We're finally into summer and you're feeling fine. The kitchen garden is packed with promise, the border beds are brimming with colorful flowers, and the lawn is — well, if not lush, then acceptable by Colorado standards. But as you recline on your chaise, ponder these bits of advice on how to keep your yard and garden thriving the rest of the summer.
Get a second helping
From the middle to the end of July, you can plant a second vegetable garden, a consolation for those of us who didn't quite catch the few days this spring that weren't too cold, too hot, or too wet. Cool-season crops will get you a sweet harvest when the days get crisp.
As daytime temperatures drop into autumn, most cool-season vegetables begin maturing, and the trend toward chilly means those plants aren't suffering hot flashes as they reach their peak.
Beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, turnips and peas can be planted directly into the soil through mid- August. The key is to plant fast-maturing vegetables and varieties to bring a harvest in before the truly cold weather arrives.
With cool-season veggies like broccoli raab, bok choi or others, beware the hazards of a hot Colorado summer. Prepare your garden by removing summer crop residues and weed growth, then turn compost into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. You can help keep the soil from drying out with a light mulch of compost over the seed row.
Lettuce, peas and spinach need cool shade for germination at this time, so plant them under taller summer crops -say, beans or tomatoes- that will be finished with the first frost. Plant the seeds slightly deeper than you would in spring to take advantage of moister soil.
Finally, an easy chore
Deadheading can be done while you're strolling among your blooms, chatting up the bees and admiring your handiwork. Why do it? It'll give you more flowers and a longer show.
And it's easy: Deadhead plants with multiple stems, such as salvia, by snipping the stem back to the first leaf or group of leaves. On plants with stems of several flowers opening at different times, such as daylilies, clip each bloom as it fades, then cut the entire stem after all flowers are finished. Pinch the blossoms of flowers such as dahlias, geraniums, marigolds and snapdragons, pansies, salvias, zinnias, yarrow, echinacea, or coreopsis where they meet the stem to keep them in bloom all season.
Pamper your shade producers
Watch for trees with crispy, dry leaves.
When trees fail to develop enough fine roots to support summer's lush canopies, their leaves lose water faster than the stunted root system can replace it. Leaf tips will brown or the leaves will drop from the tree. To tell leaf scorch from disease, look for evenly discolored spots on leaves, typically from the tips inward. These spots will have no rings, halos or fruiting bodies (if you see any of those things, you should suspect fungus or bacteria). On pines suffering from a dry winter, needles will be brown with no rings or banding-and they'll be brittle and dry.
You can't cure the tree, but you can prepare to help it be healthier next year. Set yourself up with a calendar that lists your trees and notes which ones are struggling now. (No, you probably won't remember which ones in winter.) That way, you can be sure every individual in your own urban forest gets deep watered to a depth of 12 to 18 inches, once per month, come the cold dry months. July and August are a good time to keep an eye out for sales on soaker hoses or root-waterers.
Splendor in what grass?
Now that it's hot outside, lawns are checking out for the season. Huge brown spots are growing in yards, and in most cases, the culprit isn't disease or bugs-it's a lack of water. But turning up the irrigation isn't always the answer, because when it comes to watering lawns, coverage is everything.
Gaps in irrigation coverage from tilted heads, insufficient throw of water, and sprinkler heads that are broken or pointing the wrong way all can lead to brownouts in the lawn. Turn the sprinkler system on to closely examine the toss of water from each head. If you're standing behind a sprinkler head, it's easy to tell if it's pointed the wrong way-you'll be getting a shower. So choose a warm day to walk from head to head to check their direction.
Look to see if the water from one head is reaching the sprinkler next to it. That's called head-to-head coverage, and it's critical for good irrigation. If your sprinklers don't throw far enough, consider adding more heads.
Lawns don't need water every day. If you're running your sprinklers that often, you may need professional help. Here's one way to check to see if your lawn's getting drinks frequently enough: Walk across it the afternoon before you're going to irrigate. If your footprints stay visible for 30 minutes or longer, the grass is drying out too much in between watering.
Finally, remember to water during the cool of the early morning or late evening.
The summer switcheroo
When August does roll in, treat yourself to a fall container makeover. Though that splash of color near your doorstep looks good now, in about six weeks as summer wanes and temperatures cool, you'll want a fresh look. Planted in August, containers have time to fill out and look their best for fall. Shopping when fall bedding plants arrive in garden centers is the perfect pick-me-up during the dog days of summer. But be aware that not all plants can take the frost. Look for those with a tough disposition. Here are a few to try.
Read Carol O'Meara on her blog, gardeningafterfive.wordpress.com.
Baby your babies
New perennial, shrub or tree plantings often need extra watching to get them through their first blazing summer — if, indeed, this does become a blazing summer.
If you're popping new specimens into an existing garden, marking them in some way will help you find them and monitor their progress. A Noodlehead sprinkler, which has bendable heads that can be aimed at the newcomers, is a useful tool. For single trees or shrubs, you also can take a bucket with holes drilled into it, fill it up with water and leave it overnight — or set the hose on the barest trickle and set a timer for 20 minutes.
I've even covered new shrubs with cardboard boxes or lawn chairs draped with old sheets during the day — it wasn't pretty, but all my new purchases survived that year's long stretch of blistering days.
Finally, that magic word: mulch, mulch, mulch. — Susan Clotfelter