Ground rules and tools for June

June 3, 2004
LORETTA JOHNSON
Victoria County
Master Gardener Intern

We have now transitioned into the hotter months, and it will only get more intense. We have had quite a bit of rain in the past few weeks, but as we settle into a more normal pattern, be aware that lawns require about 1 inch of rain - or watering - per week. For the highest quality lawn, mowing should be done at least once a week - and do be careful not to scalp the lawn.

Remember that turf should be watered in the early morning hours and not late in the evening. Over-watering and over-fertilizing may make your turf more susceptible to disease and chinch bugs. St. Augustine lawns often begin to show chinch bug damage now that summer is here. These infestations usually first appear in a sunny area next to a drive, curb or other masonry structure. Several insecticides are labeled for use on these pests; however, there is usually no need to treat the entire lawn, but rather just the affected area.

Although June is a good month to fertilize your lawn, rather than following a calendar or other random method to plan your lawn fertilization, get and follow a soil test. Remember during the hot summer months, do not push turf with too much fertilizer or it will be more prone to drought stress and pest infestations. It's better to apply less than the recommended rate than too much.

Keep grass from growing near the base of trees, vines and bushes, as it is a major competitor for water and nutrients. Also be careful when weed-eating that you don't damage the trunks of your trees or bushes. This can lead to a slow but sure death. Putting mulch around the base of trees is the best practice as it alleviates using string trimmers around trees and shrubs and prevents the competition for essential water and nutrients.

If you have mulched your flowerbeds and around your trees or shrubs, you should be seeing the results of advance planning - and the fact that you do not have to water as much and that weeds are less of a problem. Most wood mulches should be applied and kept at a depth of a minimum of 2 inches. However, the coarser the material, the deeper the mulch should be. Two inches of shredded hardwood mulch has the same effect as 4 inches of Bermuda grass or similar hay.

With the heat coming on, some annuals are holding up well and others are beginning to fade. Great summer flowers include impatiens, which love shade and water, cleome, portulaca, purslane and periwinkle. With a little mulch and moderate amount of watering, these old "standbys" will give color the remainder of the growing season.

Heat tolerant perennials for this area include canna, esperanza, firebush, lantana, various gingers, hibiscus and the salvias. If you don't have any hibiscus, they can still be planted. In particular, container-grown hibiscus can be planted from spring through early fall, although avoiding the hot, dry months may show better results. Remember as a general rule to fertilize flowering plants like bougainvillea and hibiscus more than typical turf or trees, as continued flowering demands more nutrients. Use a complete fertilizer such as 8-8-8 - or better yet, follow recommendations from a soil test, which indicates nutrient levels in the soil.

Annual and perennial flowers can start to get floppy or leggy about this time of the season. Wait until they have completed a flush of blooms. Then use shears to cut them back by about a third. This will encourage growth and more flower buds. Repeat this process through the summer to keep them beautiful and bring on more cycles of blooming. Fertilize lightly after each shearing.

It is also time to trim back chrysanthemums and other fall blooming perennials to help form a bushier plant in time for fall bloom. Many shrubs may also be lightly pruned now to take on a desired shape.

Unless a plant is meant to grow in a bog, be careful not to over-water. Many of our southern plants are able to take the saunas of summer as long as their roots are moist, but well aerated. Soggy soil combined with hot weather is the kiss of death for many plants. Give them a good soaking and then allow the soil to dry - and oxygen to enter - before watering again.

Although we have not seen webworms in Victoria County in years, counties in our area have. Specifically, keep an eye out for webworms in trees. Take a long bamboo pole and project upward to tear up the webs. Wasps will soon arrive and haul away the worms. If wasps don't take over, a spray containing Bt can be used if you can direct it to the leaves where worms are feeding. Unfortunately there may be another infestation of webworms in late summer or fall.

If you've noticed leaves falling from your oak trees, it is probably due to the diseases anthracnose or rust - or both. Too much rain through mid-May this year allowed the foliar diseases to build up. This is likely over for now and there is no need to treat, but if conditions stay dry, then additional irrigation to trees may be helpful to compensate for foliage losses.

Take a good look at your landscape during these hot summer months. What needs more water than normal? What grows too fast? How can it be better arranged, and so on...? When the cooler weather comes, you will be ready to move some plants that might perform better in a different place. Sometimes mistakes are made in landscape plans, and you can readily tell if plants are growing well and are "happy" - or need to be relocated.

If you have you been thinking about building or installing some landscape items, now would be a good time to consider trellises, arbors and the like. How about adding that flagstone or gravel walkway through your garden? If you enjoy the outdoors as I do, how about a bench placed in a garden area where you can enjoy the evening breeze and catch up on some reading - or just enjoy a relished, quiet moment?

Finally, don't forget about caring for yourself or the family gardener. During these months of intense heat, most gardening should be done in the early morning hours or late evening when it is cool. Be sure and drink plenty of water. Too many people have failed to heed this warning and suffered from dehydration while working outdoors in the summer heat. If you get the garden prepared, planted and mulched properly, your summer tasks will be much easier.

Follow these suggested gardening rules and tools - and you and your garden will be "happier" and maybe even cooler in the hot months ahead.