Jul 03 , 2020
Intense summer heat can shrivel up a garden in no time. And rain is not always timely. These tips will help keep your home landscape looking fresh and lively.
Test the Soil
Amending soil is key to plant health, particularly the amount of nutrients and moisture it holds. Use a soil test kit to determine what your soil is like. Specifically, you want to know the pH and whether the soil is lacking key nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Once you have this information, adjust the pH if desired (iron sulfate to make it more acidic, limestone to make it more alkaline) and apply a fertilizer that addresses any nutrient deficiency.
Amend the Soil
No matter what kind of soil you have, it’s helpful to amend it with compost. Buy bagged compost at a garden center or make your own. Some municipalities and companies sell it by the pickup truckload. Compost works with all kinds of soil, helping sandy soils retain moisture and breaking up clay soils for better drainage and easier root penetration. In addition, compost adds trace nutrients and beneficial microbes that are key to healthy soil.
Mulch is an unsung hero of the garden. Aesthetically, it finishes off a bed and makes a planting look more cohesive. Culturally, it conserves moisture, keeps the sun from baking the ground and discourages weeds. And if it’s an organic mulch such as wood chips or shredded leaves, it eventually breaks down and feeds the soil. Always match the type of mulch with the plant. For instance, drought-tolerant cactus and succulents do better with a stone mulch, while most other garden plants prefer an organic mulch.
Use a Soaker Hose
Irrigation is key, especially when the weather turns hot. Avoid watering during the heat of the day when evaporation is greatest. Morning watering is best because foliage can dry before nightfall and won’t be prone to foliar diseases. Use a soaker hose and lay it at the base of plants. A soaker hose “perspires” moisture slowly onto the ground. No wet foliage. Less evaporation. Easier watering. And ultimately happier plants.
Xeriscaping is a form of landscaping that conserves water. It does so in more than one way. It’s partly about using tough, drought-tolerant plants and partly about grouping plants with like-minded watering needs. The goal is reducing or even eliminating the need for irrigation. Xeriscapes make use of many of the topics in this story, from improving soil to mulching ground.
Swap out needy plants with native plants, which grow naturally in your area and are well-suited to the conditions. These plants can fend for themselves and need little or no pampering, other than consistent watering when getting established. Your local cooperative extension will have a list of plants suited to your region. Don’t depend solely on the selection at the garden center because the inventory sometimes includes plants that aren’t winter-hardy.
Match Annuals with the Season
There are cool-season annuals and warm-season annuals. Each does best when grown in the right temperature range. Pansies, dianthus and snapdragons prefer cooler spring temperatures, while petunias, marigolds and zinnias excel in the heat of summer. There is some crossover, but your plants will look healthier and more vigorous when grown in the right season. In the hottest areas of the country, annuals will peter out over time and need to be replaced several times a year. Here are some practically indestructible annuals to grow.
Throw Some Shade
Shade is a gardener’s best friend when temperatures soar. A little protection during the hottest part of the day helps other plants hold up better than they would in full sun. This is even true with sun-loving vegetables, especially in the South where shade cloth may be required. Consider using an arbor, pergola or even a well-positioned shade tree to provide some fleeting afternoon shade for a landscape.
Group Container Plants
Container gardens often start out gloriously but slip into oblivion if neglected for even a few days when it’s hot. There are solutions. Consider filling the containers with plants that can take occasional dryness, such as succulents. For example, portulaca will hold up better than coleus if you forget to water. Also, use a soil mix that contains water-holding crystals (look for terms like “moisture control” on the package). If you’re going on vacation, use a plant watering device and move pots into the shade for up to a week.
Avoid Problem Areas
Every garden has a potential problem area — too much moisture from a drainpipe, not enough moisture because of a roof’s overhang. Try to avoid planting in those areas unless you have a plant that can take the conditions. For instance, a red-twig dogwood or Joe-Pye weed will lap up the extra water, while a succulent such as sedum will fare better in dry conditions.