With the heat of summer, it’s time to be sure that summer mulches are in place. Proper use of organic mulch can help to reduce soil moisture loss by up to 70 percent. Plus, the insulating ability of mulch helps keep the soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Another important reason to mulch is to suppress weed invasions, particularly the annual weeds like spurge, barnyard grass, foxtail, and purslane. Apply at least a two-inch layer of hay, pinestraw or dried grass clippings to choke out weed seedlings and prevent them from seeing the light of day. Leaves are perhaps the least expensive mulch, but they can come with some disadvantages. Some leaves are difficult to apply evenly; for example, cottonwood and other waxy leaves mat together and take years to decompose. Shredding leaves before using them will help them decompose more quickly.
• When dividing iris, wash the old soil from the roots. Put the divisions into a recycled mesh onion bag, let the rhizomes soak overnight, and then plant them in a prepared bed.
• Keep perennials deadheaded as the flowers fade. Removing the spent flowers will keep the garden tidy and encourage more blooms.
• To control both aphids and mites, use a homemade soap spray or simply spray the plants with a strong stream of water weekly.
• Petunias, coleus and other summer annuals might be leggy by now. Pinch them back just above a leaf to encourage bushy growth and more flowers.
• Annuals need about an inch of water a week, either from rain or irrigation. When you water, soak the soil to a depth of six to eight inches.
• Remove spent blooms and yellowing leaves, and cut back spindly growth on salvias, begonias, and impatiens.
• Get a second bloom from faded annuals by cutting them back by one half their height, then fertilize them with a liquid 5-10-10 fertilizer.
• Peppers don’t tolerate drying out. Mulch now so fruits ripen well.
• If you notice something that resembles sugar on your tomato leaves, you may have an infestation of psyllids. Apply insecticidal soap as needed or a light dusting of sulfur.
• To prevent fungal disease on your tomatoes, fertilize with water soluble plant food (15-30-15) every two to three weeks. Keep well mulched and prune off lower branches to keep foliage off the ground.
• When temperatures stay above 90 degrees F, tomatoes resist setting fruit. Be patient and eventually they will get back on track as temperatures cool down.
• Evaporation is at its highest in hot weather, and watering needs increase. The best time to water is early morning or late evening, between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.
• Harvest herbs with a sharp scissors in early morning. The more you pick herbs, the more new growth is promoted. Pinch off the flowers off to encourage more vigorous leafy growth.
• Now is the time to plant more seeds of beets, bush beans, kale, collards, leaf lettuce, radishes, turnips, chard, and spinach for a fall harvest.
• To control an infestation of Mexican bean beetles, handpick from the bean foliage.
• Keep your zucchini and other summer squash producing by harvesting the young squash every few days, or as soon as they are 6 to 7 inches.
• Japanese maples don’t like the heat, particularly in unsheltered conditions. If needed, protect them with shade cloth, mist on hot days, or consider relocation in the fall.
• Prune out suckers from the base of trees. These can draw energy from a tree and attract an array of insects.
• Protect sweet or sour cherries from birds by draping trees with protective netting. Stake the netting down underneath the canopy to keep the birds from entering from the bottom.
• As blooms fade on your roses, cut back to a point just above a 5-leaflet leaf. A new shoot and flowers will develop from the leaf base.
• When your lawn has “white tipping” on the leaf blades, it’s a good indication that the mower blade is getting dull. Get it sharpened or replaced.
• Take a few minutes to dig out the annual weedy grasses, including crabgrass, goose grass, and foxtails, so they don’t disperse their seeds into the yard.
• During the summer months, mow your lawn at 2 to 3 inches. This will help shade the soil and encourage a deeper root system that will become more drought resistant.