Four heat waves and counting! Summer’s hot and dry conditions pose challenges for anyone looking to keep their plants in good health and their garden looking fresh. As you watch your plants wilt in the unrelenting heat, the temptation can be great to whip out the sprinklers and water everything in sight. You may also be tempted to trim unsightly wilting tree branches. Beware! Following your impulses may do more harm than good.
Shari Edelson, Manager of Horticulture at Summit's Reeves-Reed Arboretum and member of Summit’s Shade Tree Advisory Committee, offers the following important tips for summer plant care:
1. Leave the Pruning until Later. Pruning in summer increases the chances of disease – leaving open wounds that attract pest and disease. If you prune in winter, vigorous spring growth will enable the plant to quickly seal any wounds, thereby thwarting pests and pathogens for good. Many plants in the rose family, such as apple trees and hawthorns, are particularly vulnerable to fireblight and other diseases if pruned during the growing season, and are good examples of plants that make perfect candidates for winter pruning. Another reason to prune in winter is that it avoids problems caused by weak new growth, which often results from summer or autumn pruning. When plants are pruned in summer or fall, they respond by producing tender juvenile growth, which is then easily injured by the onset of cold weather. Not only does this lead to unsightly dieback, it can also weaken the plant as a whole, depleting energy the tree or shrub needs to make it through the winter and emerge from dormancy the following spring.
2. Water wisely. Water conservation becomes increasingly important in times of drought, as increased water demands are made on municipal reservoirs and groundwater reserves alike. Here are some easy things you can do to conserve water in your garden this summer:
- Irrigate your garden in the early morning so water has an opportunity to percolate into the ground rather than evaporating in the strong midday sun.
- In general, it’s better to water deeply once a week than to give your garden a short sprinkle every day. A long period of watering moistens the soil to a greater depth, encouraging plant root systems to extend deep into the ground. Shallow watering, on the other hand, encourages plants to produce roots just below the soil’s surface, where they’re more prone to future drought damage.
- Consider installing a rain barrel to capture the rain water that runs off your roof via your house’s gutter and downspout system. Most rain barrels hold about 50 gallons of water, and can be filled to capacity by a typical summer thunderstorm! Using a rain barrel also reduces problems such as erosion and flash flooding that are associated with storm water runoff.
- Drip irrigation systems are more water-efficient than sprinkler systems that shoot droplets of water into the air. If you’re planning an upgrade of your garden irrigation system, consider switching from spray heads to drip fixtures.
Shari Edelson’s wisdom is published with permission from Reeves-Reed Arboretum, 165 Hobart Avenue, Summit, NJ.