Conquer the Dog Days of Summer Gardening

By the time July rolls around with its barbeques, pool parties and fireworks, a lot of us die-hard gardeners feel like burnt toast. The joy of gardening is beginning to feel a little more like a combat mission with the challenges of heat, pests and disease posing risks at every turn. Do not fret. There are plenty of tactics that can be utilized to combat our garden concerns and keep our plants flourishing while also making sure that we aren’t wilting (or melting) in the process.

Select Tough Plants

Being a true Southerner, I appreciate nothing more than a tough, heat-resistant plant.  ‘Want to earn my respect, plant? Then stand up to the fiery heat ball in the sky and don’t except much rain for an undetermined amount of time. Then, if it does happen to rain, be prepared to steam.’  I do enjoy tending a garden and creating special bonds with individual plants. Though my plant addiction does not pair well with the fact that there is only 24 hours in a day. If a plant is somewhat autonomous, they are welcome to join my family. Focusing on heat and humidity-resistant plants can save you time and heartache in the long run. Many garden centers will group plants according to their special strengths, making these tough plants easy to find.

Feed Me Seymour

By now, many of your plants have likely bloomed or are blooming, and surely your vegetables are producing. A mid-season dressing of compost or a broadcast fertilizer will help to replenish nutrients expended by this point in the plants’ cycles. Taking this measure will increase your plants’ performance all the way until the first frost.

Prune

Summer flowering shrubs are best pruned right after blooming. Doing so prevents the flowers from producing seed, which requires a considerable amount of energy. In warmer climates such as Middle Tennessee, this step is vital to plant health because it allows the shrub to use its energy to combat summer stressors that it would otherwise be using to reproduce. On a related note, do a final pinching of fall bloomers, like asters and mums, by mid-July. When pruning, be sure to remove any dead wood and weak branches in addition to spent flowers. This will lessen disease and pest pressures.

Speaking of Unwanted Visitors…

The familiar integrated pest management protocol of scouting is highly critical at this point of the season. Many eggs have hatched and many more are being laid. Thrips, aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, and that cartoon-looking tomato hornworm are all common threats we are familiar with. Catching these unwanted visitors early on can make all the difference in controlling these enemies. Pressurized water, insecticidal soaps and neem oil are all effective management tactics. Even dipping smaller plants entirely in water is an option. Be aware of what you are seeing as you come across eggs in your garden and ensure that you know what you’re dealing with before deciding to eradicate – it could be spider babies (our allies against many garden pests) or pollinator eggs.

Simmer Down Now

Although often tempting, we have no business planting trees and shrubs in the middle of the summer. Even smaller perennials are risky, as July and August are just too hot and dry for planting. Transplanting in early spring, or better yet, in the fall is good timing for healthy root production and overall establishment. However, if you have a potted plant that is rootbound and struggling to survive, please do get it in the ground, even if that means placing a full sun plant in a temporary shady spot. Then, in the fall, select a spot with more sun exposure for its forever home.

Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor

Sit back in the shade, admire your beautiful work, and sip on something refreshing. Using basil and strawberries from your garden, make this delicious cocktail courtesy of  No Spoon Necessary (https://www.nospoonnecessary.com/strawberry-basil-vodka-cocktail/).

Strawberry Basil Vodka Cocktail

Ingrdients:

  • 2 ounces Strawberry Syrup (1/4 cup)
  • 3 Basil Leaves
  • 1 1/2 ounces Vodka
  • 1/2 cup 7UP , chilled (or more to taste)

Strawberry Syrup: (yield = about 1 ½ cups)

  • ½ Pint Strawberries , hulled and sliced (8 ounces)
  • ¼ Cup Agave , or more to taste*
  • 1 ounce Lime Juice

Optional Garnishes: Lime Wedges, Sliced Strawberries, Basil Leaves, Sugar for Rim

Instructions

  1. Make the strawberry syrup:Combine the strawberries, agave and lime juice in a blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Optional: Strain half, or all, of the syrup through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds.
  3. For each cocktail: In a cocktail glass*, gently muddle basil leaves. Fill the glass with ice. Pour in ¼ cup of the strawberry syrup. Add in the vodka, and top with 7UP. Stir. Repeat if making additional cocktails.
  4. Garnish the glasses with strawberries, basil leaves and lime wedges. Enjoy!


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