Secrets to successful gardening…

by Gerry Hofmann

Even though it seems like it has been quite toasty for weeks now, summer officially began only a few days ago. That means we have a lot of gardening time still in front of us – time to rearrange plants that could do better elsewhere (“What was I thinking when I stuck that peony in that corner?”), to find new plant treats to take home & generally enjoy where we are so far. Gardening’s trial is its saving grace: we are never really ‘done’ with it… hooray!!

RudbeckiaYellowIn that spirit, here are some guidelines to maximize what you’re growing. By now, we have all had to contend with the results of our snow-laden spring, with a few nasty deep freezes thrown in for good measure!  Certain plants appeared to succumb more often than others… hyssop (Agastache) come to mind, for example. Normally one of the best perennials for dry hotspots, many hyssops could not handle the continued pummeling from the wet snows. Since every year’s winter/spring conditions are unique, here’s hoping that last season’s will not be a repeat!

Fortunately, we entered summertime with more moisture this year, and that generally helped what was already planted. However, June slid back to the low water level category, so be sure to ‘baby’ any recent additions to your landscape with daily water for a couple of weeks after planting, until the roots have had a chance to acclimate to their new environments. Also, except for roses & a few other plant categories, do not be afraid to ‘overhead water’ a new plant, since we want to mimic what nature does through its spring & summer rains.  Washing dirt & debris off the foliage so that all-important sunshine conversion to chlorophyll can take place, plus keeping certain insects off, will go a long way toward ensuring a healthy future. Just as our skin is literally cooled by water sprayed on us on a hot, sunny day, the temperature of the herbaceous (soft) growth of your plants will benefit.

Before going much further, one of your major gardening helpers deserves an enthusiastic shout-out: mulch. Lest it get poo-pooed only as window dressing, remember its true value translates into multiple benefits for your plants: retaining moisture in the soil (especially for new plants) and preventing weeds from taking over by depriving seeds or seedlings of sunlight. Leave a little space around the base of your plant to avoid fungal problems, and also to allow for growth once it is settled. To avoid the wind from sending it down the street, consider planting a few inches lower from the get-go to allow for 3-4″ of mulch on top. (Some people like to use small rock as mulch; however, keep in mind that the mineral content of rock will actually add heat to your plants. This is fine if your goal is actually a rock garden, but even then, the roots of any plants suitable for that situation will need to be kept cool and moist until established.)

The enjoyment of our gardens can be lessened by their enemies, of course. There are herbicides and insecticides to deal with these problems, but consider some natural, yet often quite effective methods first. Slugs, for instance, love to chomp on tender leaves of hostas. The old method of setting up slug ‘beer bars’ in shallow dishes works, as they bellied up to the bar & fell in! However, an easier method is to spread Diatomaceous Earth underneath the plants, as the dust acts like shards of glass….with no ‘after-party mess’ to clean up!  Also, strong repeated sprays of plain water can dislodge many insects.  However, since some pests protect themselves by camping out underneath the leaves, as aphids do, be sure to aim the water stream upward at their actual location. Using a spritzer of insecticidal soap can debilitate some pests by drying their soft membranous exoskeleton, while oil-based products like neem oil, which act by clogging their breathing mechanisms.

Our gardens provide us with so much: lovely colors and sweet fragrances, calming environments for us to look out on or relax in, their butterfly, bird and bee buddies, fruits and veggies and so much more, no wonder we love gardening!!

Originally published on June 28th, 2013. Updated on July 1st, 2021.