University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

 Summer Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Lisa Halvorsen, Extension Associate Professor
University of Vermont

This July declare your independence from the gardening grind by becoming a lazy gardener. Although there are some chores that you will still need to do yourself (or ask someone else to do), others can be handled with a little ingenuity.

Take the two main tasks for this time of the year: weeding and watering. Now you could spend hours pulling weeds, or you could make it easier on yourself by mulching your garden or flower beds. Granted, you will need to weed the area before you mulch, and the task will be less difficult if you pull the weeds when they're small. But adding a thick layer of newspapers (no colored pages) between rows, then adding several inches of straw, bark, or pine needles or a sheet of black plastic on top will do a good job of keeping the weeds under control.

Mulching also will help the soil retain moisture, thus reducing the amount of water you will need to apply. Wet the soil thoroughly before laying down mulch.

Mulch also has many other virtues. It prevents heavy rains from compacting the soil or eroding it. Mulch helps maintain an even soil temperature and encourages earthworms. It protects crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash from rot as these plants don't have direct contact with the soil. And, as it decomposes, it turns into compost, improving both the tilth and fertility of the soil.

Although mulch will reduce the need to water, you must make sure your plants are getting at least an inch of water a week. (Dig down about six inches to see if the water has penetrated.) You can make the job of watering easier by setting up drip irrigation or soaker hoses--rather than a sprinkler--in the garden.

Soaker hoses get water to where it's needed the most--the plants' roots--and helps reduce incidence of rusts, powdery mildew, and other fungal diseases caused by wet foliage. Staying out of the garden after a rain also helps prevent these diseases as does pulling mulch away from stems and roots to improve air circulation.

The wet weather in spring and early summer most likely means an abundance of slugs and snails in your garden now. You may not spot them easily as they feed mostly at night, leaving holes in leaves, stems, and flowers. If you are a truly lazy gardener, you may decide to let them eat what they want and settle for what's left. But, it really doesn't take much to control these pests.

You could use diatomaceous earth or commercial slug bait. However, many home remedies are just as effective, such as trapping them under grapefruit rinds or flat boards, stalking them with a salt shaker, or spraying them with a solution of equal parts water and vinegar. You also could bury a shallow saucer to the rim in the garden and fill with stale beer.

A good way to protect your perennial plantings is with copper strips, available at garden centers and through mail order. Slugs and snails won't cross them as they get a shock.

If you added lots of composted manure to the soil when you planted, you probably won't need to fertilize now. If not, then sidedress heavy nitrogen feeders such as squash, eggplant, tomatoes, sweet corn, and tomatoes at time of flowering, and again three to four weeks later. Spread a band of fertilizer on both sides of the row, about six inches from the plants. Use one to two pounds of 5-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden.

July is the time when well-meaning friends arrive bearing gifts of perennials from their gardens. Before you accept, make sure you know the growth habit of the cultivar. If it is an invasive--a spreader--you will create more work for yourself trying to keep it under control.

To minimize the work needed in perennial beds, choose plants that won't require additional fertilizer during the summer, like cosmos, salpigloss, cleome, and nasturtium. Choose low-maintenance plants, such as drought-tolerant plants for example. Or select plants that don't require "deadheading" or pinching off of faded flowers. On plants such as begonias, impatiens, and vincas, the flowers fall cleanly from the plant. Many of the new petunias also are "self cleaning," as are the new "Profusion series" zinnias.

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles