Neil Sperry

Here’s your gardening to-do list for the second part of the summer

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.

It’s a pivotal time in the life of your landscape and garden. The second half of the summer is about to unfold, and I’ve made a list of the critical responsibilities gardeners will face over that period.

Fall vegetable plantings. It’s late to plant tomato transplants unless you grow them in a really protected location where you can cover them the nights of the first frosts. But it’s prime time for planting peppers, and come August 1 you’ll be looking at planting bush beans, cucumbers, squash and corn. If you have seed potatoes you saved from your spring garden, plant them August 1, too. In mid-August set out broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts transplants, and in late August sow beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, lettuce and other leaf and root crops.

Fall annual color. Set out transplants of copper plants, firebush, purple fountaingrass, fanflower, Joseph’s coat, pentas and angelonias now. In mid-August plant transplants of zinnias, marigolds and celosias that are in bud but not yet in bloom. They establish more reliably and start growing more quickly.

New turf from sod, plugs or seed. New grass needs to be well established before temperatures start to turn cool in late September. That’s especially important with St. Augustine, so try to get all new lawngrasses planted no later than the end of August. Sooner is better.

Oaks can be pruned now. Plant pathologists and arborists alike tell us that all pruning of oaks should be done between mid-July and Valentine’s Day because that’s when the oak wilt fungus is inactive in our trees. Nonetheless you’ll want to seal all cut surfaces with pruning paint.

Continue mowing at recommended height. Many people have the mistaken idea that letting grass grow tall somehow will make it stronger in the face of heat and drought. That’s actually backwards. Tall grass weakens and thins. The sun reaches the bare soil causing it to dry out more quickly, and weeds are better able to invade the lethargic turf. Know the recommended mowing height for the grass that you’re growing, then maintain it at that height 12 months a year.

Fertilize selected plants. Bermuda grass lawns need nitrogen on 7- or 8-week intervals this time of year. The grass is growing actively and you’re watering frequently, thereby leaching the nutrients out of the soil. Apply a fertilizer with a high percentage of nitrogen and without any phosphorus (first and second numbers of the fertilizer analysis respectively). And apply a similar high-N, water-soluble plant food to your patio pots and hanging baskets once or twice a week. Their nutrients will dissolve and leach out of their drainage holes each time that you water.

Gray leaf spot in St. Augustine. If your St. Augustine turf is turning yellow in irregular “washes” across the lawn, look at the individual blades in the yellowed area closely. Gray leaf spot is a fungal disease that attacks the blades along the midribs. It results in BB-sized gray, diamond-shaped lesions. Infected grass can die, so do pay attention to this disease. It is exacerbated by applications of nitrogen, so avoid N between mid-June and early September. St. Augustine can easily go that long without feeding. Apply a labeled turf fungicide, but a warning: They’re hard to find at the consumer level.

Chinch bugs in St. Augustine. Where gray leaf spot will show up in both sun and shade, chinch bugs will always be in the hottest, sunniest parts of your yard. Infested areas will look dry, but watering won’t help. If you look closely at the surface of the soil in the grass that is just starting to show ill effects from them, you’ll see the adult chinch bugs. They’ll be BB-sized, black with white diamonds on their wings. The nymphs will be rusty red and considerably smaller. Apply Merit insecticide to control chinch bugs as soon as you determine that they’re there. They can kill big patches of St. Augustine very quickly.

Care for new trees, shrubs. Water all new plantings by hand for their first couple of years in your landscape. They’ll need water much more often than your established lawn and landscape. Use a water wand with a water breaker or bubbler to break up the hard stream of water so you can water efficiently and reasonably quickly. And if any of those new plants happens to be an oak or Chinese pistachio, wrap its trunk with paper tree wrap to protect the thin bark from sunscald and invasion by borers. This should have been done much earlier this season, but hopefully it won’t be too late. Take it off this coming winter to check on the progress.

Be sure sprinklers are properly adjusted and functioning properly. By now you should be able to see dry spots in your plantings so that you can make any needed adjustments. If you don’t yet have a “smart” controller, make plans to have one installed. It will probably pay for itself in water savings within the first 15 to 20 months that you have it.

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