Hot, Hot Heat

Keeping Alive Your Summer Garden

by Virginia Hayes

The summer equinox has just passed, but the sun is still high in the sky. That means long days filled with light and heat to stimulate maximum growth in plants. The third limiting element is water, and nature is not providing any of that (with the exception of those foggy mornings), so it is up to us to make sure the garden has what it needs to thrive. Here are some tips on watering to help.

Deep-rooted plants (such as trees), drought-tolerant natives, and other Mediterranean varieties need a deep soak once a month through the summer. Use soaker hoses covering the area of the drip zone, sprinklers, or drip irrigation that deliver a small amount of water during a longer period. The idea is to let the water travel down to the deep regions of the soil before it starts to puddle at the surface. Micro-sprinklers can run under fruit trees overnight, for example.

Other shrubs and perennials will need water once or twice a week. This includes turfgrass, too. Sometimes, however, especially if the soil in your lawn is particularly compacted, you may need to break the watering schedule up into two or three segments of shorter duration. This will allow the water to soak in gradually instead of running off as soon as the surface is wetted.

If you’ve just planted seeds or seedlings, water them lightly whenever the surface of the soil seems dry. After two weeks they should have established better root systems and you can switch to a regular schedule to foster deeper root growth. If the weather turns very hot or windy just after you sow, you can protect young plants with row covers or shade them with temporary hats of folded newspaper.

Container plants may need daily checking, especially small porous ceramic ones. Larger pots can last several days between waterings, but keep your eye on them, too. If you cluster several pots together, they will partially shade each other and retain their soil moisture longer. The one good rule to judge your garden’s watering needs is to monitor soil moisture carefully no matter what is planted and what the soil type may be.

July Tips

• Harvest vegetables and pick ornamental flowers regularly to promote more flowering and fruiting.

• Watch for caterpillars: tomato hornworm, geranium budworm, and cabbage worm are the most common. Pick off or dust plants with non-toxic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Be aware that Bt is deadly to all moths and butterflies.

• Maintain mulch layers at 4-6 inches through the warm, dry summer months.

• Divide bearded iris now. Cut tops back by one half and replant immediately. Daylilies and agapanthus may also be divided now.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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