By MELINDA MYERS
Summer means hot and often dry weather for many gardeners. Keep your garden looking its best with less water and maintenance throughout the summer.
Spread a layer of organic mulch like leaves, evergreen needles or woodchips on the soil surrounding plants. This helps keep plant roots cool, conserves moisture, suppresses weeds and improves the soil as it decomposes. Use a three- to four-inch layer of coarser material like wood chips and a thinner, one-inch layer of finer materials like leaves. Pull the mulch away from the trunk of the tree, stems of shrubs, and base of flowers and vegetables.
Water thoroughly to encourage deep, drought tolerant roots. Light, frequent watering promotes shallow roots, making plants more susceptible to drought and other environmental stresses.
Check new plantings every day or two and water often enough to keep the root area and surrounding soil slightly moist. Gradually extend the time between watering. Most plants thrive with an inch of water each week. Let soil moisture not the calendar be your guide. Adjust your watering practices based on temperature, soil type and rainfall.
Water gardens early in the day to reduce water lost to evaporation and the risk of disease. Consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses to apply water directly to the soil where it is needed. You will conserve moisture and help reduce the risk of spreading disease with overhead watering.
Check container gardens daily. Water thoroughly, until excess water exits through the drainage hole, whenever the top few inches of potting mix are dry. Succulents like to go a bit drier while moisture-loving plants prefer evenly moist soil.
Continue weeding throughout the summer. These unwanted plants compete for water and nutrients. Many are hosts for insects and disease, attracting them to the landscape and putting your garden plants at greater risk.
Remove faded flowers (deadhead) to improve the plant’s appearance, encourage more flowers or prevent reseeding. Self-cleaning plants like impatiens, cuphea and calibrachoa need no deadheading to keep blooming. Columbine, Amsonia and bee balm are a few perennials that produce lots of seedlings. Deadhead these and other plants that produce more seedlings than you desire. Stop deadheading perennials in late summer or early fall to allow seed heads to form. The seed heads add winter interest and many attract songbirds to the garden.
Use twigs, decorative stakes, or other supports to keep tall, floppy plants standing tall in the garden. Take time to mask functional supports so staked plants still look their best. Consider decorative stakes or convert found items into garden art that adds interest while keeping your plants upright.
Don’t fret when some of your annuals stop blooming during the hotter days of summer. Lobelia, French marigolds, and sweet alyssum are a few annuals that may stop flowering (heat stall) during hot weather. Continue to water and trim back as needed. Then wait for cooler temperatures and flowers to return.
Add a few hanging baskets or containers for extra color and pizzazz. Place containers and hanging baskets in lackluster garden areas like the front entrance, next to the patio or anywhere a bit of fresh color is needed.
Employ a few or all of these strategies to keep your garden looking its best. You will be amazed at the big impact such small efforts can provide.
(Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook and 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. Her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.)