Horticulture expert Toby Bost offers his gardening tips for early summer. Whether growing fruits and vegetables or maintaining your current landscape, there is plenty to do in your yard this month.
1. Fertilize warm-season turfgrass varieties, like Bermuda grass, St. Augustine and zoysia, are monthly during the summer months, or as needed based on a soil test. For more information on lawn management, request or download a copy of the Lawn Maintenance Calendar from Cooperative Extension for your turfgrass type.
2. Remove no more than one-third of the height of the grass during mowing. This ensures the root system is not stressed. Clippings can be left on tall fescue/bluegrass lawns to recycle nutrients and add organic matter back into the soil. Raising the cutting height on cool season lawns as hot weather approaches also helps reduce weed infestations.
3. Prevent fungus diseases in your lawn by reseeding or sodding affected areas in late summer. The diseases appear in home lawns this time of year as moisture and night temperatures increase. Systemic fungicides may give relief when applied at the onset of disease development, however reseeding and sodding is the most environmentally sound practice.
4. Note that powdery mildew disease is common on ornamental plants in early summer. A white film develops on a few susceptible plants, such as phlox, roses and crape myrtles, just to name a few. Treatment includes pruning off infected leaves, using approved fungicides, and disposing of fallen leaves in winter. For sustainable plantings, select mildew resistant varieties for the garden.
5. Be aware of tiny insects called thrips, which commonly spoil white-to-pastel-colored flowers during the bud stage. A problem with thrips can occur quickly. A trademark symptom is the browning of the edges of petals, especially roses and peonies. To test, shake an infested flower over a white piece of paper and you will see the slender, tan-colored insects. Thrips are difficult control since they are mobile and elusive. Systemic insecticides may work in some cases. Blighted flowers should be removed and discarded into sealed trash bags.
6. Deadhead spent flowers before they set seeds. A plant expends unnecessary energy forming seeds that can be put to better use building roots or forming new flower stalks and foliage. Deadheading is common in perennial and bulb gardening, as well as in the edible garden. Iris and peonies benefit from this treatment.
7. Manage ants by disturbing the soil surface and by using ant-bait stations. They generally do no damage to plants as they seek out nectar from blossoms or honeydew from aphid infestations. Control fire ants with baits used on mounds. More information on fire ants can be found here.
8. Irrigate vegetable gardens with the equivalent of an inch of water per week. Water-stressed plants are less flavorful and productive. Experiment with drip irrigation and other low volume systems to conserve water. Rain barrels that receive storm water from your gutters are a good and environmentally friendly way to supply moisture to thirsty gardens.
9. Continue planting crops that thrive in summer gardens – okra, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, field peas, pumpkins, tomatoes, and lima bean.
10. Fertilize bedding plants and vegetables routinely as signs of nutrient deficiencies are observed. Slow-release and organic fertilizers can simplify this important chore.
11. Beneficial insect populations generally buildup to significant numbers by early summer and are the gardener’s best helper for natural control of plant pests. Praying mantis, ladybugs and parasitic wasps are important predators in the biological war for saving your harvest. Increase their numbers by planting cover crops, such as buckwheat and clovers, in vacant space in the vegetable garden. Many blooming plants with small flowers are attractive to beneficial insects. Read more about organic gardening and pest control.
12. Mulching is an important practice for successful gardening.
13. Rain barrels and other containers that collect storm water should be capped to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Screen wire is a fine material to cap these containers. You can also control these insects using Mosquito Dunks.
14. Thin strawberry plants to 12 inches after harvest. Remove runners, and fertilize and weed plantings. Strawberry beds may need to be replaced after three years of production.
15. Extend the vegetable harvest with successive plantings during the summer months.
16. Squash vine borers are a threat to squash, pumpkins, and other gourd family members. Use the least toxic method to stop this pest. Routinely check for signs of borers in June and August.
17. Vegetable and herb plantings will yield more when they are harvested regularly and picked when at their peak maturity time. Remember to ask family or friends to pick your vegetables when you are away on vacation. The garden will benefit and your friends will appreciate your generosity.
18. Tomato plants are disease prone and the lower leaves are the first often affected. In small spaces, fungicides are beneficial where tomatoes are planted yearly. Explore your options between both synthetic and biological fungicides.
19. Thin fruit on fruit trees. Fruit trees are notorious for overbearing, which can reduce the number of fruit the next year. Hand thinning also increases the size of individual fruits remaining on trees.
20. Protect honeybee populations by applying chemical insecticides late in the day, and using the least toxic method to control leaf feeding beetles. Insecticidal soap or horticultural oil spray applications are helpful in eradicating damaging aphid populations. Consult your county extension agent for advice on the safe use of pesticides or for alternatives to chemical insecticides.
21. Tomatoes are an important vegetable for most city gardeners. Select a large container at least five gallons in size. If you choose a bucket don’t forget to drill drainage holes on the lower sides. A commercial potting soil that has moisture polymers for water retention will be helpful as summer approaches. Tomatoes flourish in full sun and need plenty of fertilizer and water. It is best to hold back on fertilizing until the first tomatoes form. Too much nitrogen will leave you with big green plants and no tomatoes.
*** County Cooperative Extension offices offer a very helpful Vegetable Gardener’s Guide free to all residents. It features recommended varieties and seed quantities needed for planting. Two other useful publications for edible gardens is the North Carolina Vegetable Garden Guide (Cool Springs Press) and Rodale’s Organic Gardener Handbook.