Archive for Sunday, August 5, 2001

Dogged determination

August tasks keep heat on gardeners

August 5, 2001


Even the dog days of summer don't deter determined gardeners.

Fortunately, flowers often come to a standstill and vegetable production may temporarily halt during intense heat. Grass does not grow as rapidly and mowing is needed less often. (I've noticed that the weeds manage to hold their own, though.)

Wise gardeners take advantage of this brief respite to evaluate the flower garden. With pencil and paper in hand, they walk through the garden taking note of the condition of all the plants.

These observations come in handy later in the fall when reviewing what plants thrive (translation grow more of these next gardening season) and what plants succumb to mildew, blight, drought, heat and other maladies (translation avoid those).

We can't dawdle too long in planning for future gardens. Despite the heat, we have a few garden chores to tend.

Divide those irises

August is the ideal time for dividing bearded irises. These reliable perennials increase in number every year, but they slowly diminish in vigor if left undivided.

An iris clump is best divided every three to five years to encourage blooms and promote general plant health. Plunge a fork into the ground surrounding the overgrown clump. Aim far enough from the rhizomes to avoid damaging them.

The clump lifts easily from the ground because the roots grow close to the surface. Shake off excess soil.

The iris root system contains familiar thick rhizomes and multiple stringlike feeder roots that grow from the rhizomes.

Split the clump of rhizomes by hand or with a sharp, clean knife so that each segment has a substantial section of the rhizome and a spray of leaves. Discard soft, mushy rhizomes or old, dried ones.

Trim the foliage back by two-thirds, making the cut at an angle before planting the newly divided rhizomes. Plant irises in a circular or triangular pattern so that their fans are pointed outward to give them room to grow. The rhizomes should be spaced 6 inches to 10 inches apart.

Fertilize according to recommendations for your soil type and water the plants well. Keep in mind that smaller divisions may not flower the year after being divided.

Keep summer going

Stop fertilizing roses by Aug. 15. If needed, spray rose plants for insects and disease and keep them watered during drought.

Harvest the profusion of vegetables ripening in the garden. The peppers, onions, tomatoes, sweet corn, beans and melons make dinnertime a taste treat.

Pull out finished crops and put in cool-season vegetables like spinach, leaf lettuce and other crops, like cucumbers, summer squash and beans. Often, vegetables that ripen in the cool of fall have better flavor than those that ripen in the heat of summer.

Those planning an August vacation should make arrangements with someone to keep the garden watered, at the very least. For lengthy absences, find someone willing to do the weeding, mowing and edging. No doubt, a responsible adolescent in the neighborhood would love to earn a few extra dollars tending your garden.

Remember to continue to water and fertilize the garden throughout the summer to enjoy those plants that come into full bloom during the fall. What would an autumn garden be without colorful mums, burning bush, sedum and fall-blooming crocus?

Think spring

Lastly, when it is too hot for much else, thumb through some of your garden books and catalogues for plant ideas. It is difficult to remember the first delights of spring crocus, tulips, daffodils and hyacinths when no telltale signs of their presence exist.

Garden books and catalogs will help jog those memories and inspire fall planting. Be ready with a supply of bulbs when fall arrives don't miss the best planting time for these spring-flowering bulbs.

A growing commitment

Dog days indeed. Perhaps we tackle gardening chores during late summer because our sun-baked brains can't think rationally any more.

However, I'd like to think we have an unspoken commitment to seeing our gardens through to the end a matter of pride, if you will. What a shame it would be to let all the efforts from earlier in the season burn up right before our eyes.

Then, too, we know that within a month, maybe six weeks, the weather will cool dramatically.

In the meantime, we don the wide-brimmed hat, slop on the sunscreen (those of us "blessed" with chiggers also sprinkle on a little chigger deterrent) and head out to the garden.

Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and garden writer for the Journal-World.

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