Summertime Tips

The summer border in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The summer border (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Not unlike the wrath of old man winter’s icy grip, summer can be a harsh mistress carrying a variety of problems on her balmy coattails as well. With warmer temperatures come long periods of drought followed by fierce storms, or the opposite, torrential rains and air so muggy you could cut it with a knife. Erratic temperature and moisture fluctuations wreak havoc on a garden (especially those less established), often creating an invitation for all sorts of unexpected predicaments. Following are a few of the worst of the bunch and how I deal with them in an environmentally conscious way.

Diatomaceous Earth-Magnified in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Diatomaceous Earth Magnified (image: Diatoms Powder)

Whether dry or drenched, lots of pesky creatures tend to land in our gardens when they are under duress. My garden is near a stream, so added moisture and mugginess only compound the problem of slimy critters such as slugs and snails. Yet, when there is no rain for months on end and the stream is a dry bed of rocks, I still have unwanted infestations of bugs that eat my plants to smithereens. So what’s a gardener to do? Try diatomaceous earth, my friends, and you’ll find many of these pests will soon become a part of your garden past. Diatomaceous earth is a compound consisting of fossilized shell that is crumbled into a fine white dust (used in abrasives and pool filtration systems) and is completely harmless to you and the environment. However, diatomaceous earth has no mercy on slugs, snails and many crawling insects, as its seemingly smooth texture actually cuts them to bits . . . or at least makes them uncomfortable enough to relocate. It works best when spread at the (preferably dry) base of plants, but can be used sparingly on the leaves of badly infested plants as well.

Pruning keeps this willow from flopping in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Pruning keeps this willow from flopping (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

When those incredibly nasty storms come through bringing high winds and driving rain, you may find the majority of your taller perennials bent and broken on the ground afterward. Some of my more fragile shrubs (such as Annabelle hydrangea) also end up as a floppy mess. But you can lessen these occurrences by pruning your statuesque plants by half in late spring (mid-June, but you can still do some now), which will turn them into the most stalwart members of your summer garden. I use this method on Joe Pye weed, late season asters, ironweed, helianthus and some rudbeckia. They might be a tiny bit shorter, but they’ll still be standing after the gale force winds blow through. For shrubs, I prune more randomly to avoid compromising bloom, but this technique still helps to give the overall structure more strength. Try pruning some of the lower, inside and a few of the tallest limbs and see how your plants respond (you can also prune your perennials this way if you want to create a vase-like shape).

Two Monarda, one with mildew resistance in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Even the bee prefers the monarda with mildew resistance (photo by:Kathy Diemer)

And then there is the vile garden wretch that seems to appear out of nowhere, and once established, spreads fistfuls of mold specks into every crack and corner accessible to its despicable reach. This well known offender did its worst in my garden this year, causing me to lose one gorgeous phlox and two specimen thalictrum that usually tower over my gardens, along with painting white polka dots on the foliage of many other plants. You have two options to prevent a mildew infestation: First, select new strains of mildew resistant plants whenever possible (there are many out there for phlox and monarda that really work) and second, at the first sign of mold spots-Do Not Wait-make this garden safe formula (recipe following) and spray it on the foliage of all affected plants, making sure to get to the undersides of the leaves. Depending on the area in distress, you can use a backpack sprayer for larger spaces or a simple spray bottle for individual plants. This original recipe was developed by Cornell University, to be mixed with 1 gallon of water: 1 Tablespoon baking soda, 1 Tablespoon horticultural oil (or summer oil, easily found at garden centers) and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Shake well and apply to plants that are not in direct sunlight (you may want to apply early morning or late afternoon once sun has passed). For severely overwhelmed plants, you may have to remove a lot of the foliage and any mulch that can hold mold spores, to prevent further infestation. In my situation, I cut the hardest hit plants to the ground, removed all foliage and mulch, and sprayed surrounding plants that had any symptoms. Now I’ll wait to see if the poor things revive, and if not, I’ll fill the vacancies next spring with some mildew resistant varieties!

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