Skip to main content

August Master Gardener Column

By Jan Phipps 


              With the liberal amount of spring and early summer rains, I’ve drawn a few conclusions about gardening and water. The main insight is I haven’t been watering enough. This year my gardens have shown an abundance of blooms, both in size and quantity. I’m not the only gardener who has noticed. Many delighted gardeners are proudly posting photos of their improved flower displays on social media.

              It seems providing in-ground gardens with one inch of water a week is adequate but keeping the soil consistently moist is better. Yes, there are exceptions like succulents and cacti, but generally speaking, plants thrive on a lot of rain.

              My second discovery is grass clippings don’t last long as an effective mulch when the soil touching it underneath is always damp. They decompose way too fast so by mid-summer the weeds are getting all the light they need to thrive. Fortunately, because of all the rain, the lawn was still green and growing so I was able to collect more clippings to top off my previously mulched gardens.

              Third, when containers rarely need to be watered, there is no chance to use a water-soluble fertilizer to keep the plants fed. Whether using conventional blue crystals or going organic with fish emulsion, both have to be diluted in water and applied to the growing medium. I’ve found success using a granular organic fertilizer spread on the soil surface about every three weeks. At 5-4-4, it is not strong enough to burn the plants and the rain moves it down into the soil where the roots benefit.

              Fourth, every toad and frog that hatched this spring seems to have survived. That is good for insect control, but they can be a nuisance showing up in quantity in swimming pools and garden ponds. I assume snails and slugs are more prolific this year also, but they have never been a problem in my yard. 

              Finally, although I already knew this, weeds avail themselves of the extra water every bit as much as ornamental plants. They too are growing like crazy and producing more seeds. After every rain, check all your gardens and remove whatever weeds are popping up. If it becomes an impossible task to keep up, your mulch is probably no longer thick enough. One benefit of the soil staying moist is the ease with which weeds come out of the ground. Even weeds with long single taproots, like dandelions, come out intact.

              If you have questions about a problem in your yard, call an Edgar County Extension Master Gardener at 217-465-8585. We are happy to help.