and also helping to retain soil moisture.
Arrest Weedy Criminals. So many aggressive weeds set seeds mid-summer through fall, it ought to be a crime! Though the list of weed seeds that germinate in spring is long, many start or restart their life cycles later in the season. These include such weedy thugs as grasses, knotweed, dandelions, thistles and nutsedge. Stop those seeds before they grow by sprinkling a pre-emergent weed preventer such as Preen atop garden soil or mulch. Applied in spring and again in mid-summer, Preen prevents weed seeds from rooting all season, including seeds newly carried in by the wind, birds or animals. If you didn’t apply Preen earlier, do it now. Each application is effective for three to four months. No roots, no weeds, no weeding.
Look Ma, No Hands. Unlike many gardening chores, watering isn’t strenuous. But it can eat up a lot of time. Water timers turn soaker hoses and sprinklers on and off automatically – even when you’re away. Even inexpensive timers can be easily programmed to water according to a schedule that suits garden plants and climate. In most cases, watering in the early morning is best, as this gives foliage time to dry during the day, thus avoiding issues from overnight damp and mildew.
Buzz Cut Lanky Bloomers. In the first half of the season, most annuals and perennials put on a big flush of growth and a great show of color. By July and August, many plants produce fewer flowers and look scraggly. Use scissors to snip off spent flowers and cut back lanky stems. A midsummer haircut rebalances the ratio of roots to top growth and gets plants focused on producing fresh displays of growth and blossoms.
Bring on the Cheerios. To return the “Glee” to dull-looking July and August gardens, add late-blooming cheerleaders such as coneflowers, rudbeckia, perennial hibiscus, yarrow and sedum. These carefree, heat and drought tolerant perennials are available from garden centers and mass merchants now. Once planted, they’ll come back to bloom year after year, producing lots of color with little to no attention. Artemisia, lavender, lamb’s ears and many other plants with silver or grey leaves are also drought tolerant, as are most ornamental grasses.
RX for Ditsy Container Plants. Small pots lose moisture more quickly than large containers, requiring strict watering regimens. Consolidating plants from small pots into larger containers will save watering time, keep plants healthier and create a bigger visual impact. Before replanting, soak each small-potted plant in water for a few minutes to fully hydrate the root ball. Then remove the plants from their small pots and create a new arrangement in the larger container. Group large pots for drama and ease in watering. Occasional fertilizing will help maintain plant flower production and vigor.
There’s no such thing as a chore-free garden. But a strategy that includes a few slick tricks will minimize the fuss and keep the garden going on its own while gardeners kick back and do… whatever they darn well feel like.