Hot Weather Cultivation
Even heat-tolerant plants need irrigation and a blanket of mulch
For those who want, or need, to install annual bedding plants, only the most heat tolerant will handle the dog days of summer. Vincas, gaillardia and coleus transplants will thrive under the intense heat of this season.
Success will depend on the proper preparation and maintenance of these colorful additions. A layer of mulch at least 4 inches deep is necessary as well as irrigating during periods when the rains lag.
Many locally popular bulbs can be planted in August and, in fact, much of the year. As with the heat-tolerant annuals, thorough plant bed preparation and mulching is critically important.
Supplemental organic matter is also important to incorporate into the planting zone. Composted oak leaves are excellent and so is peat moss. Both add plant nutrients and improve the water holding capacity of the ground.
Those who are growing vegetable plants also have choices in the current environment. You may choose to cultivate plants or leave areas fallow for future use, or both.
After a morning of gardening, the air conditioner feels really good. A few months from now, the heat and humidity will be a faint memory as fall thermometer readings set in.
Katydids: Pretty and vulnerable in pink
Summer clothing does reveal more skin to the sun’s rays, which is problematic in itself. Those who do not take the necessary precautions while remaining comfortable will likely end up with pink skin from excessive solar exposure. Curiously, not all pink residents are feeling the effects of sunburns. The oblong-winged katydid, Amblycorypha oblongifolia as identified by entomologists, is a prime example. In katydid species, this pink color mutation is a dominant trait and a major disadvantage. With the overwhelmingly green coloration of area foliage, most brightly contrasting katydids do not survive to adulthood, instead falling prey to hungry birds and animals. The oblong-winged katydid’s habitat is the eastern United States, but in Florida, it is found only in the Panhandle. Populations peak in mid-summer, and the average katydid lifespan is four to six months, if they are lucky. This katydid species is not known to damage economically important crops and is only guilty of superficial damage in the home garden and landscape. The bright pink may look like a sunburn, but it is not skin cancer they need to be concerned about.
Summer Garden Chores
- The summer is a great time to solarize garden spots. This soil-sanitizing technique can be accomplished with a heat-trapping cover, which will kill some, if not most, of the weed seeds and insect eggs lodging in the home garden patch.
For containers or small plots, a large trash bag held down with bricks, boards or rocks will do. For larger areas, a roll of plastic sheeting will be necessary.
The heat trapped beneath the plastic will slowly bake the potentially harmful organisms and render them inert. Luckily, earthworms are smart enough to leave the area when it heats up but always return when the soil cools to normal. Leave the plastic in place for four to six weeks.
- Much like colorful annuals, herb transplants can be installed this time of year. Rosemary, ginger, Mexican tarragon and others will flourish in properly prepared sites or large containers.
- Late summer is an excellent time to start fall tomato plants. Use growing media in a transplant container to start recommended cultivars.
The growing media or soil should be moderately fine with ample organic matter and effective drainage. Maintain the moisture in the soil, but do not saturate the containers as fungal disease will result.
- Many cool season crops can be started the same way. Installing healthy transplants can give the home gardener a head start on the autumn growing season.
Still, if temperature patterns are average, there is still time to refresh the garden with a new planting of peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, lima beans and others. Most of these have an average of 90 days from planting to the first harvest.
Les Harrison is a past University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Wakulla County Extension Director.