Hot gardening seems like an oxymoron these days. Gardening is done primarily in the summer and so we all know gardening is hot. The past few years it has been so hot that I can’t stand, bend, kneel or sit much after 10 a.m. before I retreat to the AC inside. In the sometimes cool of the evening mosquitoes drive me back indoors. Hot gardening can also mean, and I intend for it to mean, gardening that is becoming more meaningful and more popular – hot!

I just finished Doug Tallamy’s book “Nature’s Best Hope.” In it he argues that home gardens can contribute to a healthy ecology, combat climate change (global warming), and restore bio-diversity. We can do this by planting more of the plants that were here before we came. Native plants can bring back more insects, more birds, more of the world some of us remember as a kid. Our national parks have native plants but they are also becoming home to more non-native and invasive species. What can we do?

He says that in the U.S. there are 40 million acres devoted to lawns. In the big national parks in the lower 48 there are less than half that amount. His novel idea is that if we could cut in half the amount of lawn we could create a Homegrown National Park. If we could put 70% of our plantings, trees, shrubs, flowers as natives we could restore the biodiversity that more and more we realize will save the planet. I am not a purist and neither is he. We are not willing to give up our old world veggies and some of the decorative flowers.

We can plant some more southern natives and help the species migrate as our climate warms. With lots of properties devoted to mostly native plants, natural corridors will be created which many species need to survive. In other words, we can garden with another, more environmentally friendly, purpose. Tallamy’s book gives many more examples and suggestions. I believe these concepts are becoming more popular. More people are learning about and planting natives. I know I have. Get with it. This kind of gardening is hot! It’s also cool.

To begin your search for native plants for your area go to nwf.org and put Native Plant Finder in their search box. Have gardening questions? Call the Gardening Helpline at 740-474-7534. To read about problems facing those of us who “grow things,” check out bygl.osu.edu.

Things to do in the garden:

This is the time to dry herbs. Harvest just before they flower. Pick on a sunny dry day and in the morning. Tie them in small bundles with rubber bands. Hang them upside down in a hot, dry, dark, well ventilated spot in an attic, barn or shed. This is also the time to harvest garlic and hang them or lay them out to dry and cure. Harvest when leaves are turning yellow but there are still one or two green leaves.

Weeding, deadheading and watering are high on the list of routine activities. If July turns out to be bone dry, as usual, water the equivalent of one inch per week. Mulch to conserve moisture and keep down weeds. If you haven’t mulched yet do so after a soaking thunderstorm or a good watering. Vegetables higher in water content need more water e.g. tomatoes, watermelons, onions vs. green beans.

Keep your mower blades sharp; cut your grass long, 3-4 inches is ideal. If you use a pesticide for grubs you are also killing the ones that produce fireflies. Consider organic methods if you have a grub problem. Kill Japanese beetle scouts before they let their comrades know about your garden. Brush them off into a cup of soapy water or alcohol (not Jim Beam). Repeatedly letting the lawn go dormant and reviving it by watering can kill the grass. Either keep watering or wait for Mother Nature to do it for you. Don’t forget to water your compost heap. It needs to remain moist for fast decomposition.

Going on vacation? Water well before you leave. Place container plants in a shady area. They should do fine for a week depending on the weather. If you will be gone longer have someone reliable come over and water regularly. Container plants in the hot sun may need watering daily.

If your grafted trees or roses are sprouting suckers below the graft, cut the sprouts off.

Keep picking seed pods off the annuals and clipping spent flowers (deadheading) to encourage bloom all summer. Pinch back mums July 15th for the last time.

Always read the labels on your plants for fertilization. Most woody plants have completed their growth and their buds for next year so fertilizing trees and shrubs after early July is a waste of money and may harm the plant. Keep watering trees and shrubs planted in the past 2-3 years. Ten gallons for every inch in diameter every week is good.

Consider planting a fall garden this month. Cool weather vegetables can be planted to take advantage of the coming cool fall weather. Plants such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach, collards, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts (plant seeds now, seedlings later), kale, Swiss chard even beets and parsnips thrive in our fall weather. If it is hot and dry, consider starting your plants indoors (except for root crops). Acclimate seedlings to the sun before putting them out in the garden.

Other vegetables that grow well in cool weather but should be planted a little later are lettuce planted through August and September, carrots and radishes in September. Count the days before the average frost (mid-October), veggies that have that many days to harvest can still be planted. Check the seed packet. There are also some other varieties of vegetables that can overwinter for harvesting in the spring. Check varieties in seed catalogs or on-line. Order now.

This Master Gardeners article was supplied by OSU Extension, Pickaway County.

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