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Let’s Get Gardening in August, part 1

By Jennifer Fairfield, owner The Garden Mill

August is usually a pretty warm month for us, at least in the early part of the month. It’s also normally pretty dry. This means we should be spending a lot of our time making sure that our gardens are getting enough water.

In your yard and gardens:

Don’t think that just because we get a thunderstorm once in a while, your plants are getting what they need in the way of water.

Our plants need regular water, not just occasional downpours. Those downpours aren’t really very helpful for our plants – much of the water runs off before it can be absorbed by the soil. So, keep an eye on the rainfall in your yard with a rain gauge, but don’t rely too heavily on it. Give your gardens more water when we aren’t getting at least an inch of rain each week, that comes in lighter, longer rain events.

And during warmer and windy conditions, plants dry out even more quickly, so watering a little more is even better. Letting plants dry out too much between waterings can create a number of issues, including things like blossom-end rot in tomatoes and peppers.

Container plants need to be watered even more frequently than the ones planted in the ground. If they are under the cover of a porch or building overhang, they aren’t as likely to get the benefit of any rain we get. On the other hand, if they are out in the open, the sun is baking them. Remember to give container plants a little food regularly too, to keep them looking good throughout the remainder of the season.

Keep deadheading the annual flowers in your container plantings as well as bedding plants to ensure continuous blooms.

When mowing, keep the grass a little longer during the hotter and drier summer. Cutting to no lower than 3 or 4 inches allows the blades of the grass to shade the roots from the heat of the sun, and helps those blades feed the roots – taking the sun’s energy and turning it into food through photosynthesis, just like all the other green things in our yards.

More blades of grass mean more food for your grass, which means healthier grass. Longer grass also helps to smother out weeds, which is never a bad thing.

Trees and shrubs also need regular watering, especially if you planted them in the last couple of years. Newly-planted tree’s roots aren’t as deep as the roots of established trees are, and they are not as effective at drawing water from the soil. Young trees that are stressed because they are not getting enough water may not be able to make it through the winter, so it’s important to make sure you keep them well-watered – but don’t keep the soil soggy, either.

Photo by Jennifer Fairfield. Tree watering bag.

One way I simplify the whole thing is to use tree watering bags. I planted a number of very young evergreens this year to replace some old ones that were dying. The tree watering bags I have around them have been helping to keep them alive in the heat we’ve had.

I just fill them up a few times a week, and they take care of giving the trees the water they need over a period of a few hours, allowing the water to seep in, rather than run off. 

I’ve noticed some trees in my neighborhood looking very stressed – what were healthy-looking trees just a month or so ago now have large sections of brown leaves or have dropped many leaves. There are a number of possible reasons for this.

I have read that some trees got super stressed by the polar vortex we had this past winter, so that’s one possibility.

Another is that when we got all that rain this spring, it encouraged trees to put out lots of leaves. The dry conditions that followed (especially in my area, where we seem to missed a lot of the rain that fell in Chelsea), could have caused the trees to shed some of those leaves because it couldn’t support all of them.

Disease and pests are also possibilities. The best way to find out what’s going on if you have trees that aren’t looking so good is to get an expert opinion.

One option is to ask an expert at Michigan State University’s Extension Service, through their website.

There, you can submit your question along with pictures, and have them give you a diagnosis. Your best results will come with a very complete description of the problem, along with multiple pictures – you can submit up to three. I would suggest one of the overall appearance of the tree, one close-up of the area of the tree affected, and one of a close-up of leaves, so they can see whether there are any spots or signs of insect damage.

If you see damage to bark, that would be a good picture for the close-up of the damaged area.

(Part 2 will publish tomorrow.)

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