10 midsummer gardening mistakes

ByHelen Racanelli

Maintain a healthy-looking, thriving garden with these easy maintenance tips

During the spring, you transplanted seedlings, visited the plant nursery, came away with a trunk full of leafy wonders, and got to work prepping and planting your garden. Now that the heat is here, it’s tempting to sit back, relax and literally watch the plants grow. Not so fast. Though plants, trees and lawns seem to take care of themselves, they need tending even through midsummer’s period of bountiful growth. Here’s how to avoid 10 common midsummer gardening mistakes.

1. Pruning trees
Pruning your trees should only be done in months that have an ‘R,’ say Pamela and Dwayne, owners of Vancouver gardening service, Gardeners for Hire. May to August is off limits for cutting trees as you could weaken them and prevent them from surviving through the winter. “It’s a sad sight to see a tree that has been hacked by a loving home owner or inexperienced gardener,” say Pamela and Dwayne, who recommend leaving pruning to a pro if you’re not sure what to do. However, if you’re confident in your pruning skills, remember to never cut off more than 30 per cent of the tree. “If it’s large and overgrown, do your pruning over several years to get the tree under control. Never do it all in a single year.”

2. Cutting the lawn too short
By keeping the lawn cut to two to three inches, the roots will have an easier time retaining water and will need watering less frequently,” say Pamela and Dwayne. Longer grass requires less watering. “Longer lawns also help reduce noise pollution as the grass capture ambient noise, and is also great at purifying the dirty air and pollutants,” the team says.

3. Overwatering grass
Don’t put the sprinkler on and return half an hour later to turn it off. “Most lawns only need to be watered three to five minutes per watering. Obviously in the middle of a heat wave, more may be needed,” say Pamela and Dwayne. Of course, be sure to heed your municipality’s water restrictions and conservation suggestions.

4. Underwatering trees
When it comes to established trees in our yards, the midsummer gardener probably figures these leafy giants can take care of themselves. Not so. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) recommends that homeowners water trees for one hour per week, using the trickle of a soaker hose to water, and more frequently when the weather is hot.

5. Ignoring vegetables
Many vegetables, such as tomatoes, are considered “easy to grow,” meaning that they grow well in our climate and don’t need fussing over every day. But that doesn’t mean they can be ignored after they’ve been planted. Check your vegetables at least once a week, making sure they are insect-free and that leaves are healthy, while removing dead or rotting ones. I once ignored my tomatoes for three weeks, and while they grew copiously, I returned to find them riddled with a network of spider webs. Keep weeds from cropping up by using a hoe or cultivator to tame the beds surrounding plants. It’s tempting to ignore vegetables until harvest season, but consider that you’ll get much better yields if you stay on top of problems.

6. Using the wrong products
Make sure you purchase the right product for your yard. “Topdressing for beds comes in many forms; make sure you install the right one,” say Pamela and Dwayne. “Composted bark mulch is great for adding nutrients and nitrogen back into soil that has been depleted by the plants during that year. Mulch will help retain the water as well as insulate the plants from extreme heat during the summer and cold during the winter.”

“Avoid using a sand-based product unless you have drainage issues. Sand-based dressings help the excessive water run off,” they add.

7. Spending all your money too soon
Whether you’ve set aside a budget of  $100 or $1,000 for new plants, try not to spend it all as soon as spring hits. Reserving some funds will allow you to take advantage of perennials that may become deeply discounted when temporary nurseries shut down for the season, which can be as early as July, or to replace plants that have died.

8. Letting the garden become unkempt
“A clean garden is always a happier garden,” say Pamela and Dwayne. Don’t just let dead or rotten leaves lie where they fall, thinking it is the same as adding compost. “There is a difference between ‘hot composting’ with proper equipment and ‘garden composting’ the fallen debris under the hedge. Hot composting uses the heat created from the sun to help break down large debris and kills any fungus or moulds that may be present,” the duo say. Merely garden composting—in other words, leaving debris where it lies—is a festering environment for bacteria, fungus and disease. “Keep the ground below your hedges clean. Often, homeowners will find an infected plant like azalea with leaf gall. This can be traced back to a laurel hedge that has not been cleaned under. This mess will become infected and spread to other parts of your garden,” caution Pamela and Dwayne.

9. Forgetting to deadhead flowers
While it may seem natural and beneficial to let the lifecycle of flowers take their course, by snipping off dead flowers you’ll actually encourage a plant to develop more buds. In the thrall of pool parties, barbecue cookouts and other summer activities it’s easy to forget to do this simple but rewarding task. Read Deadhead to keep flowers blooming to find out how and when to deadhead effectively.

10. Not knowing when to call it quits
Attempting to eke just a little more life out of a nearly spent basil or parsley container plant might not be worth the effort. Consider using up all the basil in a pesto sauce or putting parsley to good use in a delicious recipe for tabbouleh salad. Seeing as it’s still midsummer, you can replant the container with cheerful annuals that will take you through to the first frost.


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