With the official arrival of summer, landscapes and gardens in the Lawrence area are reaching their prime.
Salvias, coneflowers and other perennial flowers are blooming their best, shrubs frame the rest of the landscape, trees provide cool shade, and the taste of the first ripe tomato is finally here.
This is the time to breathe it in, enjoy the beauty, and spend a little time to prepare the garden for the hotter, drier days that surely lie ahead.
The most important thing in any kind of garden space right now is weed control.
Every blade of crabgrass and stem of knotweed that gets a chance to flower will disperse hundreds of seeds for next year. Just spending 15 minutes a day in the garden can make a world of difference for the rest of the season.
If the garden gets weedy to a point that seems overwhelming, try to attack one section at a time. If absolutely necessary, use a string trimmer to remove blooms from weeds before they develop into seeds. The weeds may be tougher to pull or dig later, but it will still save the work of getting rid of the next generation.
Pulling or digging weeds is the easiest, cheapest and safest way to remove them from your garden. A few plants are particularly resilient to this approach, however, so if a specific weed persists, identify it and seek specific management strategies.
After weeding, apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around desirable plants or topdress existing mulch. Shredded wood is the most popular choice for the landscape because it is easy to apply, lasts a long time, and improves the soil over time. Straw and prairie hay are the most popular choices for vegetable gardens for the same reasons except that they break down quickly.
Watering the right amount is also important as it is the key difference in how well plants survive extreme heat, drought and pest attacks.
Most plants in this area benefit from 1 inch of water per week. This includes lawns. Use a rain gauge to monitor rainfall, and avoid watering more as long as regular rainfall occurs. Plants in containers and newly transplanted plants are the only ones that need a little extra attention from the water hose right now.
Allow the soil to dry out between water applications to encourage deep root growth. Remember that the soil surface dries more quickly than the soil below where the plant roots live.
Stick a long screwdriver or rod into the ground to check for moisture if you are unsure. The rod will go in easily in moist soil and be difficult to push in to dry soil. When watering or irrigation is needed, make sure to water deeply and infrequently. This means applying enough water to really soak into the soil and only doing it once or twice a week instead of light applications every day. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation are great options for deep and infrequent watering.
While watering and weeding gardens, be on the lookout for signs of wildlife. Rabbits and deer enjoy munching on lush plants, and squirrels are known to take bites out of big, juicy, almost-ripe tomatoes.
There are few options for completely keeping them out besides fencing. Repellents are fairly effective as a short-term solution. Apply these cautiously as some of them smell bad enough to also repel friends and neighbors.
As blossoms fade on annual and perennial flowers, clip the spent flower stems to keep the garden tidy and encourage more blooms on some plants. This is called deadheading.
Daylilies and daisies are examples of some of the perennials that benefit from deadheading. Leave the stems on coneflowers to provide food for birds this coming winter. Stems on astilbe and other flowers with an attractive spent bloom can also be left for fall and winter interest.
Shrubs that have already bloomed this year can be pruned now to shape and encourage new growth. Avoid pruning shrubs from the first of August through the first hard freeze. Pruning in those months may encourage new growth that will run out of time to prepare itself for winter and could end up causing more damage to the plant.
Although winter is really the best time, trees can also be pruned if needed. Trees are less likely than shrubs to have damage from late summer/early fall pruning.
A last-but-not-least garden chore is to take pictures. This is something many gardeners forget, as they perhaps think they will simply soak it into memory. But when the late summer heat makes plants stress and gardeners wonder whether their labor is worth it, pictures are a great reminder.
Make sure to get photos of your flowers blooming their little hearts out, the first green beans and tomatoes, happy basil plants and whatever else it is that made you want a garden in the first place.
— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation. She is the host of “The Garden Show” and has been a gardener since childhood. Send your gardening questions and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.