6 summer garden maintenance tasks to tackle now
Summer garden maintenance typically involves a lot of watering. But this season, we’ve had more than our share of rainfall. Since watering chores are off our plates, at least for now, gardeners would be wise to spend their time focusing on a handful of other important summer gardening chores.
Deadhead: Spend a few minutes every week removing the spent flowers from your blooming annuals and perennials. In many cases, doing so encourages the plant to produce another flush of beautiful blooms. For flowers with a single bloom per stalk, cut the flower stalk all the way down to the point where it connects with the stem. For plants with multiple blooms per stem, remove each flower as it fades. When the entire flower stalk is spent, remove it completely.
Fertilize: To keep summer containers, hanging baskets, and annual flower and vegetable gardens performing their best, commit to a summer fertilization plan. Use a liquid organic fertilizer every two weeks to boost growth and bloom, or add a granular organic fertilizer to the soil once every six weeks. There’s no need to add summer fertilizers to perennial and shrub beds, unless a soil test calls for it.
Harvest: In the vegetable patch, it’s important to make regular harvests. Walk through your garden every few days and pick whatever is ripe. Not only does this avoid baseball bat-sized zucchini and mealy, overripe tomatoes, it also keeps your plants productive. Harvesting ripe fruits and veggies encourages the plant to produce more. In the case of root crops like carrots and beets, timely harvests mean tender, delicious roots, instead of tough, woody ones.
Pinch: Overgrown annuals become leggy and have reduced flowering. Pinch these plants back every three weeks to promote dense, compact growth that’s covered with blooms. Yes, it’s sometimes a tough job, but it’s an important one. Annuals that benefit from regular pinching include petunias, million bells, lobelia, fan flower, fuchsias, trailing begonias and many more.
Prune: For many flowering perennials, pruning is an important summer task. It’s particularly important for perennials that produce many blooms and grow in a clump, such as coreopsis, salvia, veronica, nepeta, bee balm and others. For these plants, shearing or pruning the entire plant back by half as soon as the blooms have faded almost always encourages another round of growth and another flush of blooms. I regularly tend my summer perennial borders with my pruning shears in hand. When the plants start to look a bit ratty and the blooms have faded, I simply cut the plant back hard and wait. While pruning doesn’t help perennials that only flower once per season, such as peonies and German bearded iris, it’s a great way to get more flower power from many other perennials.
Mind your feathered friends: Birds are great helpers in the garden, regularly gleaning pests from plants. Keep birdbaths clean throughout the gardening season to keep “your” birds healthy and happy. Use a stiff wire brush to scrub out birdbaths twice a week and replace with fresh, clean water.
With a good summer maintenance plan in place, your garden can continue to thrive, bloom and produce a bountiful harvest for many weeks to come.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.