Ah, summertime in the Lowcountry! Weeks of ninety-plus temperatures and high humidity drain us of the energy and enthusiasm needed for yard work. Instead of working outside, we want to stay in an air-conditioned cocoon or escape to a cooler clime.
Your property may now look somewhat bedraggled. Flowers in the ground are withering. Plants in pots or in hanging baskets have grown lanky and are flopping over. The lawn is looking parched or patchy. Some of your shrubs seem to have lost their shape, and trees may have limbs damaged by summer storms.
What do you do now to revive your summer garden before you transition to fall?
In-ground, hanging or potted plants: They looked great when you bought them. Now, perhaps, not so much. Many annuals will continue to bloom until cold weather stops the cycle. Encourage new, fuller growth by cutting back and fertilizing annuals that have grown too leggy. This method works particularly well with petunias, coleus, salvias, dusty miller, vinca vine, ornamental sweet potatoes and others. If the plant looks totally spent, perhaps the best option is to consign it to the compost bin.
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Lawn: Adjust your sprinkler system or move hoses around based upon rainfall. Lawns generally need an inch of water per week. Water is a very precious resource, so avoid wasting it on surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways, streets or expansive mulch-only areas. Mow grass to an appropriate height to maintain vigor: St. Augustine, 3-4” and Centipede, 1.5-2.0”. If you have a different type of grass, get advice about optimal height from a lawn professional or other resource. Monitor and treat the lawn for insect and disease control or seek the help of someone who is knowledgeable about such concerns.
Shrubs: You can remove dead, damaged or diseased branches at any time of the year. Summer-blooming shrubs can be judiciously trimmed soon after flowering. But be cautious about pruning shrubs in the summer that normally bloom in another season, such as spring-blooming azaleas. If you prune at the wrong time, you will likely remove incipient flower buds, resulting in far fewer blossoms in the next blooming cycle.
Trees: Mature trees should be in good shape despite the extended heat and humidity we have been enduring. As with shrubs, prune out dead, damaged or diseased areas anytime of the year. Do not risk your health and safety by removing tree material that you can not easily reach while standing on the ground. There are quite a number of trained arborists here in coastal South Carolina who have the knowledge, manpower and appropriate tools to trim, limb up or remove trees. Call one.
Palms: Experts advise against trimming palms solely for esthetic reasons. Unless they are a hazard to people or property, palms only need to be trimmed when fronds (leaves) die or are broken, or when the tree begins to flower or bear fruit. Palm trees need large amounts of potassium to thrive, and sandy soil often lacks sufficient potassium. Yellow or orange spots on the oldest fronds often indicate potassium deficiency. If your palm displays these signs, you will need to apply a potassium sulfate supplement as well as magnesium and wait a year before removing more fronds. Consult an expert before proceeding.
Whether your garden consists of a table or shelf near a window, a patio or balcony, a townhouse plot, or a vast yard matters not a whit. Resolve now to make notes about what worked this year so that you can replicate (and perhaps expand) these successes next year. In addition, jot down information about which plants either languished or perished although you were attentive to their needs.
Note to readers:
My next column will be a Q & A in which I focus on helping you to resolve garden issues. Let me know what is on your mind and I’ll do my best to provide assistance. Send your questions and concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org by September 16, 2016.
Frank Edgerton is a Hilton Head Island resident, garden consultant and plantsman. He can be reached at email@example.com.