It’s August — the absolute worst month in the South to be a snowman, and not so great for a gardener either. You can’t stand to be outside and yet your plants need you. As you look out upon a melted mush of flowers and bushes, you may well remember the first day you planted them and ponder, “What the hell was I thinking?”
At this point, it’s wise to stop and consider whether you are indeed in Hell. Take a look around. Ask questions. Are there clowns playing accordions? Does the place remind you of the pitiless concourses at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport? Do you recognize this man or any other departed Dear Leaders of the People’s Democratic Prison of North Korea?
If so, you probably did something horrible. You are in Hell and a cold front won’t be moving through anytime soon. If not, welcome to summer in the South. Here are five tips to keep you and your plants alive until fall.
Hot Tip #1 — Garden At Dawn
Gardening as soon as the sun rises is your only chance to accomplish anything without frying your brain. You’ll have only 30 to 60 minutes to work, so prioritize and be organized. Your most urgent task is likely watering. Make sure you soak the roots and don’t just wet the foliage. Then reward yourself with a breakfast beer.
Hot Tip #2 — Be Prepared To Water Containers Again
When it’s really hot, containers may need watering in both morning and afternoon. This is especially true if you have small containers (less than 12 inches wide and tall) or you planted water hogs like impatiens, coleus, elephant’s ear, caladiums, calla lilies, and ginger lilies. The more soil a container contains, the slower that soil dries out.
Hot Tip #3 — Don’t Fertilize Stressed Plants
Plants naturally stop growing when it’s hot and dry to conserve moisture. If you fertilize them now, it’s like you walking into a sauna and chugging a couple of Red Bulls. Granular fertilizer actually pulls moisture out of the soil. Liquid fertilizer encourages plants to grow more leaves and stems than their roots can supply with water. So unless you plan on watering every day, don’t fertilize right now.
Hot Tip #4 — Don’t Mow The Lawn
You hate mowing the grass in hellishly hot weather, so why do it? Mowing clips the tops off of grass blades, leading to a major loss of moisture. So the grass turns brown. Want it to stay green without watering? Don’t mow in dry weather. Let the grass grow 2 to 3 inches tall. Warm-season grasses like Zoysia, Bermuda, and buffalo grass are adapted to hot, dry spells. Cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue will still need watering, but if you stop mowing they’ll need it much less often.
Hot Tip #5 — Watch For Spider Mites
You may hate hot, dry weather, but tiny spider mites absolutely love it. They suck the juices of plants and multiply faster the hotter it gets. Damage on conifers typically shows up as browning needles near branch tips. Damage to broadleaf plants manifests as speckled, bronzed, or off-color foliage. Spider mites infest leaf undersides first and may wrap foliage in tiny webs. You can kill them by spraying with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap, but spray ONLY in early morning when the temperature is below 80 degrees. Spraying when it’s hot may burn your plants.
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