garden
Green peppers in a summer garden. JOSE GERMAN/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

By JOSE GERMAN
For Montclair Local

herbs
JOSE GERMAN

Jose German is a New Jersey environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition (neearth.org), a nonprofit environmental organization.

Gardens require maintenance year round, but in the summer they need some special care. So far, this summer has seen higher than usual temperatures and some dry stretches, creating a challenge in supporting the lush life of the garden. Let’s give our gardens a fighting chance in one of our hottest recent summers.

Watering
If you do not have an irrigation system in your garden, it is time to implement a watering schedule. Adding a thick layer of mulch (about three inches) to cover at least a circle of 12 inches around the plant, which reduces evaporation. Water deeply to be sure the water goes to the roots. Avoid watering the foliage, since wet leaves promote the growth of mildew and fungi. It’s best to water early in the day to let leaves dry out before nightfall. Native plants tend to be more drought tolerant since they are used to our climate, so watering them about once a week during dry spells should be sufficient. Some non-native plants may need watering every other day, but before watering check if the soil around the roots appears dry. Container plants dry out quickly and may need watering every day in hot weather.

Feeding your plants
Like humans, plants need food. Well-fed plants produce more. As a proponent of organic gardening, I recommend organic fertilizers. Adding a layer of compost to your flower and vegetable beds is effective in feeding your plants without chemicals. If you do not have a compost pile in your yard, compost is available from most garden centers. For your vegetable garden, consider planting nitrogen-fixing legumes. While it is too late for peas, beans can be planted well into the summer to feed both the soil and your family.

Pruning and deadheading
Pruning during hot dry weather stresses the trees and shrubs, so wait until temperatures moderate. To avoid fungal diseases, allow the garden to dry out for 48 hours after rainfall before pruning. Always prune dead or diseased branches and do not add diseased plants material to your compost. Deadheading perennials encourages continuous blooming, but leave some seed heads to attract birds. Echinachea seed heads are especially attractive to goldfinches.

Weed control
Weeds constantly look for opportunities to spread. Covering your beds with a thick layer of mulch limits weed propagation while reducing watering. Cedar mulch works well for flower beds, but for vegetable beds, I recommend straw. Weekly weeding is a good practice. Don’t wait until weeds are out of control or they will multiple and spread their seeds.

Protecting against pests
Companion plants, such as marigolds, basil, and parsley, can help check insect pests in the vegetable garden, but remember not all insects are pests.  Beneficial insects, including lady bugs, praying mantis and lacewings, feed on pests and should be welcomed to the garden.

Your garden enhances your property. Keeping your investment in good shape through the season is worth the effort. Enjoy the summer without sacrificing your spare time!