Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Summerizing" your plants

Spring has sprung, then bounced, and now landed in some pretty firm summer like temps. I know lots of people have done a lot of planting this spring and now that the heat has arrived, you’re wondering what to do. Well, just like we “winterize” plants for the cold temps, you can also “summerize” plants for the warm temps on the way. Here are a few tips to help out.
First, get your plants on a sensible watering schedule. Most plants, even newly planted, should not need to be watered every day, if watered properly. A good watering is long and slow, allowing water to permeate the soil on multiple levels and reach deep into the root ball and surrounding soil. I am often amazed as I watch my neighbors shoot a hose at their flower beds for 20-30 seconds and then tell me they are “watering”. I spend at least 5 minutes watering areas that need it. And by areas, I mean nothing more than about 100 square feet (10’x10’) at a time. For plants with larger root balls (trees, bamboos, large shrubs) I put on a small spot sprinkler and run it for 15 minutes or so. If you have a sprinkler system, it should run at least 20-30 minutes per zone, but no more than twice a week. When it gets really hot, I would like to see a short cycle, maybe 5 minutes, to “prepare” the soil to accept water, then a longer, 15-20 minute cycle, to soak in. A good rain (1/2” or more) can replace a watering cycle. Ever notice that a plant that seems to be struggling looks tons better after a good long rain? That is nature’s version of a slow, deep soaking.
“But my plants are wilted if I don’t water them every day”, a common statement. #1- a slight wilt is not the worst thing in the world for a plant. It encourages the plant to send out roots “searching” for more moisture. Now I don’t mean completely flat, drooped over, crashed wilt. I am referring to a slight nod of the leaves. #2- When watered thoroughly, this shouldn’t happen. #3- If your plant is watered well and still wilts to a full droop every day, perhaps it is not the right plant for the area.
Also, water at a good time. Early or late is best, and there are a couple of reasons. First, watering in the middle of the day tends to waste more water, as it evaporates more quickly in the heat and sun. Second, water droplets on a plant in the high sun of mid-day can lead to leaf burn. For me, morning coffee and the water hose are a ritual. I don’t try and water the entire yard at one time. I try to do a bed or two a day (I’ve got plenty) and that tends to work out to one good cup of Joe. For my deep soaking of trees etc, I put the sprinkler on at the beginning of a TV show, then go out and move it or cut it off at a commercial break (usually 10-20 minutes in).
Next, watch out for over fertilizing. As temps rise, we would like to see a slowing of growth on plants. It takes a lot of water for plants to put on a lot of new growth. This new growth is also more susceptible to wilting, as it has not hardened off. As we enter late May-early June, your choice of fertilizer should steer towards slow release, low numbers. Generally, I would like to see no number higher than a 10 in the analysis of your fertilizer. Granular is great, as it releases slowly for the plant to use as needed.
You may notice, as our night time “lows” enter the 80’s, that some of your perennials and such don’t seem to bloom as well. Nothing you can do about that, but use this phenomenon as a chance to help your plants along. Many “vigorous” growers, such as Salvias, Copper Canyon Daisy, and others can get quite large in a single season. If allowed to grow, unchecked, they can get so big that they seem to fall apart when fall rains arrive. Cut these plants back by 1/3 to ½ to reduce foliage and control size. This will also reduce water needs. Use this tip with a bit of caution however. Some of our favorite plants, Pride of Barbados, Esparanza, Firebush to name a few, LOVE the summer heat and don’t really put on their show until it is hot. If you are unsure, feel free to contact us and let us guide you..
Finally, my #1 tip for preparing plants for summer heat is Liquid Seaweed. People think I must own stock in this stuff, because I push it all the time (trust me, I don’t). I feel it is THE BEST thing you can do for your plants. Seaweed contains high levels of Potassium Silicate, a key element in plant cell structures. Giving your plants this compound, directly on the leaves or through the roots, encourages thick, strong cells that are more prepared for the rigors of summer (actually, winter too!!!). I do a foliar feed, about every two weeks, from the emergence of new leaves in spring through dormancy in winter. I have very few insect, disease, or establishment problems with my plants and I think the seaweed is a key reason why.
So, never fear the scorching days of our Texas summer. You won;t be married to your hose and the garden if you follow these easy steps. Good luck and good gardening.