Summer Garden Maintenance
Did you go away for a bit and return to find total chaos in your garden? It can be tricky to balance summer life with plant and soil care. Here are a few tips for diving into high summer maintenance.
Start by creating some visual space. Use pruners or scissors to dead-head, or cut back any flowers that are done blooming. Calendula, poppies, and borage are common volunteers in our gardens that grow very quickly. They often flop over our veggies or compete for resources with the plants we intended to grow. If you start by cutting some back, it’s easier to see what is happening with the rest of the garden and in many cases the plant will send out more flowers on shorter stems. Borage flowers are also particularly tasty on a fresh salad!
We like to keep some flowers around for beneficial insects, even the floppy ones. Consider tying them to a bamboo pole or an existing trellis in your plot. A tomato cage can also gently confine big blooms.
Many of our summer garden vegetables need to be harvested to continue producing more, such as cucumbers, squash and pole beans. Harvesting crops can also help make room for your next plantings. If your brassicas are bolting, not all is lost – you can eat the flowers! In the case of radishes, the green seed pods are especially delicious. Make sure to pick oversized fruits off of the plant, like large zucchini or cucumbers, and move anything that is spoiling to compost to avoid pests in your plot.
Plants that went to flower will go all the way to seed if you let them. Lettuce, coriander, dill, and parsnip all make their seeds easy for us to gather, store, and replant. Keep an eye out for seed parts and stems that look dry and brown. These can be hints that the seeds are ready for harvest.
Direct exposure to sun dries out our garden soil, making it inhospitable to the living beings that maintain soil health, from worms to microbes. We can take care to protect our garden’s skin from the summer sun. One option is to use the plant material you cut back as a mulch, also known as the chop and drop method. Veggie stems, stalks and leaves can be chopped up with pruners or torn by hand, then scattered in the plot. This saves the gardener from doing the work of moving the debris out of the plot and returns nutrients to the soil, all while protecting the soil microbiome. A floating row cover or burlap are also convenient options, but plastic sheets should be avoided because they don’t allow soil to breathe. Whatever method you use, be sure any watering you do is reaching the roots of the living plants.
Plant Cover Crops
It’s not too early to establish a cover crop for the fall and it can be planted right in with your veggies. In some of our urban gardens, the amount of light decreases drastically in mid-September, so allowing the cover crop some time to grow before then can be helpful. Be sure to water regularly and consider using a floating row cover as sun protection for seedlings.