As the summer swelters on, we can all be thankful that mornings are usually cool enough to take care of a gardening chore or two. Be smart about sun exposure, use sunscreen and drink plenty of water if working outside even in the early morning, and give your body the gift of spreading the work across several days if needed.
ONE –Water conservation is something of which to be aware and practice whether or not it is a drought year. Conserving water in landscapes is not difficult utilizing a few tips. Do not water mature, native California oaks. Mature, drought tolerant trees need deep watering only once per month. Mature fruiting and most ornamental trees growing in our clay-loam soil will need deep irrigation every 14 days. Mature citrus trees can go about 10 days between deep irrigations. Potted trees are not good conservers of water. They need to be checked, and in some cases, watered daily. A lawn that hasn't been replaced with drought resistant landscaping can do nicely with deep watering twice to three times per week depending on the heat. Check plants growing in pots daily during the hottest periods.
THREE- Although the heat tends to make gardeners think of and manage water needs for plants, summer is also a time to attend to feed several of the plants in the landscape, just not in the heat of the day! Apply fertilizer to damp soil and water well after the application. Vegetables, perennials, container plants, and hanging baskets will flourish with a water-soluble fertilizer applied in the cool mornings. Acid loving plants like camelias, azaleas, and rhododendrons need a specialty fertilizer formulated for their needs, while shrubs and garden beds will enjoy an all-purpose fertilizer.
FOUR – The fourth “chore” is a delight. Walk through the garden in the cooler hours pinching back or cutting off spent flowers. Doing so is not only relaxing, but it promotes continued blooms. While taking that walk, determine where a bird bath or other water source could be placed to help birds and thirsty bees through the heat.
ONE – These “Dog Days” of summer are a good time to enjoy the landscape and garden while planning a winter garden and deciding on landscape additions. Select seed, gather whatever soil amendments, tools, and irrigation supplies are needed, and find where that perfect plant, shrub, or tree can be purchased. Visits to nurseries are a great way to beat the heat.
THREE – Apricots and cherries should have their final pruning this month. Pruning during the wet, winter season could lead to detrimental canker infections in the trees. The pathogens for these diseases are spread by rain or tree wounds (like pruning cuts) during wet weather and continue to spread through the wood of the tree for several years.
FOUR – It is time to think of a cool season vegetable garden, especially if there is a day or two with cooler than usual mornings. Just saying those words,” cool morning, cool season garden” like a mantra, may bring some relief from the heat this month. Seeds need to be planted and nurtured this month to produce over the winter. Lettuce, kale, and Chinese cabbage planted now will mature for fall salads. Try some heirloom lettuce this year to brighten both gardens and salads. Beets, carrots, turnips, and fast-maturing potatoes planted now should yield a crop by Christmas. Beet varieties that do well in our area are those with 60 days or less from seed sowing to maturity (as listed on the seed packet). Carrot lovers might try growing white, yellow, orange-red, or purple varieties from seed.
Lee Miller's article, Planning and Planting a Cool Season Vegetable Garden, in the 2013 summer issue of the Master Gardener newsletter, Garden Notes, provides additional information.
ONE – Take a stroll around the garden picking up any fallen fruit and cleaning up plant debris to avoid disease and pests next year. If pest or disease issues are evident on shrubs, shade or deciduous fruit trees at this time make a note of what is happening, and which plant is affected so that you will be prepared to treat the problem during the winter. If help is needed with identification a quick call to the San Joaquin County Master Gardener Hot Line should provide the assistance needed. Talk with a Master Gardener at 209-953-6112.
THREE – Although it seems kind of early to think about spring, now is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs. Bulbs should appear in nurseries right after Labor Day. They are most effective in big flowerpots and in kidney-shaped drifts at the front of garden beds. Some excellent choices include bluebells, daffodils, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, and tulips. Bulbs should bloom beautifully in spring with just rainwater over the fall and winter months. Before planting, check the expected height of different flowers and plant the bulbs so that once blooming, the taller ones won't obstruct the view of the shorter flowers.
FOUR – Organic mulch applied several inches thick around plants will help keep roots moist. Keep the mulch 3-5 inches from the trunks of plants to avoid problems with rot. In addition to conserving water, mulching around trees and shrubs keeps the roots warmer during the winter months, deters weeds, and as it decomposes, the mulch will improve soil structure, aeration, and fertility.