Planning Your July Garden

Somewhere, I read that half of all water use in the summer is for lawns and gardens. It is possible to use less water and still have a beautiful productive garden - just do a bit of planning.

Add organic materials to the soil (grass clippings, compost, well-rotted manure) anytime during the growing season. It will improve the texture and the water-holding capacity of the soil. I try to add a minimum of one inch of organic matter each year to every single garden bed. This includes shade gardens, the rose garden, the perennial gardens, and most especially, new gardens. After just a few years you will be delighted with the change in your soil.

Deliver water directly to the roots of the plants, not to the nearest sewer or into the air. Drip irrigation delivers about 90 percent of the water you apply to the roots, whereas sprinklers deliver only about half. No need to install an irrigation system; just use soaker hoses. I simply lay them out early in the season around the plants. After the application of compost and the use of ground covers they become very difficult to see. They even remain in place all year.

Add mulch to the surface of the soil to smother weeds and to reduce evaporation. I personally use compost on top of the soil as a mulch because I like its natural appearance and the fact that it raises the soil humidity around plants. Many people use wood bark (make sure it is free of chemical residues), wood chips (be careful here; their decay may use up available nitrogen), and rubber from tires (which simply needs to be removed next year and then raked back into place after spring cleanup; this doesn't deteriorate easily).

Another good idea is to collect water during a rainstorm and use it on your potted plants and flower boxes. It's not only free but it contains no chlorine.

Now take a really good look at your lawn. How much of it do you and your family really need? I am not a grass person. Each year I like to make new beds or to extend existing ones. If you don't want to do that you can always plant ground covers such as chamomile, bugle weed, lesser periwinkle, lamium, or gallium.

Take some time every day to take a good look at your gardens. Take care of your plants. If the soil is healthy you will usually have insect- and disease-resistant plants. Healthy, unstressed plants need less water and fewer pest controls than their counterparts. Keep a watchful eye for harmful insects and then make a reasoned decision about what to do about them. Healthy plants can take it! Don't insist on using insecticides to solve the problem. Sometimes a washing down with a powerful spray is all that is necessary. Pruning out a diseased plant part may be all that is called for as well.

Your garden is a natural part of the world, so welcome the pollinators. This includes bee and wasp species which are becoming more and more important with the problem of honey bee colony collapse. I will write about this next month.

Until then, thank you for your wonderful emails. I look forward to hearing from you.