Keeping garden plants healthy through the summer months is often a challenge and shows the difference between being a real gardener and a wannabe.
In the enthusiasm of spring it is easy to forget that gardening involves some work all season. Having a beautiful garden is not just about planting a few germaniums on a beautiful day in May.
Most flowers and vegetables need about an inch of water each week to remain healthy and beautiful. When there is no rain, plants can start suffering in a just a couple of days. The higher the temperatures and greater the wind speed, the faster the plants will be under drought stress. They will stop flowering and then start looking wilted and dry in the afternoon heat. By then drought stress is damaging the plant.
The first defense against drought is to choose types of plants appropriate for the climate and best suited for the specific location. Look at the plant description before choosing a type of plant since this should tell you if water needs of the flower are higher than average or lower.
Plants exposed to full sun all day will suffer more quickly than those that are mostly in shade. Plants on the north side of the house will likely suffer the least. Flowers to the south and west of a structure will dry out first. Sandy soils desiccate more rapidly than clay soils. The tops and sides of slopes will dry more quickly than low spots.
Soils rich in organic material hold moisture the longest. Compost acts like a sponge. So work it into the soil before planting in the spring to improve the moisture holding capacity of the soil all season.
Watering in dry periods will keep the garden growing.
Watering is a chore if you don’t have automatic sprinklers. Sprinklers that attach to the end of a garden hose are a popular option but they might have to be moved about to get adequate coverage of all the plants just like a lawn.
Hand watering with a watering can works well if you have the time. Hand watering with a garden hose is the most effective way to get moisture to the plants most in need. But be patient. It takes some time to get enough water on the plant to have the most benefit. Light sprinklings are detrimental even if they are daily since it encourages the plant to grow shallow roots. It is best to water long enough to let the moisture soak down a couple of inches. Use a garden trowel or stick to explore how deep the moisture is soaking, but do not disturb the roots of the plant.
You can improve the effect of watering by creating a shallow basin in the soil around each plant or group of plants. The basin should be between one and two inches deep and a little wider than the spread of the plant leaves when it grows to maximum size. It will hold the water in place rather than allowing it to run off so that the ground immediately around the plant can soak up more.
Mulching helps retain moisture.
Mulching is a strategy of placing loose material, usually organic, around the base of plants to slow down evaporation and keep the soil surface cool. Garden centers sell bags of various kinds of wood chips such as pine, cypress, and cedar. Cedar has a smell that is pleasant to humans but repels insects. Grass clippings and compost can also be used though they need more frequent replacement as they rot.
Place the mulch about three inches deep and spread it evenly. When using summer mulches in the garden, leave a couple of inches of bare soil around each flower stem. Mulching also reduces the need for weeding as many weed seeds will not sprout or grow if no light reaches them.
Heat, drought, and wind are factors that can wither or flatten garden plants. Ravenous insects can devour them. Pesky animals can uproot them. Fast growing weeds can choke them out. Or they might fail to thrive due to lack of nutrients. Summer drought is one of the easier problems to control. It mostly takes a little time and commitment.