Neil Sperry

Summer is weeks away. Here’s what you need to do in the garden to prepare for the heat

Want to plant a garden but aren’t trying to rip up your whole yard at once? Try this strategy

Learn a simple, add-as-you-go strategy for building a backyard oasis.
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Learn a simple, add-as-you-go strategy for building a backyard oasis.

Summer is almost here. Ask any grade school youngster. They’re counting the minutes. And we need to be doing the same, because once the hot weather arrives, gardeners will be faced with an entirely new set of challenges. Let’s scan through a few. Here are the things you need to be doing in the next two or three weeks.

Trees and shrubs

  • Wrap trunks of newly planted oaks, pistachios and maples to protect against sunscald and subsequent borer invasion. Those species have thin bark. They’ve been protected by one another as they were growing in their nurseries, but once they’re set out on their own in landscapes, the hot western sun can soon cause their trunks to overheat and split. Apply paper tree wrap from the soil line to the bottom branches and leave it in place for the first couple of years.
  • Make provisions to water newly planted trees and shrubs thoroughly every two or three days over the summer. Use a garden hose with a water breaker or bubbler and fill a retaining basin. The soil in which they were growing at the nursery was lightweight and it won’t retain water as well as your native topsoil. Sprinkler irrigation alone will not be sufficient.
  • Webworms in pecans, walnuts, persimmons and other large trees can best be pruned out using a long-handled pole pruner. Get the webs early, while they’re still small. You’ll be able to clip off the small twigs and let them fall to the ground so you can discard them. If you wait a few days longer they’ll develop into large webs that can’t be cut out. Spraying with insecticides is essentially futile due to heights and the protection the webs offer the caterpillars.
  • Bagworms attack junipers, cypresses, arborvitae and other cone-bearing trees, and their time is days or weeks away. Make a point of watching those plants in your landscape daily for the next three or four weeks. The larvae will be very small at first, and the bags that they carry around with them will also be tiny. But you’ll be able to see them, and those early phases will be the right time to treat to control them. Apply B.t. (Bacillus thuringiensis) biological worm spray to stop them. Or, almost any general-purpose inorganic insecticide will also work well. Just don’t let them strip the needles off the conifers or you’ll probably lose the plants entirely.


  • Take all root rot has done major damage to St. Augustine, zoysia and bermuda turf again this spring. Lawns are yellowed in washes, with dead grass mixed in. Runners pull up easily due to root loss from the fungus. Apply the fungicide Azoxystrobin, sold to home gardeners under the brand name of Scott’s Disease-EX.
  • Chinch bugs were early last year, and they could repeat again this summer. In mid-June start watching the sunny, hot areas of your lawn for grass that looks dry, but that does not respond to irrigation. If you find BB-sized black insects with irregular white diamonds on their backs, those are the chinch bugs. Control them with Merit insecticide as soon as you identify them. One treatment may be all that you need for this season.
  • Gray leaf spot attacks St. Augustine, especially when it has been kept lush and vigorous by excessive feeding with nitrogen. You can apply a labeled turf fungicide for one-time relief, but in the long run you’re better off avoiding nitrogen fertilizers between mid-June and early September.
  • If you made your first application of pre-emergent herbicide in early March, you will need a second application (“booster shot”) in early June. As before, choose from Dimension, Halts or Balan. You do not have to match the product you used the first time. This treatment will again be to prevent ongoing germination of crabgrass and grassburs.
  • Nutsedge is up and growing actively now. Also known as “nutgrass” because of its similar appearance, this true sedge can always be identified by its triangular stems. The products Image and Sedgehammer were developed specifically to kill existing nutsedge colonies. Both must be used while it is growing actively in summer. They won’t work rapidly, however, so be patient. A second treatment will be required with Image.
  • Chiggers are active now, and they will remain so through mid- or late July. There are many labeled insecticides you can apply to your lawn, groundcovers and even to fences and walls to kill them, or you can simply protect yourself by spraying your legs and arms, pants and socks with a DEET repellent before you start working in the yard. That will also protect you against mosquitoes and all the ills that they bring.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at and follow him on Facebook.