20 Summer Gardening Tips and Ideas
Pruning summer perennials yields an extra fall bloom
Perk up your summer garden with these quick tips, ideas, and how-tos
The big question this time of year is, “What can I grow in containers that looks good and doesn’t require constant watering?”
To enjoy hassle-free gardening, follow a few of these simple steps to ensure your garden works for you over the summer months.
20 Tips For Your Summer Garden
- Besides being drought tolerant, succulents make outstanding container plants because of their striking and quirky colours and forms. Sedum, Sempervivum (hens and chicks), Echeveria and Aeonium are perfect for the job. Plain and simple works best when it comes to containers – terra cotta is ideal, allowing the eye to focus on the plant instead of the pot. Place your succulents where their intricacies will be appreciated. Natural elements such as beach glass, coloured rocks, sand and bits of driftwood complement these low-maintenance plants.
- Coax a second bloom from summer perennials like phlox, delphinium, “true” geranium, aster and some types of veronica. Cut stems down by half, using blooms (if there are any) in the vase, and you’ll likely get another flush of flowers in fall.
- Lightly prune shrubs after they’re done flowering. Trim dead wood anytime – a satisfying activity with a nice sharp pair of pruners.
- Avoid scalping your lawn. If you allow grass to grow a little longer, removing no more than one-third at each mowing, the taller grass will dominate the weeds, and you’ll have less of them.
- Gather up spring bulbs from the ground and from pots, if you are so inclined. Avoid peeling, as it makes them vulnerable to diseases and critters in the soil. Set aside in a cool place for planting in October through mid-November.
- Leave shallow containers (bowls, seashells, plant trays, etc.) around your garden for bees, butterflies, wasps and other beneficial insects. Be sure to add pebbles into the container so insects won’t drown while trying to drink. And refresh the water daily so that it doesn’t provide a breeding opportunity for mosquitoes.
- Gardening seems natural enough, but children (adults too) need to learn to water low – on the soil, not the leaves – and not a fairy sprinkle but a long, slow drink. Frequent shallow watering encourages roots to grow towards the surface, making plants especially vulnerable in hot weather. Irrigate in the morning.
- As soon as possible, sow a last crop of bush beans, carrots, beets and leeks. Consider trying a late row of peas but choose varieties with 60 or fewer days to maturity.
- Feed container-planted veggies weekly with half-strength kelp or fish fertilizer. Pinch tomato suckers relentlessly; allowing them to develop encourages a lot of leaves instead of tomatoes. It’s OK to trim off some of the lower leaves too.
- Small veggies nearly always taste better, and frequent picking stimulates production. Search under leaves for camouflaged cucumbers and bashful beans. Don’t let them set seed.
Harvest raspberries and strawberries in the cool of the morning. If you are planning to freeze berries, avoid piling and crushing them. Instead, place on a cookie sheet in a single layer and freeze. Transfer into containers and return to the freezer.
Pick berries early in the morning for the best results
- For those berries to be made into shortcake or jam, layer singly on a paper towel. A cool, well-ventilated room is best for short-term storage, rather than the fridge. Washing promotes cell-wall breakdown, so rinse if you must but only before using.
- Your garden is full of summer bounty, so who wants to think about winter? Nevertheless, light levels begin to wane in August, and growth slows. This fall you will need sturdy seedlings ready for transplanting into empty spots in your garden for overwintering, so seed transplants of kale, winter cabbage and Swiss chard by the third week of August.
- Direct-seed arugula, corn salad, endive, escarole, radicchio, lettuce, green onions, spinach, Swiss chard and small white turnips. Also sow pak choi, mizuna, hon-tsai-tai, komatsuna and other Asian greens that prefer to grow as light and temperature wane. Try cilantro, too, and chervil, a major ingredient in French fines herbes. It prefers to grow in light shade. Its delicate flavour complements eggs, fish and salads.
- Keep basil picked if it flowers it stops producing leaves. Pinch the top leaves and buds off, and toss them with seedless watermelon pieces and feta for a cooling salad. To chop larger basil leaves, roll tightly and slice with a very sharp knife, creating a chiffonade.
To deter wasps from your dinner, lightly stuff several wasp nest-sized, brown-paper bags with tea towels or rags. Tie off the top with string or an elastic, then hang fairly high around outdoor area where you eat.
Harvest veggies often to stimulate growth
- Harvest bay leaves and press them in an old phone book for a week or two. Put something very heavy on top so leaves stay flat – they’re now perfect for making laurel wreaths or putting in spice jars.
- Look for fall crocus (Colchicum) towards the end of the month in garden centres. They look lovely in shafts of golden fall sunlight and are fine in containers. Fall crocus naturalizes quickly, thrives in any light situation, and attracts bees and other beneficial insects.
- Is your area short of water, and/or do you want to be more resourceful? After bathing, don’t let the water go down the drain. Siphon it into watering cans, or scoop into buckets. Children love this chore! Another way to conserve – wash your car on the lawn! The soap won’t hurt grass.
Having said all of the above, August is the month to take a well-deserved rest from gardening. Harvest some fresh spearmint or apple mint and make yourself a cup of refreshing mint tea, then sit back and take time to smell the flowers.