Tips for keeping your garden cool in the summer heat

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“Anyone can have a beautiful garden in May. Talk to me in July!

This warning comes from a good gardener friend when I first moved to Kentucky over 25 years ago. And how right she was – and still is.

Think about it. In the fabulous garden month of May, everything looks good. Herbaceous perennials sprout mounds of fresh green foliage and heaps of flowers. The trees look as green as they will all year round. Even the weeds look good in May. And in May, even those with the design sensibility for a concrete border can get a few things done in the garden.

But in July, the heat rises, the insects bite, the rain subsides, and the daily dance with the garden hose takes away some of the joy from the garden. One option is to pack everything into the family station wagon and head north. You can rent it, if you can find someone to hire, that is. You could try telling the neighbors that you’ve strained your back and hope they take pity on you.

But there is another option. You can also double down and focus on a few details that can make your garden shine and last through this toughest gardening season and get through the fall in top form. Here are a few tips.

How often should you water your garden?

It may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes we struggle to gauge the magnitude of garden plant water needs and how those needs change from place to place. The first thing to consider is how your watering compares to natural rainfall.

Sometimes in July or August we take a brief 15 minute shower and, as gardeners, we don’t know it’s worth much. But if you compare that to watering with a hose, how many times have you stood and watered a spot for 15 minutes? Sure, it’s not really a shower, but it has to be better than that 30-second waiver with the water wand.

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Then there’s the ubiquitous oscillating fan sprinkler. If you run it in the same spot for the full 15 minutes of our mythical rain shower, keep in mind that the sprinkler doesn’t hit every spot for that entire 15 minute period. It wobbles back and forth and only reaches one spot for about a tenth of the total running time. You may need to run this sprinkler for more than 2 hours to match that 15 minute shower.

Deep, penetrating irrigation is always best, whether it comes from a drip irrigation system, a soaker hose, or, the gold standard, all-day rain.

What type of fertilizer should I use in my garden?

Seedlings being sprayed with fertilizer

We are all so diligent and serious about garden chores in the spring. We modify, mulch, plant and primp. We celebrate every new leaf. But now, a few months into the garden calendar, we’ve lost some of our enthusiasm and the soil has lost some of its sound. punch as well. All the spring fertilizer has had its effect or has been lost by the spring rains. Even the slow-release fertilizer has probably run its course by now.

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Ultimately, it’s time to give your annuals, hanging baskets, and perennial borders some fertilizer. You don’t want to overdo it this time of year. The generally drier soil combined with too much of the good stuff can cause root burn. But a half dose of soluble fertilizer in July and again in August can help your fall garden cruise look like something you did on purpose rather than something you forgot when you left. on holiday.

When should I prune my plants in the summer?

Cut

When it comes to annuals in the ground or in pots, this is one of the lesser-known but best tips in the summer gardener’s toolkit. Whether you’re growing coleus, petunias, begonias, or even garden mums, they can all get a little long in the tooth at this time of the season. When they grow a little too high, they can get heavy and become prone to breaking due to wind or rain. Sometimes they can collapse even if there is no rain. And if you’re still trying to make that 10-inch hanging basket of annuals look like something other than the dog’s breakfast, midsummer cutback might be the trick.

When you cut your annuals, they branch out and regrow in the blink of an eye. New growth will be happier, healthier and, given the reduced leaf area, will use less water. And of course, the best part is that they will be much less prone to the midsummer flop.

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Does all of this take a bit of work? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Try it and let me know.

Paul Cappiello is the executive director of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, 6220 Old Lagrange Road, yewdellgardens.org.

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