A Day-to-Day Checklist for Your Summer Garden, by Yvonne Savio
When much of your summer garden is planted, you’ll be tempted to just settle back into a lawn chair under an umbrella overlooking your vast garden acreage (or tiny patio), read a book, sip a lemonade or mint julep, and just wait for the bountiful produce to harvest itself.
Gorgeous red stemmed chard is equally at home in a vegetable or ornamental garden.
A daily stroll through the garden will help you to keep track of watering, fertilizing, and weeding needs, and developing pest and disease problems. It also puts you in the right place at the right time to reward your gardening labors-harvesting the produce at its perfect moment of ripeness. You are the magic ingredient that’ll determine how well your plants will thrive-not just survive-during the long, hot, dry summer.
Mulch plants well, and water them deeply once or twice a week, depending on whether it rained or not. Plant roots will grow down to where the water seeps, so-with deep watering-they’ll grow speedily through “moderate” weather and thrive even through long spells of hot weather.
What you don’t want is alternately dry and wet soil at the root zone. When this happens, beets crack and become tough, cabbage heads split, onion bulbs split, and peppers and tomatoes develop blossom-end rot.
Also, sprinkle plant foliage at least once a week to keep the leaves clean for better photosynthesis, higher humidity for lush growth, and to discourage hot-and-dry-loving pests.
If you use overhead sprinkling, the best time of day to water plants is early in the morning or late in the evening, an hour or two after sunset. Irrigating during mid-day or early afternoon allow excessive evaporation, wasting water. The worst of all possible times is late afternoon, when foliage cannot dry before sunset; this wet-and-warm-at-sunset condition is the perfect environment to get diseases developing rapidly.
Refrain from touching plant foliage – especially of beans – when it’s wet. Mildew and other disease spores spread very easily through water droplets on people, clothing, and pets.
Flavors are also affected by the amount and frequency of irrigation. The slower a plant grows during the hotter portion of the season, the stronger and more intense the flavors will become. Hence, onions and radishes get increasingly pungent and fiery as the summer develops.
Container-grown plants also need attention. Place them where they’ll receive morning sun and afternoon shade, to give them relief from hot summer sun and lessen their need for irrigation. Snapping the side of clay pot with your fingernail will determine when the plant needs watering. A dull thud means the plant’s fine; a sharp ring means “Please water me, quick!”
Plants will do best when fertilized more frequently with smaller doses-for gradual and constant nutrition. Manure can be spread as mulch, and the nutrients will be washed into the soil when the area is irrigated.
Plan foliar feedings and other sprays for calm days to avoid waste by having the spray drift far away from the intended plant. For larger peppers and a longer harvest season, side dress them two months after they’re transplanted.
Assure a plentiful set of peppers and tomatoes by increasing the magnesium available to the plants. Water in transplants and sprinkle their foliage with a solution of six tablespoons Epsom salts to one gallon of water. Several times during the blossoming period, spray a solution of one tablespoon Epsom salts dissolved in one quart of warm water onto the leaves and blossoms.
Help tomatoes pollinate themselves by gently shaking their cages or stakes, or tickling their blossoms.
A single healthy cherry tomato plant will produce hundreds of mouth-watering fruits. Yum!
Pluck off early blooms of strawberry plants until two or three weeks of warm days with no cooling trend have heralded summer, to produce large and sweet strawberries rather than small and tart ones. Most of the plant’s fruit-bearing energy will concentrate in these first berries, and moisture and warmth will make them large and sweet. Unless, of course, you’re yearning for the first berry is too strong to ignore.
Fertilize strawberries with a balanced fertilizer when strong new foliage and the first berries are developing and after each heavy fruit-bearing period. This extra nutrition will further encourage strong growth and abundant fruit set through the season-and assure strong plants for next year.
Feed and water bramble fruits and strawberries well in August and September, as this is when the size of the next year’s fruit buds is determined.
Shape gourds the way you’d like them by wrapping tape around them three or four times where you want the neck or other narrow portion to be.
Pull weeds before they from flower heads and scatter their seeds, and you’ll have fewer weed problems later. Weeding the day or two after watering will ease the chore and increase the likelihood of getting the weeds’ entire root systems. If you leave pulled weeds in the garden pathways as mulch, be sure to leave them with their roots up, so they don’t re-root themselves. However, don’t leave weeds that have already developed their seed heads-some of these seeds may mature and germinate. This recycling is definitely not desirable!
Pinch out the fuzzy growing tips of vine crops and indeterminate tomatoes to redirect growth from producing more vines to setting and maturing fruit. This is particularly important to do with winter squash at the end of August to assure that fruit already set will mature before cool weather. Winter squash that does not cure properly will not store well or taste fully flavored.