Here we are, just five days out of the summer solstice, and the days are already (minimally) getting shorter. Sure enough, summer is here at last, and the few people who thrive on horrible heat and stifling humidity are happy. Those who dote on cool breezes and crisp nights will just have to suffer until at least late September or October.
So it is apropos that we once again touch on the suffering we must expect if we are to keep our gardens in any kind of shape at all.
Weeds don’t stop. I guess you know that, but we keep reminding. Cool weather vegetative pests (i.e. chickweed, henbit) have run their course until fall, but the really murderous ones are just getting the bit between their teeth. Among these is the worst of them, the much dreaded mulberry weed. I am still fighting it since it appeared some 10 years ago. From whence it came? Who knows, but it was unknown here a decade ago. The fragile little stems, once they are just a few inches tall, are already setting seeds.
That is the chief curse of mulberry weed. Wriggle out a bitty stem of it, and hundreds of seeds fall to the ground, some to germinate immediately, others to lie doggo until rains spread them far and wide from their mother and wreak havoc next year in formerly virgin territory.
Most of the mulberry weeds we encounter are, unfortunately, nestled snug up to a valuable plant, preventing herbicide use. It’s tweak and pull, hands and knees work, made all the worse by 100 degree temperatures and a cruel sun beating down.
Some gardens in this area have never experienced mulberry weed, and I pray for your sake one of them is yours.
Mulberry weed is not the only summer weed, but it is, far and away, the most reprehensible. I’ve probably pulled several hundred already this season.
Weeding is not the only necessity our gardens beg of us in summer. It is a rare summer indeed when watering doesn’t demand our time and stamina under the broiling sun.
Tons of people have no idea how to water properly. Just witness those seen hither and yon, standing with a hose in hand, said utensil armed with a nozzle that fires a steam of water that would do a fireman yeoman duty. It blasts everything it hits with such force that it can blow bitty things like new annuals clear out of the ground.
My modus operandi in watering includes a hose with no nozzle, so that the water pattern and force can be controlled with a thumb. Another advantage of this practice is, when moving from one plant or bed to another, the hose can be bent back on itself near its outlet and the stream held in check until the next target is approached. Then the kink is let out and watering can resume.
But the most common watering mistake, by far, is not watering enough. A newly planted shrub or tree, for instance, needs low release of water over a long period of time.
The hose tip can be left at the base of the plant and water pressure turned to a very low ebb, so that water does not run off until the site is totally saturated. Then, watering is not needed again for a week or so, even in dry weather.
Incidentally, irrigation systems are the answer to a gardener’s prayer, but they are not perfect.
The spray from an irrigation outlet is fine and dandy for a lawn, which needs about an inch of water a week, but a lot more in broiling weather. Deep rooted woody things need the slow but steady recipe for individual plants to do the most good.
I wish you a happy time of work during the miserable summer.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.