Are you a hot house flower or are you a pansy? If youíre a hot house flower then youíre loving this summer weather, and so are your heat-loving plants. Many of us spend a few hours in the garden in the morning when temperatures are bearable and the mosquitoes arenít swarming yet. Letís talk about some watering techniques, some garden chores and a tool that can make your precious hours in the summer garden more enjoyable and productive.
Last month we talked about mulch choices, and I stated that many ornamental gardeners use finely-ground wood mulch to lessen soil moisture evaporation, to keep soil temperatures down and to add organic material to their soil as the mulch decays. For the same reasons many vegetable gardeners use weed-free straw as a mulch on their prized vegetable gardens. Today letís talk about another hot topic (pun intended), the effective watering of container gardens.
I know gardeners who water their containers every day. That must be exhausting. But there are things you can do to cut down on the amount of watering. First and foremost, be sure your plant is in a large enough pot. A plant that is root bound, where the pot is taken up primarily by roots and has very little soil in it, will not do well in the summer heat and will need to be watered once or maybe even twice daily. So get a bigger pot and some good potting soil, and ďpot upĒ your container garden.
Buy the best potting soil you can afford, one that is both well-drained and is also good at storing water. That seems contradictory, but thatís why potting soils may contain both peat moss and bark chips; you want the soil to hold some water but not be waterlogged. (Root rot will kill a plant very quickly.) Itís important to note that you should never place a plant into dry potting soil. Always wet the potting soil first because some of its particles will actually repel water until saturated. So give that soil a good watering before putting your plants in the pot. When your plants are in a large enough pot, use enough water so that you see it running out of the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot. Then you know that youíve watered all of the soil and roots in the pot. If you water deeply you can water less often. Also, make it easy on yourself by placing container gardens near a water source.
Other strategies to cut down on watering container plantings include mulching the soil in the container or using a system that will do the watering for you. You can set up a drip irrigation system for your containers, purchase a self-watering container like an earth box or use an upside-down reservoir to drip water into the container. If you have wire hanging baskets lined with moss or another natural fiber, be sure to place a piece of plastic in the bottom to slow down the flow of water from the basket. Cut a 5-inch circle from a plastic shopping bag, make several half-inch holes in the piece of plastic, and place it at the bottom of the basket before adding potting soil.
Summer garden chores
Shade-loving macrophylla hydrangeas, also called French or big leaf hydrangeas, should be pruned before Aug. 1 because most of these plants bloom on old wood, meaning that they bloom on the previous yearís growth rather than the current yearís new growth. If your macrophyllas are too large or need shaping, then prune them now and practice your plant propagation skills on the ends of the cut stems. Use a 6-inch piece of terminal growth (the end of the stem) by cutting the stem below a pair of nodes (the place on the stem where leaves emerge). Pull off the bottom leaves, cut any large leaves in half across the center vein, and place the stem in a light soil mix (50 percent potting soil and 50 percent perlite) to root them.
There should be at least one set of nodes below the soil line and one or two sets of nodes and leaves above the soil line. Place your pot of prepared cuttings under a tree or in another shady spot, water them regularly, and in 3 to 6 weeks youíll have a new hydrangea to share with a friend. For more information on all types of hydrangeas, their care, and propagation, visit Judith Kingís wonderful hydrangea website at hydrangeashydrangeas.com.
Salvias also propagate well, either by stem cuttings or division. Randy Collins, a local Master Gardener, gave a wonderful talk at the last lunch box lecture about his salvia collection that includes annual and perennial varieties. Salvias are drought tolerant and deer resistant, and Collins mentioned that his other favorite deer resistant plants include milkweed, columbine, yarrow and buddleia (butterfly bush). If you would like to learn more about his collection, or visit his garden, send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A favorite garden tool
Because weeds rob water and nutrients from your desired plants, weeding the garden is a necessity in the summer. I have a favorite tool that I use for weeding when Iím in a hurry (when Iím trying to escape the heat). It can be called a stirrup hoe or a weeding hoe, and it cuts the roots of weeds on both the push and pull motion. Because of its open shape, it can be used under mulch without disturbing the mulch or even the soil.
The ďMeet A Master GardenerĒ team will be at the Aiken Farmers Market on Saturday, August 2, 2014 from 8 a.m. to noon to answer your lawn and garden questions. The next installment of our free monthly lunch box lecture series will be at 12:30 p.m. on August 18, 2014 at Trinity United Methodist Church, 2724 Whiskey Road here in Aiken. The speakers will be beekeeper & photographer Deborah Sasser and beekeeper & master gardener volunteer Hank Smalling with a talk on beekeeping and the plants that bees love. The lunch box lecture series is open to the public, lasts about one hour, and requires no reservations. If you have questions about these events or any other lawn and garden topics, call the Aiken Master Gardeners at 803-649-6297 ext. 122; send an email to email@example.com; or visit us weekday mornings in our office at 1555 Richland Avenue East here in Aiken.
Pam Glogowski moved to Aiken in 2001 from Janesville, Wisconsin, and has been an active master gardener volunteer since 2007. Photos appearing with this article were taken in the authorís yard on July 23, 2014.