Dog Days of Summer: The season to be watering, watering, watering

VALLI HARDGRAVE | Tips From One of Hopkins County’s Master Gardeners

August 6, 2006 - The dog days of summer are typically the hottest and most stagnant times of the year. This time between July and early September gets its name because the star Sirius, known as the Dog Star, rises after and sets before the sun. The ancient Romans first coined the phrase by calling this period caniculares dies (days of the dog) after the constellation of canis major.

With triple digit termperatures and almost non-existent rainfall, how do we keep things alive throughout this drought?

(1) MULCH, MULCH, MULCH: Two to six inches of organic mulch such as pine bark, shredded cypress or pine needles will help to keep the soil temperature down and keep precious moisture from evaporating from the soil. Mulch will also help to control weed growth. With warmer temperatures and more watering, seeds can germinate faster and weeds will compete for moisture and nutriments.

(2) WATER WISELY: Water early in the morning if possible so that the plants or lawn will be hydrated during the hottest part of the day. Water deeply and throughly to form deep roots. Most lawns need about one inch a week. Studies show that most lawns actually receive about twice as much water as is actually required.

Wilting and discoloration are signs of water stress. At the first sign of wilting you have 24 to 48 hours to water before serious plant damage occurs. Apply one inch of water to the lawn as rapidly as possible without runoff.

You can determine if you are watering enough by digging down 3 or 4 inches to see if the water is reaching the plants root zone. The use of soaker hoses or drip irrigation in flower beds will put the water source at the roots and can reduce the amount of water used by 20 to 60 percent! The population of Texas is projected to double in the next fifty years. By the year 2035, Texas will have available only about 85 percent of the water it will need. Thirty-five percent of our water used in summer is used in our landscapes. Because of the shortage of rainfall in recent years, water supplies are beginning to get low. As gardeners, we should be aware of our water usage and make the most efficient use. 

(3) LAWN CARE: Cut grass on a slightly higher setting, and leave grass clippings on the lawn to use as mulch and add nutriments.

August garden chores

The hot temperatures of August make it tough to spend much time in the garden. Thankfully the list of August garden chores is the least of any other month.  It seems that our primary concern is assuring an ample supply of water until cooler weather arrives.

n Continue to deadhead all blooming plants. It is important to prune roses now to get them in shape for fall blossoms. Trim back about 1 1/2 of the vigorous growth and remove any dead, diseased or twiggy growth.

n After pruning, use a premium quality rose fertilizer with a 3:1:2 or 4:1:2 ratio long lasting fertilizer (using the label directions). If needed, prune back any overgrown perennials, such as salvia, four-o-clocks and butterfly weed. Fertilize salvia and other fall blooming flowers such as chrysanthemums with a 3:1:2 or 4:1:2 fertilizer.

n While cool season vegetable planting begins in earnest next month, some fall cool season vegetables such as broccoli, chard, lima and snap beans, cabbage and peppers can begin to be planted in the garden. Check with your local garden suppliers to see what transplants are available.

n Be sure to keep birdbaths filled with fresh water and humming bird feeders filled.

Golden State memories

Now on a personal note, my husband, Johnie, and I have just returned from nine days in the Bay Area of San Francisco where I grew up. While as I learned later a lot of California was enduring power blackouts due to record heat, we were always in 70 and 80 degree temperatures. Of course, visiting cooler weather anywhere this time of the year would be enjoyable; however, as a gardener, this was an amazing trip.

In every single town that we visited, not only the homes were bedecked with blooming gardens, but businesses and boulevards were landscaped with geraniums and vincas the size of small shrubs. Lavender, purple and white agapanthas, which I struggle to grow, were abundant everywhere, as well as purple statice. We viewed whole hillsides growing with pink, white, yellow and purple cut flowers, and groves of eucalyptus all being grown for commercial harvest. The wine country, with hillsides for miles, displayed grapevines laden with young fruit.

A trip to Monterey took us through Castroville, the artichoke capital of CA. Not only do they grow artichoke, but we went through many blackberry and raspberry fields where migrant workers were out harvesting.

Now I REALLY realize why California is called "The Golden State." It's not just the bridge (though it was magnificent viewed at early evening with the fog coming into the bay), it is golden in its climate and soil to be able to produce such plant productivity. I am now trying hard to readjust to our Texas heat, and like you, I am still moving the sprinker arround with my little timer ticking away!

Persevere, dear gardeners -- cooler weather should be coming soon!

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