Dirt-y Secrets: Summer is a busy season in the garden

By Ranel Hanson
Reader Columnist

“Hot fun in the summertime!”
— Sly Stone

If you are a gardener, you live for summer. I am speaking for myself and anyone who loves to get in the dirt. Water, fertilizer, weed pulling, slug battles, aphid wars, deer discouragement — those are our challenges, and our rewards. 

Watering the plants is a task anyone can enjoy. Courtesy photo.

For deer, as much as it totally grosses me out, blood meal seems to work. I sprinkle it pretty liberally around the plants deer love to eat. Sunflowers, lilies, hostas and others are favorites. I also put stakes with flags or ribbons around the taller plants. Motion-detecting lights and sprinklers work, too, or so I am told. I am much too lazy to rig those up.

Slugs are not so happy about hot weather, and most plants are past the tender young stage that slugs like by now. But they will be back with cooler, rainier, weather so keep saving those eggshells. I saved all winter but depleted my supply early this year. Eggshells mixed with epsom salts are the recipe for slug death. 

Aphids are pretty rampant this year, too. A good squirt with the garden hose on the underside of leaves is the way to start. Then, insecticidal soap all over. You have to do this often because aphids are tough and persistent.

Hanging baskets need lots of water now, and lots of mild fertilizer. Water daily and fertilize every other time you water to keep them lushly blooming. Bedding plants also need plenty of water, and it really helps to mulch. I use grass clippings because I don’t use pesticides or herbicides on the lawn. And, because I need a place for all of those clippings. But, you can use straw, bark or other organic material. The important thing is that you will conserve water, keep your plants moist and discourage weeds.  

Some plants need a trim about now. Oriental poppies are finished for the first round, but might re-bloom later if conditions are right. Cut them right down to the dirt, leaving any new sprouts to come again. Roses that have bloomed need to be deadheaded. Many varieties can bloom again as a fall bonus. Peonies have had their party and their blossoms need to be cut off.  

Now it is prime time for your pollinator plants. Beebalm, milkweed, mint, sunflowers, salvia, petunias — practically anything that blooms will provide food for butterflies and bees. And, butterflies are so abundant this year! Monarchs need the milkweed and you can do these endangered beauties a favor by planting some. They lay their eggs on the milkweed plant so that when the eggs hatch and caterpillars are born, they eat the milkweed leaves. Hummingbirds love the same plants, particularly the red ones. And they are pollinators, too. 

Speaking of hummingbirds, they are just beginning to return to feeders after nesting and raising young. You can recognize baby hummingbirds by their larger-than-body heads. Parents are teaching them the survival ropes and it does take practice. I have seen babies try to sip from the top of the feeder before they know better. Be sure to change your feeder water often because hot weather spoils it. Here’s my feeder recipe: ½ cup white sugar mixed with 2 cups water; microwave 2 minutes; cool and feed.

Many birds are raising their second brood by now. I don’t recommend feeding them just yet because food is so abundant and because we want them to be successful foragers. But when it is hot, a bird bath is a welcome relief for a cooling dip and a drink. You must refill it often (daily) and clean it regularly. But the reward comes when you see them happily splashing away.

If you have read this column before, you know that I raise mason bees. Actually, they raise themselves, I just provide a house, water and mud. But this year, my bees flew the coop! They must have found better housing, because they barely filled any nesting tubes. I think, perhaps, the cold, wet spring discouraged them. I will try again next year but I admit to being disappointed. There do seem to be plenty of other kinds of bees, though, and it looks as if pollination is in full swing.

For the first time, my two-year-old wisteria vine is blooming. Lots of blossoms are on my six-foot-tall vine and they smell divine. I recommend them for drama. I have another vine of the same age, and it is just growing branches and leaves, but no flowers. Mother Nature is a bit unpredictable.

Don’t forget to take a dip in the lake!

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