Nancy Brachey

Take care of your garden this summer

Timely picking of tomatoes will keep the plant producing and careful watering that avoids wetting the foliage will help the plant stay healthy
Timely picking of tomatoes will keep the plant producing and careful watering that avoids wetting the foliage will help the plant stay healthy dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

For gardeners, the tough times are just ahead.

That means summer – the Piedmont summer, when heat hits and stays and rainfall is erratic, as gardeners feel wilted, eager to escape to beach or mountains.

Yet the flower beds and vegetable gardens are out there, looking good after hard work through the spring.

The goal, of course, is to keep everything going and growing well for maximum beauty and a bountiful harvest through the tough times.

It boils down to just a few strategies that are not difficult to implement. They involve watering, harvesting and pest control.

Water with care. Water carefuly and in a timely way for maximum benefit to the plants and to avoid wasting water. Avoid overhead watering of vegetable and flower beds. This is especially true if you have to water your plants in the late afternoon or evening. There is less time for wet foliage to dry off before dark, risking the development of leaf diseases, especially on zinnias, tomatoes and periwinkles, to name just three.

Consider a drip-trickle hose to put in your gardens. That is an efficient way to water the roots without wasting water.

And it isn’t just flower beds and vegetable gardens that require this attention. New shrubs you planted this spring require close attention to watering because they’re not established. They will wilt rapidly in hot, dry weather. Perhaps you have already seen evidence of this. A slow watering of the root zone by placing a hose that is just oozing water will water the roots well and reduce wilting.

Harvest on time. This means picking your vegetables when they are ripe and ready. Don’t delay. Left on the plants, they go down fast. If you are going on vacation, get someone to pick your tomatoes, squashes, peppers, melons and other summer crops. The flower garden also benefits from timely picking.

Annuals are especially prone to deteriorate when flowers go to seed on the plant. That tells the plant its job is over. Fool it by snipping off aging flowers before they go to seed, which should keep the annuals producing. To keep the flower bed looking good, look over your perennials and cut off ones that are past their prime.

Watch for pests. Often, you don’t realize there’s a problem until you see holes on the plant. But careful watching every day will tell you pests, such as beetles or slugs, are already at work. Do not panic. Most of these problems can be dealt with in the early stages by picking them off the plants. Don’t be squeamish about this. Just use the tip of your trowel. Or set out a saucer of beer to attract and drown slugs.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. Is it too late to plant store-bought tomato plants? Where I planted this year, there is simply not enough sunlight and the plants are stunted, with one fruit on each of the two plants.

A. It is not too late. They should do well. Also, consider moving the plants you already have. It would do them no harm, and their future is not good in that shady spot.

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