When Idaho heats up for summer, it can completely change the way we use words.

In April, you may hear someone described as “hot” — meaning above average in looks. In the dead of summer, it’s more likely to mean sweaty, stinky and grumpy. Some garden plants love the heat — such as tomatoes, peppers, portulaca and flowering vinca — but many others begin to look every bit as grumpy as their caregivers. Petunias, in particular, get somewhat tired looking.

I offer three steps to help you push the refresh button on your garden:

1) Water. Let’s start with the obvious: Plants need more water the hotter it gets. However, even though it may seem counterintuitive, it is possible to overwater your garden even when the weather turns relentlessly hot.

Usually the best practice is to let the soil dry slightly between deep irrigations. If the soil is wet all the time, you are probably watering too much. Roots need oxygen as well as water.

Plants in containers or baskets are an exception to this guideline because of the smaller soil volume. Pots and planters may need daily watering, but your lawn doesn’t.

2) Fertilize. Under high heat, plants grow faster and by midsummer have used up much of the available food.

Fertilizer can work a miracle on the overall health and appearance of your garden. If your lawn looks faded, spread some ammonium sulfate just before the next irrigation cycle, and in about seven to 10 days the grass will noticeably improve. If your flowers and vegetables look fine but haven’t had any fertilizer in more than a month, get out there quickly before they begin to protest.

Dry fertilizers, especially slow-release types, can take longer to work but last longer. Liquid feeding is great for quick results but needs to be applied more often. If your plants are yellowing, use both.

In case you are not picking up what I am putting down, fertilize! If you don’t like to use traditional fertilizers, use compost or other organic supplements, but please feed your plants.

3) Groom. A little time spent deadheading (removing spent blooms), pruning out dead or diseased stems, and pinching to shape plants is sure to enhance your flower beds. This doesn’t have to be a burdensome task; even one or two times a month will benefit your flowers. It also gives you a chance to get up close and personal with your garden and notice problems before they get out of control.

There are countless other problems that can crop up (pun intended) in the summer garden, but a little extra care now will help to keep your plants beautiful so that you will dread an early frost rather than pray for one.

And remember: As the sweat drips down your face, you have every right to announce in a loud voice, “I am so hot!”

After working for years in commercial greenhouses in Idaho and Utah, Susan Harris of Shoshone is a garden designer and garden coach. Reach her at colormygarden@cableone.net.


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