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Garden Almanac

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July 2014

Time for shrub maintenance
Even in the heat of summer there is still a lot that should be done in the garden. Many of us have evergreen shrubs like boxwoods and yews, and early July is the best time to prune them. Whether your evergreens require only light pruning to maintain their natural shape or heavier pruning to maintain a hedge, it is best to wait to prune until the new growth has hardened off. Hardening off means that the new growth of spring has matured in color and size to look just like older growth. Waiting for this to happen reduces the risk that the plants will try to put on more new growth after you prune them. They will retain their shape for the remainder of the year and require no additional pruning. This also works for most deciduous shrubs, but you also must consider flower bud set and flowering time to prevent cutting off all the flowering potential.

Watering and weeding
These two important summertime gardening chores are essential to the overall health and look of your landscape. Depending on the amount of rainfall, watering may be the most time-consuming job in the garden during the summer. The most environmentally friendly approach is to water established plantings for survivability if it gets dry. This means watering once a week, putting down the equivalent of 1 inch of rainfall. This may take longer than you think; I like to water twice a week to spread out the work load, putting down a half-inch of water at a time.

Choose whatever watering schedule works best for you and carve it into your regular schedule. I print off a calendar and note when it rains and when I water so I don't lose track and waste water or my time. The standard recommendation is to water in the morning, but I know this is often difficult, if not impossible, for many unless you have an irrigation system. I always water my garden in the evening because it's the only time I can, and watering in the evening is better than not watering at all.

Caring for the newly planted
It is fine to still be planting in your garden in the summer, as long as you are dedicated to watering. A minimum of twice a week for new plants is critical, and I prefer to water them by hand. This way the plants get individual attention in watering to ensure their survival. For hand watering, I prefer a wand-type tool that attaches to any hose, allowing water to flow softly and consistently like a shower. It does a much better job than the trigger-type hose nozzles and it's easier on your hands, and you will put down more water with less effort.

The lawn in summer
For summer lawn care, continue mowing a minimum of once per week. A regular mowing schedule in which you mow promptly when needed is healthier for the lawn, because you remove less leaf blade at each mowing and reduce lawn stress. For cool-season grasses, set your wheels to cut as high as possible, which will help your lawn be more drought- resistant. If you have a warm-season grass like bermuda or zoysia that thrives in the summer heat, continue to cut at 1-1/2 to 2 inches. If you have a blend, as I do, you have to meet both grasses in the middle; I mow at 2 inches all the time.

Container gardening tip for travelers
If you are traveling this summer and will be away for more than three days, it is important to have someone water your container plantings while you are gone. To make this easier, move containers and even hanging baskets into the shade and, if possible, near your water source. A week or so of shade won't hurt them, but will enable them to use less water while you are away. Leave large containers where they are, but make sure to review the location of each with the volunteer or hired helper who will be watering while you are away. Consider drawing a small map to guide them so that they don't miss any containers. Nothing is better than arriving home after a perfect trip to a beautifully watered and cared-for garden.