OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer
Although on a calendar it is still midsummer, by most standards summer is drawing to a close. A new school year is just around the corner and the easy days of summer are suddenly packed with appointments and errands. As a result, often the garden suffers. Annuals and perennials alike are overgrown and under-watered, draining their soil every day of nutrients. Of course it is somewhat tempting to just let it go until autumn…but with just a little bit of effort and a well-laid plan you can maximize the rest of your garden’s summer and begin to prepare for the changing season. Behind every successful garden, there is a master plan.
One of the easiest improvements to make to the midsummer garden is scaling down annual growth. Particularly vines such as sweet potato and vinca. All those extra leaves and roots your vines have added are increasing the plant’s need for water. Vegetative growth like their leaves needs a lot of water to support itself and as a result the whole vine wilts. Every bit trimmed off will make a difference in how far its water goes. Luckily trimming vines is foolproof — cut freely to acquire the shape and arrangement you desire. Petunias can also be cut back in the same fashion. This time of year is also perfect to give your containers and garden a solid fertilization to nourish the soil that has been supporting your plants all season.
Because your master plan should include all four seasons, it is the perfect time to consider winter interest in your garden — and even the spring to follow. If you plan to plant bulbs this autumn, now is the time to research which varieties you would like and order them. With so many fantastic online resources available as well as mail-order catalogs the selection is endless in rare tulips, daffodil and hyacinth for example. Popular varieties always sell out, so by being ahead of the curve you ensure yourself best selection. Of course after the crisp lovely days of fall, winter does set in; and it is lovely to have some action in your winter garden. Whether you choose to liven up your winter landscape with birdfeeders or add color with boxwood and blue spruce there are actually a fair amount of viable options for winter interest. Just remember, if you invite birds and squirrels in the winter they will still be there in the spring. Some gardeners prefer to leave their ornamental grasses uncut through the winter because of the unique way they catch snow. Considering all of these components to your garden now will help you achieve your garden goals every season.
Another great project to start this time of year is compost. Compost is called “black gold” by many gardeners for good reason — there is simply no more natural, easy or inexpensive way to add potent health and nutrition to the garden than with compost. Also with the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables right now there is a surplus of fruit and vegetable scraps almost every night. Another advantage to starting the compost now is it will get a head start and be useable for next year. Composting requires heat to produce the end result, and while it will eventually produce its own heat in the dead of winter, it only helps to give it the advantage of a warm environment. If you have not ever composted before, try it this season. Your plants will thank you next summer.
While it is still too hot to transplant, prune or divide any perennials it is the perfect time to decide and identify which of your perennials need care in the coming fall. Arming yourself with a plan will save you from wandering through the garden on a cold fall day unsure which perennial needs what. First decide which plants need divided or transplanted, and which require fall pruning.
Summer always has a way of slipping right into fall, but hopefully this year there will be no surprises for the gardener with the master plan. At this critical time of year a little bit of midsummer maintenance goes a long way and will continue to keep your garden an exciting and dazzling retreat for your family and friends.
Stephen Jones is an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.