Beating these summertime garden blues
Summer means heat. When combined with rain heat creates growth, which leads to problems — especially with insects and fungus.
Insects, and there are many of them, love to munch on new, soft growth and denude a leaf to a skeleton very quickly. The main culprits being aphids, caterpillars, scale, mealy bug, ants, beetles and snails.
They attack by either sucking, chewing or rasping the soft tissue, often leaving a nasty sticky solution called frass. Control is often host-specific, so be sure to ask what is best for your problem.
If you don't know, take a dead sample with you for identification. Do not use chemicals during hot, dry periods and when roots are under stress, always water soil around the root zone heavily before spraying.
Irrigation is a must during periods of prolonged dry heat, if only to keep the lawn and plants “ticking over”. If there is water available, I recommend a good soaking — perhaps twice a week — which will aid the root system.
Light watering encourages surface growing roots which can be harmful to growth in the long term as they are not encouraged to “chase” after water in the lower depths of the soil.
A strong root system will chase water during times of drought whilst also becoming a strong anchor in times of gale force winds, as they will be deeper in the soil mass.
Bermuda soils are generally shallow and in many cases with the underlying rock being just several inches below the surface, this in itself is not conducive to good growth, hence the need when planting to “dig large enough holes” to accommodate growth in the foreseeable future so roots becomes established.
As growth is far greater during the summer months, the need to not only irrigate, but to also fertilise is important for continuous growth. However, do not apply fertiliser during hot dry periods or when the root system is under stress.
Instead, apply in advance of a heavy downpour to ensure granules are washed in the soil and activated.
I like to use a ratio of 16:4:8 or similar, plus trace elements. Applications of liquid fertiliser are also advised as it “waters” at the same time and often contains more of the trace elements.
When using a hose pipe, never leave it lying in the sun as it will retain heat build-up with the consequence when used it is likely to scorch roots or foliage.
Weed control is important at any time of the year as they can be a host for pest and diseases. Weeds also have an uptake of water and plant nutrients which are best used by the garden plants.
If flower beds are tackled on a weekly basis with a Dutch hoe, weed growth will be eliminated.
Remember, if you weed when no weeds are present you will never see any weeds. In other words, by simply breaking the soil surface with the hoe, you are eliminating potential growth.
To reduce spread of weed seeds, also spray weeds which are on wasteland, driveways and footpaths to stop the spread, especially from ephemerals.
Grass suffers greatly from stress especially during hot, dry periods. It is advisable to stop mowing on a too-regular basis, especially as growth will be slower during these periods. When mowing during this period, raise the height of the blade to reduce potential stress on the leaf blade. With a dense sward, less bare patches are reduced which helps keeps the soil slightly cooler.
The summer is for relaxing not gardening. Keeping on top of labour-saving issues, makes life easier and gives you time to sit back and relax while admiring your handy work!
• Malcolm Griffiths is a trained horticulturalist and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture in the UK. He is also past president of the Bermuda Horticultural Society, Bermuda Orchid Society and the Bermuda Botanical Society