Midsummer Maintenance


ost plants growing in the ground only need one inch of water per week. When rain is scarce, it’s best to soak the plants. As the water permeates deeper, the roots will follow, allowing them to pull up what they need when things dry out in the summer. Sprinkling a little water every day near the roots only encourages the roots to stay close to the surface.

A fresh coating of mulch will keep the soil evenly moist. It should never touch the bottom of the plant, and should resemble a doughnut, not a volcano.

Potted plants with red flowers and greenery sitting in lushes green vines
Smaller containers like these need watering more often than larger pots. These were planted with shade tolerant flowers to reduce watering.

Don’t forget to water any newly planted trees or shrub too. They need the proper moisture from either rain or the hose until the ground freezes solid this winter to get them ready for their dormant season.

As far as pruning goes, for most trees and shrubs, it’s only done this time of the year to remove deadwood. If a branch is thick or long enough that it could tear the bark of the trunk, make a first cut about 18 inches out from the tree, removing the long branch. Then cut the remainder of the branch, leaving a small nub about a quarter inch long. It’s important to remove deadwood, as it’s an invitation for pests and diseases to enter the tree. Oaks and elms should never be pruned during the summer months as they can be infected with oak wilt or Dutch elm disease. Those trees are pruned during dormancy.

Fertilization of summer plants will give them a boost too. A series of organic granular fertilizers from Espoma are inexpensive and easy to find. Each one is specifically formulated to help certain types of plants. For instance, Hollytone is meant for acid-loving plants like azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwoods, hollies and others. There are a host of different types including Flowertone, Tomatotone, Treetone and many more.

For trees and shrubs, use a bulb auger or something else to make shallow holes around the drip line and add the fertilizer into the holes. The granular fertilizers could also be applied to the surface and raked in. The perfect timing for that application is when rain is on the way.

Commercial tree companies can inject a slow-release liquid fertilizer into the root zone of trees and shrubs.

It’s the time of the year that hanging baskets and containers can start to look a little tired. This is when the adage about containers,  “bigger is better,” really becomes apparent. They are hard to keep watered during long hot days and usually need fertilizer as the plants have used up the nutrients in the planting mix.

hanging baskets with white, yellow, and purple flowers in it.
Keep hanging basket plants happy by deadheading and providing enough water along with fertilizer.

At this point in the season, fertilization should be done just about every time the plant is watered. A good, liquid organic concentrated fertilizer can be mixed with water and applied to the baskets.

As our seasons have lengthened over the years, there’s still months left for the hanging baskets to put on their show.

Even though breeders have worked hard to help our annual flowers shed their spent blooms, deadheading will keep them going strong. Zinnias, marigolds, geraniums, cosmos, petunias and many others benefit from snipping a flower stem that has seen better days. This forces the plant to keep pushing out flowers.

As the planting season for annuals winds down, there are lots of deals to be had at nurseries and garden centers. Don’t worry about planting this late; just as with hanging baskets, our longer season will allow for months of blooms. If there are holes in the garden where perennials have finished, or something hasn’t thrived, bargains galore are available to keep the garden looking great.

As crops in the vegetable garden are harvested, add compost and plant something else.

Seeds of lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard, beets, radishes and other leafy greens can all be sowed now for a fall harvest.

In my garden lettuce is sown every few weeks through September and beyond to keep the greens coming. These plants will handle a little heat early, but as things cool off, will thrive as the days get shorter.

For fall bulb planters, ordering early can save money too and assure that certain cultivars are available.

Keep an eye out for pests. That means occasionally inspecting vegetables and ornamentals.

Keep an eye out for pests. That means occasionally inspecting vegetables and ornamentals.

There are three common insects which are easily controlled without chemicals. Aphids, spider mites and whiteflies can all be sprayed with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

Chewing pests, such as cabbage worms and Japanese beetles, can be dealt with using Capt. Jack’s Dead Bug Brew. The organic spray is applied to the plants and when the pest ingests it, the active ingredient affects the insect’s nervous system and it stops feeding. It can’t hurt the good bugs.

and upclose shot of tiny insects covering a leaf
Aphids are tiny, sucking insects that can be controlled organically by spraying the pest with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

It’s important to specifically target pests and diseases, instead of nuking the garden with a broad-spectrum pesticide or other product.

That way, the good bugs, soil life and the garden in general will be unharmed, and a safe place for pollinators. Mother Nature does a pretty good job of creating a balance in the garden, if we don’t interfere with the cycle of life.

A good example is the dreaded tomato hornworm, which can defoliate a plant and even eat the tomatoes themselves.

The organic control is simply handpicking, but nature has a fascinating way to deal with them. A parasitic wasp lays eggs on the hornworm, which becomes the host to the wasp’s eggs that hatch. They make white, rice-like cocoons on the worm and feed on it as they mature.

A tomato hornworm on a stem with rice-like cocoons on it
Tomato hornworms can defoliate a plant and even eat the tomatoes. If there’s one in your garden with these rice-like cocoons, leave it alone. The pest has stopped feeding and will soon be dead.

If a hornworm has those cocoons all over its body, it’s stopped feeding and should be left alone, to perpetuate the parasitic wasp’s cycle of life.

If we used a chemical pesticide all over the garden, we would kill the wasp too.

While we’re on the topic of tomatoes, this is the time of the year the fungal diseases septoria leaf spot and early blight rear their ugly head. The disease starts on the bottom of leaves, turning them yellow with brown spots. These diseases don’t usually kill the plant but slow it down. Remove the infected foliage and treat the plant with an organic fungicide like Revitalize from Bonide. It’s a biological control which stops the fungal spores from reproducing.

Fungal diseases are best controlled before seeing signs of damage, but that ship has sailed, this is the best course of action for your tomatoes.

The midsummer garden is filled with beautiful flowers and vegetable plants, spend a little time helping them out to enjoy the landscape through fall.

Photos by Doug Oster