BY BARBARA STORZ
A surprise to none, summers are hot in South Texas. Scorching even. This means in order for our favorite plants to make it through the summer, we must prepare.
>> Keep pots cool: Black plastic heats up. Transplant plants to cool white containers or place the potted plant, with its black pot, in a white or light colored container whenever possible. Make sure the container has adequate drainage, otherwise plants left to sit in standing water will rot and die.
Terra cotta pots easily dry out in summer. To combat this, apply wood mulch on top of the soil. You can also install an automatic watering system. Drip irrigation kits that cover several containers are available. If you go out of town, add an automatic timer. Be sure to install the system with a back flow device (to prevent water from backing up into the home) and use a pressure regulator to lower the pressure on the drip system. If possible, cool containers in the afternoon by moving them away from the sun.
>> Mulch, mulch, mulch: Apply 3 inches of mulch to flower beds. Be sure to pull mulch several inches away from flowers and shrubs, as the root system needs to breathe too. Mulch conserves water and helps regulate the soil temperature around plant roots.
>> When to water: Water landscape and vegetable plants, as well as turf grass, early in the morning and be sure to complete the watering by 8 a.m. to avoid evaporation by the sun. Water deeply, not frequently. Turf grass that is watered every day — or every other day — never has an opportunity to develop deep, healthy roots. Trees and shrubs are never truly watered if you water for just a few minutes every day. Trees are best watered with a soaker hose left on all night, or for at least four hours.
>> Some plants can go: When tomatoes finish fruiting, pull up the plants and discard them. Do not keep tomatoes for a second season. I repeat, do not keep tomatoes for a second season Even if you water them through the summer, the next crop will likely produce stunted fruits and the exhausted plant will struggle to fight off pests and disease. Start with fresh plants for the fall. Some hot pepper varieties may get through the summer without too much stress and live for another season. To keep swiss chard, brussel sprouts and kale flourishing through summer, you will need to cover them with a 30 percent shade cloth.
>> Summer nutrition: Add water-soluble fertilizer with low levels of nitrogen (5 percent or less) to maintain potted plants that are actively growing. Otherwise, do not fertilize in summer. This creates plant stress. Before the end of May, cover turf grass with one half inch of compost and water. Do not apply any fertilizer on turf grass in the summer. Raise the mower blades as high as possible, as cutting too short will stress the grass.
>> Feed the beneficial insects: Keep flowering plants alive for the beneficial insects. Cosmos, zinnia, marigold, and salvia will bloom and help support these insects as well as numerous native plants.
>> Remember: Preparation is the best way to get the garden through a long, hot summer.
For a great selection of native butterfly garden plants, visit the Growing Growers Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to noon today. Benito and Toni Treviño of Rancho Lomitas, Native Plant Nursery, will be on hand to provide garden advice. The market is located in Firemen’s Park on the corner of 1st Street and Business 83 in McAllen.
Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can listen to her gardening program at 7 a.m. Saturdays on 710 KURV Radio, or email her at [email protected]