Gardeners' Dirt: Seasonal gardening tips for hot summer months
By Myra Sue Schulze - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
June 27, 2013 at 1:27 a.m.
Editor's note: This is the third in a series of four articles on seasonal gardening tips provided by the Victoria County Master Gardeners for the Victoria area. Reference material is from Dr. Doug Welsh's Texas - specific Texas Garden Almanac. Dr. Welsh was the first statewide coordinator for the Texas Master Gardener program.
I don't know about you, but despite it officially starting on the calendar only last week, I sure know it has felt like we're well into a hot South Texas summer. Here are a few pointers on how to keep your gardens and landscapes looking their best from now through August.
Once you have established your garden, then begins the challenge of keeping things alive through good watering practices while keeping away annoying weeds.
The practice of mulching will have the most impact on water conservation practices by retaining water and cooling the soil. It is also the best way to get a head start on controlling weeds.
Mulches come in many types and colors. Pine bark, cedar, rubber and even rock are available. Remember to choose those that blend in aesthetically with the environment.
Watering the lawn and garden prior to and just after sunrise is best. During this time, the temperature and wind are at their lowest. Remember to begin irrigation at the first sign of moisture stress in lawns, landscape plants or the vegetable garden.
Be observant for dull, gray green-colored leaf blades rolling up or perhaps footprints left on the lawn after you have walked across it as these may be signs of drought stress.
Water as soon as possible with 1 inch of water during any irrigation so that it reaches 6 inches deep in clay soil and about 12 inches in sandy soil.
Drip irrigation should run for much longer periods than sprinkler irrigation. With proper drip irrigation, 1 gallon of water per hour for two to three hours should be sufficient for flower or vegetable gardens and lawns. Monitor daily and when in doubt, observe the plants; they will signal you.
If you don't currently use drip irrigation, make a commitment to set up one flower or garden bed this summer. Drip systems significantly reduce water use and should be the standard whenever possible for all your landscape and garden plantings.
Plant, lawn care
If you are like me in the sense that your plants and lawn are a source of pride and joy, then inspect them often for any signs or symptoms of stress. Many of the symptoms we see such as discoloration, brown spots or dying leaves can be misdiagnosed as insects or plant disease.
Don't ever turn to pesticides before correctly diagnosing the problem. About 75 percent of plant problems occurring at this time of the year are due to heat and drought stress.
Be on the lookout for damage in lawns from fire ants or chinch bugs that generally appear first in the hottest areas along driveways or sidewalks. These can be controlled relatively easily with proper diagnosing and by using organic or chemical insecticides.
Trees, shrubs and vines
Most trees and shrubs can survive without any supplemental irrigation; however, they will appreciate it. Watch your plants for signs of extreme water stress indicated by browning of leaf edges, yellow or wilting leaves and dropping of foliage.
Always evaluate plant location in landscape requirements of full sun, full shade, filtered light, etc. Also consider the variety and avoid heat sinks (courtyards, west sun exposure near brick walls, concrete drives or patios) that cause extreme stress on plants. Sometimes, it may be necessary to remove them from the landscape.
Vegetables, herbs and fruits
Most of your vegetable plants are in high production now, so harvest when ripe. Water to help them along and monitor pests. There's no need for heavy fertilizer or pesticide applications during this time.
If you are into herbs, plant transplants such as basil, chives, spearmint or rosemary in a shallow, wide container and place in a sunny location. Provide water for all fruit trees to help maintain healthy foliage for next season's crop.
Butterflies, birds and squirrels
Let's not forget our little feathered and furry friends. The monarch butterfly will begin migration through Texas and needs nourishing rest stops in landscapes (e.g. butterfly weed) to make it through.
The purple martin houses will begin to vacate as their occupants head toward South America. These feathered friends do an awesome number on our backyard pesky insects.
Keeping our bird baths and water fountains fresh daily will help keep the mosquito population at a low while providing yard critters a happy sanctuary.
Time for a drink
I think it's 5 o'clock somewhere. And that calls for a drink of something at a given hour for every living thing this time of year to insure healthy gardeners, gardens and landscapes. Enjoy your garden this summer.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.