Helping your garden make it through hot summer months

Debbie Green
Guest columnist

About this time of year, you may be looking at a less-than-picture-perfect landscape. Just as you may feel bedraggled after time in the hot summer sun and higher humidity, your plants may be suffering from the heat and too much or too little water, as well any number of pests or diseases.

During the summer, many of the stars of our gardens are annual plants or short-lived perennials—both flowering plants and vegetables—that grow rapidly to put out flowers and produce within a single season.

This rapid growth applies to weeds as well as desirable plants, and by mid-July you may have a mess if you didn’t identify the undesirables when they were young.

Rather than give up on your garden, take a close look during the cooler morning or evening hours. It is fine to pull weeds if they are small, but you may disturb the roots of the plants you want to thrive if you yank large weeds now. 

If weeds are overwhelming, cut them to the ground and put the cuttings in the trash to prevent leaving seeds for more to sprout.

Are your desirable plants still desirable?

Often a bit of grooming will make things look much better and spur further flowering or vegetable production. Remove dead flowerheads, overgrown veggies or damaged portions of plants. If plants are no longer producing flowers or fruit because they are stunted or diseased or damaged, removing the entire plant may be your best option.

If you didn’t provide slow-release fertilizer or haven’t regularly fertilized your short-lived summer plants, fertilize your annual flowers and vegetables now.

Follow the guidelines on your fertilizer container—don’t use just any old fertilizer you have in your garden shed—using the wrong fertilizer or too much is more harmful than not fertilizing at all!

Once you’ve done your clean-up, consider putting some fresh mulch down after a rain to help regulate soil temperature and moisture levels and keep weeds down. If there are bare spots, consider putting in some new plants now—you may get great bargains on some long-lived perennials that you can enjoy in years to come—or start thinking about fall vegetable crops.

Some reliable native perennials with long bloom seasons are yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and hardy verbenas (Verbena canadensis—many grow ‘Homestead Purple’, but I prefer the variety ‘Snow Flurry’).

Better yet, if you find keeping up with your garden beds is more than you can handle, consider planting more shrubs—also often available for late summer or fall planting at deep discounts.

Many will be low maintenance and can provide multi-season interest with spring or summer flowers, fall leaf color, and/or interesting bark during winter. A couple of my favorite native shrubs that fit this description are witch alder (Fothergilla) and oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). Both are available in dwarf varieties for smaller spaces.

Best of all, think about the new habits you can form right now to keep your garden looking good all summer.

Do you regularly visit all parts of your landscape? If not, make at least a weekly inspection of your plantings.

This should be an enjoyable wander through your yard to see what’s new—if you have interesting plants in your garden there should be new flowers or interesting pollinators or other pleasant surprises to discover! On this trip, take a minute to pull any young weeds, snap off dead flowers, or note any problems needing attention.

Finally, anytime you walk to the mailbox, get in or out of your car, or go out for a run or walk around the neighborhood, take time to smell the flowers.

Debbie Green has been a member of the Beautification Committee for over 10 years and maintains one of the Committee’s sites in town. She enjoys gardening with native plants, as well as growing flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Debbie is also a regular contributor to the Buncombe County Extension Master Gardener blog at buncombemastergardener.org