zinnia flower

With North Carolina’s last frost behind us, now’s the time to look ahead to the summer season. Prepare your lawn and garden this spring for smooth sailing this summer.

Here are five things you can do now that will have you sitting on your porch swing more, sipping iced tea, and stressing less in the summer sun.

1. Plant as soon after the last frost date as possible

The earlier you plant, the more time the plants have to establish their roots. The amount of maintenance is the same, but planting earlier allows you to take advantage of the steady spring rains. Plus, the temperatures are cooler, making it easier to work outside. Now is a great time to plant tomatoes, beans, squash, as well as herbs such as parsley, basil, lavender, and rosemary. It’s also safe now to bring out the tropical plants that made it through the winter indoors.

2. Group similar plants together

When planting, consider putting plants with similar watering needs together. Most gardeners know to meet the plant’s sun or shade requirements but often forget to look at a plant’s need from a watering perspective. It’s no fun to drag a hose past five drought-tolerant plants to get a thirsty one, so put drought-tolerant plants together. Group moisture-loving plants in one spot, and in another, plant those that do well with average moisture. This way, when it is time to water, you can do a group at a time. The same concept goes with container gardens. Place potted plants in groups instead of spreading them around the garden, so you can water more than one at a time. Grouping is more efficient and can save you time and effort.

3. Mulch as soon as possible

If you haven’t mulched your garden beds yet, do so now. Mulching will help moderate soil temperature, suppress weeds, and retain moisture during the summer heat. Mulching also makes a garden look tidy. There are many types of mulch to choose from, so it all depends on your preference. Choices include shredded hardwood or shredded pine bark. Also, consider using pine straw since our state tree is the pine tree, after all. But remember, it’s best not to use pine straw at the house foundation of the western or southern exposure. On rare occasions, pine straw has been known to catch fire easily.

4. Mow your lawn strategically

When the spring temperatures are still cool, cut your cool season grass, such as tall fescue, shorter so it looks and feels like a carpet. Before the summer sizzle sets in, raise the wheels on our mower and mow high. This keeps the grass cooler and shades out weeds. Fewer weed means less stress and work, so you can spend time taking part in other summer activities.

5. Plant butterfly-friendly flowers

To attract butterflies, direct sow zinnia seeds. This is a low-maintenance flower that’s drought tolerant, colorful, and loved by the butterflies, which bring smiles and delight to all they encounter. By direct sowing every two weeks or so, there will be fresh, disease-free foliage throughout the summer. If the foliage on the older plants starts looking ratty, just remove them. New plants will be right behind them.

Summers are for making memories. How do you want to be remembered, as the one missing out on the fun or the one creating it?

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Yoest is an award-winning freelance writer and garden stylist. As a gardener, she's curious about plants, soil, design, and how others use these to create their gardens at home.