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Prepare for Summer Blooms and Sow Fall Vegetables

A bumble bee visits a garden of pink and orange flowers.
Spring blossoms have been on full display and are making way for summer blooms. (Photo by Victor Camilo)

Spring has unfolded slowly this year, greening the world in such a way we appreciated the horticulture marvels of each passing day. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching seeds germinate with the promise of a summer garden, all the while marveling at the extended spring bloom season due to the sustained cool weather. When sowing seeds, it is best to stagger the sowing of zucchini, beans, carrots, beets, and corn at weekly intervals. Doing so extends the harvest, making managing the ripened produce much easier. June is also the month to plant pumpkins, gourds, and southern peas for harvest in the fall. Believe it or not, June is also the best time to plan the fall garden since many fall crops need to be sown in July. Amazing how time flies!

The warmer temperature of June brings me out of my spring-induced nirvana. With the arrival of summer comes the need to focus on watering recently-planted vegetables, flowers, shrubs, and trees. An occasional deep watering is far better than a daily light watering to encourage roots to grow deeply for drought tolerance. Watering in the morning is ideal, but if not possible then keep the leaves dry by watering at the base of the plant. I enjoy using a watering wand with a breaker at the end to direct the water where needed. Mulch, be it straw in the vegetable garden or other organic matter in the borders, is important to retain soil moisture and reduce watering. Hanging baskets and containers typically require more frequent watering; unfortunately the repeated drenching leaches away water-soluble nitrogen, an important nutrient required for healthy growth. Remember to regularly fertilize all containers following the directions on the label of the product you prefer.

Fertilizer does not come as one-size-fits-all; it is best to purchase fertilizer for each crop. I use slow-release, organic fertilizer that is specifically formulated for vegetables, flowers, roses, or shrubs. Putting a date of purchase on the waterproof storage container helps with monitoring the inventory and prevents spoilage of the fertilizer from high humidity. Please follow the instructions on each label to eliminate over fertilizing, which often results in runoff ending up in local waterways.

With the glorious display of spring flowering shrubs at an end, now is the time to not only fertilize these plants but to prune them - but only if needed. Soil tests taken during the winter months will reveal what, if any, fertilizer is required for optimum growth. As for pruning, only clip what is necessary such as diseased, crossing or rubbing branches, suckers from the roots or abnormally straight growing water sprouts from branches. Complete any necessary pruning soon because next spring’s flower buds are formed during the late summer.

In the border, stay on top of deadheading spent flowers. Energy funneled to forming seeds means that energy will not be used for growth or for more blooms this season. Repeat-blooming roses thrive with deadheading as well as cosmos, marigolds, salvia, bee balm and zinnias, to name a few. While deadheading, look for insects and quickly manage them with a strong stream of cold water, soapy water or horticulture oil spray, or remove them manually. Lace bugs thrive in the June heat and are easy to spy by their excrement, small black tar-like spots on the underside of an azalea or rhododendron leaf. Once again, I have found repeated applications of one of the options listed above should be considered for control. While looking for insects also take notice of diseases such as black spot on roses or mildew on new growth. A light pruning of one or two crossing canes should open the bush up to more sunlight and air circulation, reducing the conditions for the disease. However, some cultivars are prune to blackspot, and treatment for this common fungus must be repeated regularly to keep the fungal spores suppressed. As with any product, the label is the law so please read and follow all instructions.

Lawn care takes a shift in care from spring to summer. The cutting height of the mower blade should be raised to 4” to reduce heat stress - the taller the leaf blade, the deeper the roots will grow and the more drought tolerant each grass plant becomes. Again, watering deeply is far better than frequent light watering so please adjust the irrigation clock setting accordingly. Brown patch is a disease that appears during the summer, the brown circles in the lawn are easy to spy. Treatment should focus on the areas infected with a product labeled to control this specific lawn fungus. As with all fungicides, repeated applications per the label will be necessary to keep the fungus from spreading.

Finally, I cannot stress the importance of shading the soil surface during the summer growing season. June is the month when many gardeners stop weeding due to the heat and many good gardening intentions go awry. A thick layer of straw in the vegetable garden goes a long way in controlling weeds with little investment and minimal effort. Extra organic mulch in the border also does the same. Planting any group of plants closer to one another so collectively they shade the soil will produce a similar result; this is why wide row and raised bed gardening methods are so successful.

As gardeners we need to shade ourselves, too. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect the ears, neck, and shoulders, and always apply sunscreen. There are facial sunscreens and body lotions that block the sun’s powerful UV rays without a greasy feeling, a common complaint. Experience has taught me and many of my colleagues the value of a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen, and while gardeners are passionate about plants, taking care of ourselves should be paramount to everything else.

Happy gardening,

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