Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Summertime, when the Working is Optional

“Hire a professional and go to the mountains,” landscape designer Elliott Johnson told me once, when I’d asked him what to do here in the middle of the summer, when it’s ninety-five degrees outside and you feel like you’re enveloped in a giant zip-lock bag and you’re using up the oxygen fast.

There’s that gift certificate for a weekend at the Grove Park Inn David gave us for Christmas. Maybe it’s time to use it. But that’s only a weekend. We would have to come back eventually. There’s the usual weeding and spraying, if you are disposed to dispose of unwanted flora and fauna in that way (see below), but that’s no fun. What else?

You can still plant, Elliott told me, as long as you water thoroughly. If you’ve waited until mid-summer to plant or if some things need replacing, in Aiken you still have months to enjoy your garden. Some years things don’t die back here until Christmas.

“Just be sure to choose plants that adapt well to the heat. Purple coneflower, sun coleus, pentas, angelonia, the smaller salvias, rudbeckia, lantana, of course, will all tolerate high temperature and humidity.” Mid-day is not the best time to plant. Early or late is better, for you and your plants.

Thorough watering is a necessity. A daily sprinkling probably won’t do the trick. It’s good to let most plants dry out a little between waterings (a recommendation echoed by Suzanne Holmes, our Clemson Extension Agent) so that they send their roots down deep, looking for water. Brief, shallow watering causes the roots to look for water close to the surface. When the ground is dry to start, check beneath the top layer to be sure the water has penetrated.

Sometimes it seems the water just sits on top of the soil or mulch, creating puddles which eventually all drain to a low spot. Here’s a tip from Elliott to help make the water soak in quickly: Add a tablespoon of Ivory Liquid to a gallon of water in one of those containers that fits on the end of your hose. For some reason the soap helps the water soak in and the soap doesn’t hurt anything.

The damage to my coleus and basil that I was blaming on slugs might not be the fault of the slimy creatures after all. The ragged, chewed holes, it seems, were on the top leaves of the plants, eighteen inches off the ground. Slugs, when last I checked, do not fly (thank goodness). Nor would they opt for climbing to the top of the plant and working down. They’re not that farsighted. I was outdoors after dark last week and spotted some beetles fooling around on the basil leaves.

I checked, once again, with Master Gardener Bill Hayes, who knows more about getting rid of evil doers than Batman. “Ahh, the mysteries of the garden!” he wrote. “If you have a magnifying glass, check the leaves for very small black specs. That would be something like a sawfly worm. It’s about an inch long with stripes and a great appetite. They eat coleus and leave tiny droppings. If it isn’t that, it’s something like it.”

The beetle I saw probably is a Japanese beetle, since July is their month to shine. It’s black with an iridescent green back. Whatever it is, Bill says Sevin dust should take care of both of them.

Sevin dust is an insecticide that’s been around for years and is sold now by Bayer, the aspirin people. It is approved for use on vegetables, with some restrictions as so how long you should wait between application and ingestion. It’s available everywhere plant care products are sold. As always, read the label or go online to and read the label before you purchase.

You may decide you can live with imperfect leaves, after all. Just take Elliott’s advice and go to the mountains. The beach is nice too.