By Lesley Arrandale

As spring opens our hearts and minds to new possibilities, horticulturally speaking, it bears considering whether or not we’ve prepared our gardens well for the onslaught of summer temperatures and heavy rains. As we finish with our cool-season vegetable gardens, tend to our new summer vegetables and tidy up the shrubs and perennials for the summer, are there any jobs left undone? In my own yard, the answer always seems to be yes, and I suspect I’m not alone.

But take heart – a landscape is never finished; it evolves and can survive, often despite our inadequacies — be they lack of time or just inexperience. Experience will show that at least two tasks, weeding and scouting for insects and disease, are both invaluable occupations which will help keep you ahead of the game. Plus the use of mulch can help immeasurably with weed suppression.

An example of an evolving garden would be the volunteers of hardy flowers like gaillardia, coreopsis or coneflowers. If you want a manicured yard, with perennials that come back reliably year after year, exactly where you put them, perhaps these happy volunteers aren’t for you; however, I have found that plants which find their own niches are sometimes more robust than those I’ve planted in places of my choosing. Their roots find their own way through the native soil, without having to battle out of a ball of potting soil like their nursery-grown siblings.

It takes time for the perennials we plant, as well as for shrubs and trees, to show their full worth. An oft-quoted maxim, “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap,” is well worth remembering. Thus instant gardens are a bit of a deception; a beautifully designed and installed landscape needs careful attention. It can take up to a year (or longer for large trees) for woody plants to become established, which means paying attention to watering adequately. (See for guidance on planting and establishing trees.)

Sadly, my bush beans are already showing signs of disease on their leaves. I’ve begun fighting back by removing problem foliage, but may have to resort to using a relatively benign chemical remedy. Neem oil has a range of actions, including antibacterial and antifungal, as well as being an insecticide. Approved for use in organic gardening, it is kind to beneficial insects, but should be used early or late in the day, while bees aren’t foraging.

I had a disease in some (rather late) cabbages (black rot, caused by a bacteria Xanthomonas campestris pv campestris), so after removing them I was careful to tidy up plant debris. I shall plant brassicas in a different place in the fall. Crop rotation is always recommended to avoid the buildup of insects and diseases which attack plants in the same family.

While adjusting my drip irrigation system, I did over-water the beds, which was a bad mistake. Since then we have been getting a reasonable amount of rain, so I have shut off the automatic timer and only use the system on manual, as and when needed, and only for about 10 minutes at a time. Although many vegetables need one to one-and-a-half inches of water a week, I have found previously, with in-ground beds that drain well, that watering little and often during dry seasons works well. Keeping a moist but not saturated root zone appears to be better for growth and will help avoid diseases like root rots.

Lesley Arrandale is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Cooperative Extension Service/City of Jacksonville Agriculture Department, which is a partnership between the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the City of Jacksonville.


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