Summer is heating up. When it gets hot, gardeners need to take some precautions. For one, drink water frequently to prevent dehydration. Apply sunscreen, and wear light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to prevent sunburn. Rest frequently to prevent heat exhaustion or stroke. Consider doing gardening tasks in early morning or evening hours if your schedule allows. This advice may seem obvious and common sense, but as Horace Greeley once said, "Common sense is very uncommon."
Common sense tells me that I should take a nap in a hammock rather than tend the garden today. Common sense also tells me that garden pests and diseases do not rest:
n Examine leaves of tomato plants for spots or blotches. If these spots begin on lower leaves and advance upward, it is likely the plants are infected by Septoria leaf spot or early blight. Picking off infected leaves may slow disease development, but will not stop it. Therefore, apply a preventative fungicide such as Bacillus subtilis (Serenade) or one containing copper, i.e. copper soap or copper sulfate at regular intervals. Read the label of the product for specific instructions regarding application.
n Inspect cucumber, melon and squash plants for striped or spotted cucumber beetles. Cucumber beetles carry a bacterium, which they transmit to the plants when feeding. The bacterium causes a serious wilt disease. Plants already wilting despite moist soils are probably infected and should be pulled up and buried. An organic insecticide such as neem oil or pyrethrum will provide moderate control of cucumber beetle.
n Apply a biological insecticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) or one containing spinosad to control cabbage worms on broccoli, cabbage and kale.
n Be sure that foliage houseplants, which have been moved outdoors for the summer, are in a shaded location. It could be dappled or partial shade, but avoid direct sunlight during late morning and afternoon hours when it is most intense.
n Water potted geraniums (Pelargonium) and those in flower beds only when soil becomes dry. Do not over-water geraniums as their roots rot easily in wet soil. Also, avoid wetting the leaves when watering; water the soil not the plant.
n Dig up and divide bearded iris -- a task that should be done about every three years. Any decayed parts of the rhizomes (thickened underground stems) should be cut away and destroyed. It's likely that they are infested by iris borers.
n Prune back the stems of petunias once they get overly long. Petunias only develop flowers at the ends of stems; hence a severe pruning will get them back in shape and flowering with abandon.
n Pull mature weeds -- ones with seed heads -- from the garden early in the morning. The seed heads are less likely to shatter at that time because of their high moisture content.
n Harvest shoots from tarragon, basil, oregano and other herbs early in the morning on a dry day. Keep harvesting the shoots even if you can't use the fresh herbs. Regular harvesting will keep the herbs from flowering and keep them productive. Dry what can't be used fresh.
n Make one more sowing of sweet corn, bush beans, summer squash and carrots.
n Apply a couple handfuls of compost or a tablespoon of 5-10-10 around each cucumber plant to keep them productive through the summer.
n Give priority to vegetable gardens when watering. Vegetables are growing fast and will provide higher yields if soils are moist. Soil water can be conserved by removing weeds that compete with vegetable plants for water and nutrients.
n Make a note to attend the Pittsfield Garden Tour next weekend. For information, visit www.pittsfieldgardentour.org
n Now, mosey over to the hammock and ... zzzzzzzzzzzzz.