Gardening for Life: special care for summer plants
By JOSE GERMAN
For Montclair Local
Jose German is a New Jersey environmental activist, Essex County certified master
gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.
Gardens require maintenance year around, but moving into the summer they need some special care. So far, this spring has seen a lot of rain, making gardens lush but sometimes overgrown. Let’s get prepared in advance, in the likely case that we have higher-than-usual summer temperatures and some dry stretches, creating challenges in supporting the lush life of the garden.
Mulching and weed control
Weekly weeding is a good practice. Don’t wait until weeds are out of control or they will multiply and spread their seeds.
Adding a thick layer of cedar mulch will help control the weeds by preventing their germination. I recommend using cedar undyed mulch since the dye in colored mulch has artificial chemicals that can be toxic. Some colored mulch is made of recycled wood and may include treated wood containing creosote or chromated copper arsenate (CCA). CCA and other toxic chemicals have been found to contaminate soil where colored wood chip mulch has been applied. If you find brightly colored mulch labeled “natural,” remember that “natural” has no legal definition and read the ingredients to see what chemicals were added to enhance the color.
Besides helping with weed control, a thick layer of mulch (about 3 inches) will also help the soil retain moisture by reducing evaporation. Water deeply to be sure the water goes to the roots. Avoid watering the foliage since wet leaves promote the growth of mildew and fungi.
It’s best to water early in the day to let leaves dry out before nightfall. Native plants tend to be more drought tolerant since they are used to our climate, so watering them should be lower priority, even in dry spells, but you will need to water new plantings. Some non-native plants may need watering every other day, but before watering check if the soil around the roots appears dry.
Container plants dry out quickly and may need watering every day in hot weather.
Feeding your plants
Like humans, plants need food. Well-fed plants are more productive. As a proponent of organic gardening, I recommend organic fertilizers. Adding a layer of compost to your flower and vegetable beds is effective in feeding your plants without chemicals. If you do not have a compost pile in your yard, you should start one, but in the meantime, compost is available from most garden centers.
For your vegetable garden, consider planting nitrogen-fixing legumes. While it is too late for peas, beans can be planted well into the summer to feed both the soil and your family.