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Gardener’s checklist for summer

  • Marie Narlock
  • by Marie Narlock

    “Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.”
    - Russel Baker
    Summertime gardening is like flossing: a bit of prevention and attention keeps your garden’s teeth healthy and good-looking. Although it’s tempting to laze away these warm months on a chaise lounge drinking iced tea by the pool, your tan will not make up for your garden’s ratty appearance. Along with blending margaritas and lighting citronella candles, summer demands chores of the gardener. Whether your hottest month is October in Inverness or July in Novato, here’s a summertime garden to do list:
    Safety first. To be fire safe, clear all brush, weeds, and dry grass away from your house. Keep foundation plants well watered and be sure tree canopies aren’t scraping your rooftop. If you live near open space where broom, poison oak, and pampas grass are looking like large matchsticks, contact your city to see if, or how, you can help eradicate them. You’ll be doing your whole neighborhood a favor. And don’t forget your own personal safety: wear a wide brimmed hat, a high SPF sunscreen, and drink plenty of water while gardening.
    Water wisely. After fire safety, proper watering is your most important summertime garden task. The goal is to use the least amount of water possible. One of the best ways to achieve this is to use a drip system with a timer that’s set to water infrequently but deeply. Give your drip system a check up to see that emitters are neither clogged nor creating unwelcome fountains. Water early in the morning and use mulch generously to keep moisture in and weeds out.
    Get to know your shady characters. Summer is the best season to assess your garden’s comfort level. If the sun beats down relentlessly on all areas of your garden, perhaps you need to invest in a shade tree. Sure, you can rely on an umbrella. But if you have the space and the inclination, there’s nothing like cooling off under a living umbrella. Some excellent shade tree choices include hawthorns, oaks, and persimmons. If, on the other hand, you’re finding that the sun isn’t peeking through your garden the way it used to, perhaps it’s time to have some of your trees trimmed or windowed.
    Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Plant a few for a visual and aromatic treat. Summer is the season of overflowing herb pots, with scents that fill garden paths and sultry nights. Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow, and they adore the warmth of summer. Be sure to enjoy some herbal pleasures yourself: cool off with lemon verbena and mint tea. Top a warm loaf of garlic bread with freshly chopped chives. Slip a few leaves of basil between sliced tomatoes. Fill small muslin bags with dried lavender and turn your tub into a treatment.
    Train your babies. Young fruit trees benefit from summer pruning. Trim their young branches selectively so that the center of the canopy receives the maximum amount of sun and air. Remove any unnecessary but vigorous upright shoots on mature fruit trees (older than five years) and head back to control the height. Cut off any suckers growing at or near the crown of the tree, and be sure that the crown (where the trunk meets the roots) is not covered with soil.
    Don’t get too lazy. Do not succumb to the balmy weather’s seductions to coax you out of your chores. Keep the compost and organic fertilizing schedule coming. Continue to feed citrus and roses every month. Trim off spent rose blooms and cut back to an outside leaf with 5 leaflets to encourage repeat blooms. Deadhead other flowering plants, but leave a few seed pods for the birds, who will be thankful for the snack in the months ahead. Harvest vegetables such as beans and zucchini so that more vegetables keep coming. Pull weeds before seed heads appear. Pick up any fallen fruit to avoid wasps, ants, and rats.
    It’s not too late for planting. For instant color and satisfaction, plant summer loving annuals such as zinnias, snapdragons, lobelia, cosmos, and sunflowers. They’re almost always available in local nurseries. It’s also not too late to pop in a few edibles. If you live in an especially hot microclimate, buy starts of cucumber, peppers, and even tomatoes. If you live in a cooler area, think beets, carrots, and radishes. Plant fall-blooming bulbs such as crocus and spider lilies.
    What not to do when it’s hot. In general, avoid hand watering during the heat of the day. Do not water under oaks at all, within at least six feet of the trunk. Don’t be tempted to plant cool-season edible crops because Marin’s warm weather can extend into November. Heat is the enemy of cool season crops like broccoli, spinach, and brussel sprouts. Also, wait until late fall to plant California natives which will happily settle in by drinking up the winter rains. Don’t water the area where your daffodils are secretly resting underground because this will rot the bulbs.