By Kim Davis
As with every seasonal change, now is the time to prepare the garden not only for summer but for next year. Key to this period is pruning, fertilizing, watering and weeding.
Summer is the season for growing. This includes annuals, perennials, trees, vegetables and grass. These are wide-ranging topics upon which volumes have been written, so I will only touch briefly and succinctly on a few highlights that are in my garden.
After winter’s dormancy, plants are utilizing a lot of energy to grow and bloom. Fertilizing your garden helps replenish lost nutrients and ensures plants have the food they need to flourish. Much like we take a multi-vitamin, plants need certain minerals.
For the long-term health of your garden, building the soil with organic matter teeming with microbial life and compost is ideal. This is best done in the fall, but for now, the application of synthetic fertilizers, which are water-soluble, can be taken up by the plant almost immediately. But easy does it: Applying too much synthetic fertilizer can “burn” foliage and damage your plants. Synthetics are best for providing plants a quick boost in early spring.
Azaleas are very popular in our area. A drive through Beverly Hills in late April reveals banks of pink, white, purple and crimson azaleas, some planted half a century ago. Now that they have completed their blooming cycle, they should be pruned. If you wish to scale them back, it should be done before June or July, as they form new buds during the late summer and fall. Trimming these shrubs any later tha June or July will bring the risk of trimming off next year’s flowers.
This time of year also heralds the advent of roses, and who doesn’t adore roses? They come in all sizes and colors, are fragrant and can be cut and admired inside as well. However, they require a commitment to care and attention, including a minimum of six hours of sunlight daily, consistent watering only at their base, protection from disease and adequate spacing to provide air flow between plants.
As your rose bed begins to come to life, don’t forget to fertilize. Most rosarians recommend applying a balanced granular fertilizer ideally with a ratio of 10% nitrogen, 20% phosphorus and 10% potassium applied around the drip line and not against the stem.
Roses are also prone to black spot and mildew diseases, which deplete their resources. There are many effective fungicide options on the market, but I have come to prefer environmentally friendly products that do not harm birds, bees and pets, such as Neem Oil. You can find it online or at most garden centers. Baking soda and potassium bicarbonate can also aid in the prevention of these diseases. A simple mixture 1 gallon water, 3 tsp baking soda 1 tsp canola oil can be applied weekly.
For more detailed information, The American Rose Society’s website provides a wealth of information on growing roses at www.rose.org.
Now is also a great time to add summer annuals. Many novice gardeners go for the basics such as petunias, begonias and impatiens, but I love to find more unusual varieties.
A few years ago, I came across an Imperial Blue Plumbago Auriculata annual that is truly lovely. Native to warm, tropical climates, it has a somewhat curly leaf with delicate, blue flowers. I also planted snapdragons in pots a couple of years ago believing them to be annuals and found they reemerged each year since, providing a beautiful array of color and texture.
We all know this, but it is easy to forget: It is critical to water your plants regularly during the hot days of summer. Pay particular attention to those in pots, as they dry out very quickly. When temperatures reach 85 and above, they likely will require water daily. It is also best to water early in the morning to prepare plants for the day. If they are beginning to wilt by dusk due to water loss from evaporation, feel free to provide them with another drink. Your investment is well worth the effort and the returns are very rewarding.
Now is also a good time to move your houseplants outside in a shady location to enjoy the fresh air and rejuvenate. Make sure to water them regularly and feed them with an all-purpose – 20-20- 20 – water-soluble fertilizer to encourage growth.
Remember: For us urban dwellers, a garden offers an oasis from the busy world around us. Embrace the natural world with fresh summer plantings as well as water features, such as our birdbath, that attracts the birds and the bees.
Not only does our birdbath provide a soothing gurgling sound, but it draws birds and bees who drink from it as well as bathe. I’m mulling over whether it will soon be covered in cicadas.
The writer is a member of the Hunting Creek Garden Club and formerly served as both president and vice president of the club.