By MELINDA MYERS
So, you filled your shopping cart and gardens with lots of new shrubs, flowers, and vegetables. Now what? Keep your plants looking their best with minimal effort so you can enjoy them and your summer even more.
Watering is one task where I find even experienced gardeners struggle. Proper watering is key. Too much or not enough water can result in yellow, wilting and even death of plants.
Check container plantings daily. Stick your finger into the soil and water whenever the top few inches of soil is starting to dry. Water thoroughly so the excess runs out of the pot and away from the planter.
New plantings need special attention the first few weeks. Water thoroughly and often enough to keep the roots and surrounding soil slightly moist. Gradually reduce frequency and only water thoroughly when the top few inches are crumbly, but slightly moist.
Continue giving perennials, trees, and shrubs regular care the first two years. It takes this long for them to establish a robust root system. Water thoroughly, but only as needed.
Water early in the day to reduce water lost to evaporation. Avoid watering at night. Wet foliage at night is more susceptible to disease.
Use soaker hoses, drip irrigation or watering wands to apply water to the soil. Less water is wasted plus you’ll help decrease the risk of disease by avoiding wet foliage.
Mulch gardens to conserve moisture, suppress weeds and improve the soil as it decomposes.
Spread a two- to three-inch layer of organic mulch such as shredded leaves, evergreen needles, wood chips or shredded bark on the soil surface surrounding your plants. The courser the mulch used, the thicker the layer.
Do not bury the base of your plants or pile mulch against the trunks of trees. This can lead to a decline of your plants. I like to use wood-based mulches for permanent plantings and pathways.
Consider using shredded leaves, evergreen needles or even a thin layer of chemical-free grass clippings for annual plantings. These mulches break down more quickly than wood and do not cause nutrient deficiencies if worked into the soil.
Fertilization provides the nutrients plants need to grow and thrive, but too much of a good thing can be detrimental. Over fertilization can result in lots of green leafy growth, but no flowers or fruit. Lush succulent growth from over fertilization is more susceptible to insect and disease problems.
Select a fertilizer labeled for the plants you are growing and your gardening goals. Organic and slow release fertilizers provide a slow, steady supply of nutrients over a longer period of time. You’ll need to make fewer applications throughout the growing season.
Do not apply more than the recommended rate. Not only are you wasting fertilizer and money, but an overdose of fertilizer can damage and even kill plants.
Consider taking a soil test in the future. The results tell you how much and what type of fertilizer to apply. Contact your local Extension office for tips on how to take a soil test and where to send the sample for testing.
Visit your gardens regularly. Pick a few flowers to enjoy in a vase indoors and harvest vegetables when they are mature. Regular harvests of ripe vegetables and herbs keeps them producing.
So, enjoy your summer and gardening adventures. Each year brings new successes, plants to try, and lessons to learn from our gardens. As you experience the joy and benefits of this season’s garden, you will be looking for more opportunities to expand your plantings next year.
(Melinda Myers has written numerous books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.)