Summer is one of those points in time when all the work we have done pays off in the garden. It's taken some real effort but the weeding, planting, pruning and deadheading have come together to show your garden at its best. In midsummer, the most important job of the season is maintaining the elements that your plants need to perform. Water, nutrients, friable soil, air and sunlight are essential to a plant's well-being.
Dry, hot weather increases the garden's dependence on time-consuming irrigation. By now, you should have a system down for watering each area of the garden. This does not have to be a professionally installed irrigation system; just be sure that all areas of the garden are watered well on a regular basis. Soaker hoses work well in perennial borders where plants are plentiful and the goal is to completely fill the area with flower and plant interest. You can lay the hose in any pattern and place plants close enough to the hose to receive adequate moisture.
Drip irrigation is good for vegetable gardens where plants are spaced well apart and the purpose is to deliver water only to the roots of a specific number of plants. A separate bed with four tomato plants can be set up with exactly four drippers delivering a gallon of water an hour to each plant. Small soakers and spray heads can be connected to this system for the strawberry patch, berry bushes or a raised bed of asparagus.
This system also works for the gardener who wants a neat, organized appearance to a front yard. While many gardeners appreciate the abundance of a cottage garden, not everyone wants to make the maintenance commitment that this style of gardening requires. If you plant a smaller selection of trees, shrubs and perennials in your garden, make sure they are planted well. Dig a hole wide enough for roots to spread and combine existing soil with a planting mix. If each plant stands alone in your garden, it's essential they look their best.
While you are taking care of a plant's watering needs, you should also take care of fertilization requirements. Give your plants the nutrients they need if you expect them to perform well. Rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas set flower buds now for next year. Fertilize with a product specifically designed for broad-leaf, acid-loving plants. The quality of next year's bloom depends on the plant's condition today. Deep watering will assure the plant's ability to absorb nutrients.
Fertilize roses, flowering perennials and annuals. It takes energy to produce flowers. A balanced, organic 5-5-5 product will release essential elements evenly into the soil over the remaining summer months. Consistent deadheading on any plant will directly affect the duration of that plant's bloom period. If you don't remove spent flower blooms, the plant has no reason to produce more blossoms. Pincushion flowers, coreopsis and many geraniums will also rebloom before the season is out if deadheaded consistently.
While you are deadheading, carry a debris bag along so you can separate and destroy diseased leaves as you find them. Cut back tattered foliage, too. This alone will improve the overall look of every flower border. Hostas, hot red-orange geum (avens), huecheras and most durable perennials will sprout new, fresh leaves if old ones are cut back. You can still pinch back fall-blooming asters and chrysanthemums as long as they have not set bud. Your goal is to hold back flowering until late summer or autumn.
One additional job that will add to your garden's future success is a mid-summer evaluation. Take a tour of your garden with a critical eye. Is there a group of plants that just don't work together? Can you move them to a better location? How about a central bed that fails to draw your eye or catch your interest? Do you need a focal point such as a statue, pergola or water feature to bring it all together? This is the garden equivalent of soul searching. Be honest and you'll get what you want in the end.
There is seldom a time in the garden with absolutely nothing to do. Just the same, you should find equal time to enjoy the garden you have created. In the morning, have a cup of coffee in a favorite outdoor chair before you go to real work. After dinner, take a cup of whipped cream out to the garden and dip fresh-picked strawberries. Take a real nap in the hammock. Isn't it worth the effort after all?
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.