Summer gardening tips and tricks

Jennifer E. Beaver

Summer is here…and the livin’ is easy. And that’s how it should be in your garden too. Personally, I’ve got too many barbecues and concerts to attend to waste time with a bunch of recalcitrant, sulky plants. So here are a few ideas to help you relax and enjoy the season while helping your garden thrive.
While you’re being lazy lolling in a hammock, put some good bugs to work for you. Got aphids? Plant sweet alyssum to attract the aphid midge, a tiny fly that paralyzes its prey. Or plant borage, an under-used herb that’s a magnet for bees and green lacewings, which munch on destructive bugs like aphids, thrips, scale and caterpillars. The lovely cosmos flower attracts all kinds of helpful insects, is a cinch to grow from seed, comes in white and beautiful shades of pink, orange and yellow, and doesn’t need much water. When your cilantro bolts– as it inevitably will– don’t be too quick to pull it out. The white flowers attract hoverflies and wasps that attack aphids, caterpillars and leafhoppers. Throw some wildflower seeds in a pot, and keep it near your vegetable garden or prized ornamentals– and let visiting beneficial bugs take care of your garden.
While you’re reading the latest bestseller in your lounge chair, water smart. Snake a bunch of soaker hoses around the yard, and put the water where it will do the most good– at root level. Water in the morning so moisture has a chance to evaporate. Dampness can lead to diseases like powdery mildew on roses, cukes and zukes. Get rid of it with a 1:9 solution of skim milk to water, and spray away. Throw some mulch over bare areas. You can pick up free mulch at the corner of Spring Street and Long Beach Boulevard, or buy it at big-box stores. Or sprinkle some easy-to-grow sweet alyssum seeds in empty areas, and use as a living mulch.
While you’re picnicking with your family, break the rules. Remember hearing that herbs and vegetables like full sun? Forget that rule over the summer. Vegetables like lettuce and chard will last longer in semi-shade, as will basil, parsley, chives and cilantro. Four hours of sun a day during summer is fine, and you won’t have to worry about bolting. Put them all in a big container, and put it near the kitchen door. Tomatoes, squash, cukes and eggplant still need as much sun as they can get.

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California and Edible Gardening for California.

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