NOTE: Article Written Prior to Heavy July Rains - Tips Still Useful in Dry Periods
This report does not look promising for July and August - traditionally two of the area's driest months. Here are some ways to conserve water and keep your garden hydrated.
Water during the coolest part of the day (morning is best).
- Avoid watering on windy days as the water quickly evaporates.
- Soak the areas watered; don't just mist or sprinkle them as this has no lasting value and encourages shallow root growth.
- Maintain mulch to conserve water and to eliminate weeds (which use up extra water).
- Consider, depending on the size of your gardening area, the installation of soaker hoses or a drip irrigation system. Garden centers and gardening websites can give you complete information about these systems.
- Make sure your hose-end sprinkler is set to deliver water in droplets, not as a mist which quickly evaporates.
- Make sure the hose connections are leak free to conserve water. Repair or replace leaky hoses. And don't forget and leave the hose running resulting in a flooded garden or worse still a flooded basement!
- Use native plants, but remember no matter what you plant (even those cultivars which are drought tolerant), a plant must become established to grow and this means regular waterings during its first season.
Let the grass go dormant during dry spells. It will revive with rainfall. Use the water you would have put on the grass to save mature trees and shrubs. And remember to be aware of any watering restrictions which are imposed by area authorities and to follow their directions.
Keep the Summer Garden Growing
Continue to deadhead flowers after they have bloomed to redirect the plant's energy away from setting seeds and towards setting new blooms. This process keeps the plant healthy and tidies up the garden.
Remember that container gardens and hanging plants need more water and nutrients than plants grown in the border. Their soil dries out quickly especially as the container becomes root bound when the plants reach maturity.
Water until it runs out of the bottom of the container and fertilize with a liquid fertilizer (follow product's directions) with a high middle number, for example 10-20-10. Fertilize once every two weeks.
Leaving open spaces in the flower border increases the likelihood of loss of moisture. Vigorously growing plants which cover the area also shade the mulched soil preventing moisture loss.
Pinching off the stem tip of most plants will make the plants grow bushier. Pinch mums up to the middle of July to produce compact fall plants.
The growing tips of perennial phlox can also be pinched now without resulting flower loss.
Annuals which become leggy with few blooms can be cut back by about a third and fertilized to re-energize them. Petunias particularly benefit from correctional pruning when their blossoms decrease.
If you moved your houseplants outside for their summer vacation, you will notice that their roots will grow through the pot bottom. Twist the pots occasionally to loosen the roots so that they do not become attached to the ground!
Clustering your potted plants together also helps to conserve moisture. Containers which are spaced widely apart tend to dry out more quickly.
If you are going away on vacation, group your container plants together to conserve water and to make your neighbor's job of watering them for you easier! You can relocate them when you return.
Use herbs in your summer cooking to keep the plants growing. Generally herbs grow quickly in warm weather, and unless they are clipped for use, they grow leggy and flower.
Removing the flowers of herbs such as basil keeps the plant tasty and fresh. When it flowers, it tends to become bitter and the plant itself, woody. Try a variety of basil plants and sow seeds for harvesting for the rest of the summer.
Check perennials and roses for mildew or black spot which flourish in hot summer conditions. Try an organic biofungicide to control powdery mildew, rust, and other summer diseases. Applications will stop the spread of these diseases and enable new growth to be healthy. Plants which are getting good sunlight and good air circulation tend to be more resistant to these diseases. Consider some pruning to open up the plant's interior; also consider removing any tree or shrub branches which impede air circulation.
Start planning your fall garden now. Bulb catalogues have been arriving so mentally plan where you want to plant and begin ordering for shipment at proper planting time. Usually orders placed early receive a substantial discount.
When you are away, even for just two or three days, have a neighbor water your plants. In the extreme heat of a Washington summer, a garden succumbs quickly in only a brief period without rain.
Visit a reputable garden center to see which plants are thriving in the summer heat. If the plant is healthy, flowering, and vigorous in the hot sun of a garden center area, it will probably be a worthy addition to your border!
For a long time, horticulturists thought that clematis (photo at right) did not like full sun, but observations of these plants growing in full sun at the garden center convinced them otherwise.
Local Gardening Magazine
Check out the website of Washington Gardener magazine (designed for the local area) at