Jennifer E. Beaver
Ah, summer. We all enjoy eating outdoors with friends and hoisting a few while the sun goes down. But surely I can’t be the only one looking over the rim of my margarita glass toward the garden…and wondering what’s causing the holes in the tomatoes or the spots on the squash leaves.
To my fellow constant gardeners, I offer these tips for a more enjoyable summer:
1. Go a little wild
The hardest-working corner of my backyard garden contains a rogue, gone-to-flower radish, a past-its-prime parsley and a stray yellow nasturtium. All the blooms in this unplanned tableau attract wonderful garden-friendly pollinators and predators. Keep this in mind when your cilantro bolts, as it will in heat, and leave it in place to bring on the good bugs.
2. Water intelligently
Ever wonder why they always tell you to water in the morning? Because watering in the late afternoon or evening allows all those moist little spores to creep onto your plants and raise havoc! Reduce mildew and viruses by watering the soil– not the plant– when the sun is strong. Use a drip hose whenever possible to provide slow and steady moisture. And remember that containers and hanging baskets dry out faster than in-ground plantings, and water them more frequently.
3. Plant in the shade
Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash– all these fruiting plants need sun, and lots of it. Lettuce, chard, mint, parsley, thyme, snow peas, and Asian vegetables such as bok choi thrive in partial shade but will fry in the summer sun. Try planting leafy vegetables in the shade of the heat-lovers. Put movable containers to work and position them where they’ll get morning light and afternoon shade. Fill with assorted lettuce and a few bright flowers, and you’ll have the salad course and the table setting all in one pot.
4. Put on your inspector hat
Like absentee landlords, unobservant gardeners miss important developments. Keep watch and remove the caterpillars; spray for mildew and move unhappy plants before things get out of hand.
5. Try something new
Take advantage of all the amazing plants in the garden center and try something new this year. Fill the beds with some neon-bright zinnias. Grow a yellow tomato. Put up a trellis, and fill it with cucumbers. Brighten the entry with hanging baskets. Tuck an everblooming gardenia in the corner, and let it perfume your outdoor gatherings.
Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California and Edible
Gardening for California.