Episode 013: Top 7 Summer Garden Maintenance Mistakes to Avoid

podcast cover with smiling woman, title of episode

episode highlights

  • When to replace plants that have run their course
  • How to make the most out of your garden space
  • The importance of frequent harvesting
  • How to manage garden pests without resorting to chemical pesticides
  • The benefits of providing support for climbing plants

Summer Garden Success: Efficient Maintenance and Common Mistakes to Avoid

Many people enjoy the rewards of gardening – the fresh produce, the stunning flowers, and the satisfaction of nurturing plants. But maintaining a garden during the busy summer months can be a daunting task, especially when you’re away or have a hectic schedule. Here are some expert tips and strategies to help you maximize your summer garden.

Understanding Your Garden’s Needs

Firstly, it’s essential to understand the specific needs of your garden. Factors like the size of your garden, the amount of sunlight it receives, and the types of plants you’re growing all determine the level of maintenance required. You must identify essential tasks and those which are ‘nice to have’. Essential tasks could include watering, trellising, and weeding, which must be performed consistently to ensure your garden thrives.

Being Flexible With Garden Maintenance

One of the key aspects of successful gardening is flexibility. Life can get busy, more so during summer, and it’s important to adjust your gardening schedule accordingly. Whether it’s adjusting to changes in weather, dealing with pests and weeds, or maintaining your garden when you’re away, you need to be prepared.

For instance, when it comes to irrigation, depending on the size of your garden and the weather conditions, you may need to adjust your watering schedule. Too much water can be just as harmful as too little. Similarly, managing weeds and ensuring your vines stay on their trellis are tasks that need consistent attention.

If you’re planning to be away, consider getting a ‘garden buddy’ to check on your garden. They can stay on top of harvesting and ensure your plants are adequately watered.

Maximizing Your Time

In a perfect world, we’d all have unlimited time to tend to our gardens. But in reality, we often have to fit gardening into our busy schedules. The good news is that even if you only have 10 minutes a day, you can still maintain a thriving garden. It’s all about prioritizing tasks and using time efficiently.

For instance, certain tasks are best performed in the morning when the plants are still fresh and hydrated. These include harvesting greens, picking flowersTitle: Easy Summer Garden Maintenance: Tips, Tricks, and Strategies 

Are you ready to take your summer garden maintenance to the next level? We have gathered some essential tips and strategies that will ensure your garden, regardless of size or plant types, thrives through the busy summer season. 

Essential Garden Tasks 

The success of your summer garden hinges on a few key tasks: watering, weeding, and trellising. These tasks, essential to keeping your garden healthy, depend on the size and layout of your garden, the amount of sun it gets, and the type of plants you’re growing. For instance, a larger garden will require more care, while container gardens may need more frequent watering due to faster soil drying. 

Watering is one of the crucial tasks that you can’t afford to skip. Without supplemental irrigation during the summer, your garden will struggle to find enough moisture. On the other hand, tasks like trellising, while beneficial for a robust garden, aren’t strictly necessary. If you don’t trellis your tomatoes, they’ll still grow and produce, but maybe not as much. 

Garden Maintenance and Flexibility

Maintaining a garden efficiently is all about flexibility. Whether it’s about proper irrigation, managing weeds, or supporting vines on their trellis, flexibility is key. This is especially true when you’re away, and you need to care for your garden. In such cases, you can consider choosing low-maintenance plants or recruiting a garden buddy to check on your garden.

Speaking of flexibility, you must learn to adjust to weather, pests, and weeds, which are common challenges in summer gardening. For instance, if the weather is going to be exceptionally hot, you might need to run your drip irrigation longer than usual. 

Summer gardening can be a challenging but rewarding activity. With a carefully planned schedule and the ability to adapt to changing conditions, you can maintain a beautiful, productive garden throughout the summer. Remember, the key is to prioritize tasks, stay organized, and adjust your schedule as needed. 

Episode Transcript

Hello, hello, and welcome back to organic gardening for beginners. I am your host, jessica from the blog Homegrown Food and Flowers, and this show is all about helping you get started with your garden, whether it is your very first one or you have a couple of seasons behind you, but you are an ambitious beginner and looking to expand and really maximize your space this summer. Doesn’t matter if you are growing in a container garden, an in-ground garden or some combination thereof. The important part is using your space so you can grow your own veggies, your own flowers, sprinkle in some herbs, enjoy nature and just have a fun time. Today’s episode is all about some of the more common gardening mistakes that occur during the summer, whether it is chores that get forgotten or a few things that you just aren’t aware that can help keep your garden productive and thriving all summer long. These mistakes are easily avoidable, and so you will definitely walk away with an action plan for keeping your garden going all summer long.

Let’s jump in. First one up. We have not deadheading your flowers. If this is a new term to you, ddeadheading is basically cutting off the flowers that have opened and are starting to fade on the plant, so think of a sunflower that starts. The leaves are all frilled in towards the center. It opens up, it’s beautiful, it’s in the garden, the bees are coming by and the butterflies are visiting it. And once that pollination happens, the flower considers its job done and so the petals will start to fade. Eventually, they’ll kind of curl up, fall off. But even before that point, once the vibrancy of that flower is gone, that freshness, it’s a great idea to cut it off, the plant, which is a hard thing to do because you want to still enjoy it in the garden, you want to let the bees get to it.

But really, once you cut that slightly older flower off, then that is going to encourage the plant to produce more flowers, because you’ll have interrupted the seed production cycle. And so the flower says, well, I haven’t reproduced yet, I need to put out more flowers so that it can get pollinated again, and so deadheading, even though it feels like you’re cutting the plant off early, really what you’re doing is extending the blooming period, so make sure you’re getting out there to deadhead. It’s super easy.

All you need to do is look for those faded flowers, follow the stem down into the plant. Usually you will come to a leaf junction where there are two leaf stems coming out on either side of the main flower stem, and just cut it right above that junction and give it a week, maybe two, and you’ll start to see new stems coming up at that intersection between the old stem and the leaf stem. That will turn into a bloom. This is a very important chore for prolific bloomers like cosmos. Zinnias, bachelors, buttons, nasturtiums all those flowers will greatly benefit from deadheading and it means you will have a much longer blooming period.

Mistake number two is not harvesting regularly, whether that’s your vegetables or your flowers, or even your herbs. Don’t miss out on the bounty that you have been waiting for and working for, similar to flower production excuse me, flower seed production. If your veggies have the fruit on the plant for too long, whether it’s a zucchini or a cucumber tomato, the plant is going to start thinking that its job is done. It’s produced this fruit that’s now going to mature into a seed.

Think of a cucumber. How they have the seeds in the center. If you were to leave that cucumber on the vine for a long time, then the cucumber gets bigger and bigger, the seeds get larger and the plant is really focusing on that seed production. So, just like cutting off those older flowers, if you are harvesting frequently, then that will encourage the plant to keep producing more.

With a little side note of, there are some plants that are what’s called one and done so, something like a carrot if you plant one carrot seed, you get one carrot, and when you harvest the carrot it’s done and you need to plant it again. On the other hand, something like green beans the more you pick, the more you get. One bean seed produces a vine and that vine will produce dozens of new green beans. So as you harvest and pick them, the plant will keep growing, keep producing more beans. So they are definitely not a one and done so. Frequent harvest will keep your garden going, because those plants are just on this never-ending attempt to make seeds that you are interrupting.

Mistake number three can be leaving a plant in the garden too long and wasting space. Once a plant starts to slow down its production, even though you’ve been harvesting from it regularly, you’ve been fertilizing, you’ve been watering. All plants all annual plants, i should say have a natural life cycle. Whether you interrupt the seed production or not, the plant can only grow for so long before it really starts to lose its productivity and just kind of look ragged really. So what is better than leaving it in the garden too long to just kind of eking out a little bit of produce or a little bit of flower is take it out and put something else in there and we’re going to get into that tip.

Next, it’s better to take a plant out just a little bit earlier than you would otherwise so that you have that space to replant, rather than having this sad old plant that’s not very productive, taking a valuable real estate, especially in a summer garden when the weather is awesome. Your productivity is an all-time high and you would have more time available to get out there and enjoy the produce. So right on the tail end of that mistake number three is mistake number four of not filling empty space. So let’s say you planted lettuce in the spring.

Lettuce is a cool season crop that does not perform very well in the heat of summer, unless you grow specific varieties and you provide shade and etc. If you’re just planting, you know, regular lettuce, once the summertime temperatures start to climb, the lettuce is going to bolt, which means it’s going to try to produce seeds.

There’s a theme here all the garden wants to do is make seeds, and so if you have ever seen your lettuce plant in the garden that is sending up this long stalk from the middle that has smaller lettuce leaves on it and little flowers at the top, that is called bolting, and usually it is heat that triggers that. Age can do it too, but usually it’s heat, and once that happens, the lettuce plant goes bitter and you can cut the stalk off to try to produce lettuce for a little bit longer, but it’s kind of a lost cause because the leaves will still be bitter. What you’re better off doing is taking it out, like the last mistake and tip that I just gave, and then filling that empty space with something else, whether that is a new lettuce plant that can tolerate the heat a little bit better maybe it’s arugula that is slightly more heat tolerant than lettuce or putting in something completely different like a cucumber plant, a zucchini, something that will really appreciate the summer heat and sunlight.

Don’t leave empty space in order to get the most out of your garden, and by not leaving bare dirt, you actually are helping to avoid weed growth that would otherwise come in and take over that empty space. This is a great place where companion planting can really come in. If you are, say, you have a bed of lettuce, onions and calendula that you planted in the spring And the lettuce is not performing very well because of the heat, well, you could cut that off at the soil line, so you are leaving behind your calendula and your onions And then in between there you can plant an arugula, a kale, cucumbers, maybe even a tomato, depending on the spacing of those other two crops and leave the green onions and the calendula in place to grow around whatever else you just put in there.

The next mistake we’re talking about is a big one and something that really inspires me when I’m talking to new gardeners, and that mistake is turning to pesticides at the first sign of leaf damage. And what I mean by that is when you go out to your garden to harvest something, to look around, to weed whatever your job is is if you notice, say, something has been eating the leaves of your plants. You go out there and you see little holes, or maybe some leaves are curling or turning yellow And your first instinct is that you need to spray for something. I would highly encourage you to take pause, to not turn to those pesticides, or even herbicides just yet, and instead to realize that this is part of being in the garden.

Pests are just bugs, just like weeds or plants growing where you don’t want them to grow. Pests are bugs eating where you don’t want them to be. It doesn’t mean that they all need to disappear completely, and also don’t forget that they are part of the life cycle of those beneficial bugs that you want. If you kill off all the aphids, there’s no reason for ladybugs to come to your garden, because that’s what they live on. If you kill off all the hornworms which I don’t love hornworms don’t get me wrong, they’re pretty destructive But if there aren’t any, then the parasitic wasps that lay eggs in the hornworm that will kill it have no reason to come to your garden because they don’t have a prey to stop by for.

So I know it’s hard, and I know that it seems like an easy fix to just spray your plants, but I would encourage you to either find a different way or more productively. This is when, again, companion planting can really come in handy, or even just putting flowers in your garden to draw in some of those beneficial insects. It can make a huge, huge difference. It can take a little bit of time to really take effect, because obviously the flowers need to grow and bloom, but you also need to give it time for the natural predators to notice them and make their way into your garden, to feel comfortable, to realize this is the food source for them, and so it’s all part of an integrated pest management system. They can take a few seasons I wouldn’t even say a few seasons, at least a season to kind of dial in.

And even if you’re looking for a more immediate solution, there are I won’t call them organic because they’re not necessarily but other methods you can use, like hand picking pests. If you see leaf damage and you see the bug right on there, get a bucket of soapy water or a jar, some sort of container, and go out there and hand pick. And some of you might be saying, gross, no way. Get a pair of gloves. Some people use chopsticks or you can knock them from the leaf into the bucket with a pair of scissors, with a spoon, a stick, it doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to touch them if you don’t want to.

But this is what I did with army worms when they came and attacked my tomato plant several years ago. I went out there with an old yogurt container filled with warm soapy water and I just I used tweezers because they were. When I went to pick them off, they just honestly, they squished in my fingers and that grossed me out a little bit. So I used tweezers to take them off the plant and drop them into the soapy water.

And it worked. It gave my tomatoes a chance to come back. It gave the Oriole birds that I mentioned a few episodes ago a chance to realize that there was an abundance of food for them there, and if I had sprayed then there would have been well for one chemical pesticides on my plants, which I’m not interested in, and it also would have given those Orioles no reason to stop by the garden and they were amazing birds to listen to and watch flutter around. So it took some work on my part and some time, but overall it was for the benefit of my garden and my local ecosystem.

Sorry, I got in my soapbox there because this is a super important topic for me. But hold the phone on the pesticides. Think if there are some other ways that you can manage it, and if you’re listening to this and you’re thinking I don’t know what to do to help. That’s where you email me. I will make sure to have my email address in the show notes of this episode so that if you have some sort of bug damage or you need suggestions, this is where I would love to hear from you guys of what you need help with.

Okay, moving on, Mistake number seven, this one is kind of a gimme because it’s not going to make or break your garden, but it will help it out in the long run. And that is not providing proper support for your climbing plants. Beans, cucumbers, sweet peas, snap peas, for that matter, are all climbing vining plants that will perform better if they can actually have access to a trellis or some other form of support. If they don’t have it, they’ll still grow. They’ll go out along the grass, along your raised bed, whatever you’re gardening in, and take the space that they need. But chances are their performance will suffer a little bit because they well, for a couple reasons.

If you have something like a cucumber that is growing along the ground in the cucumber forms and it’s got ground contact, then it makes it way way easier for bugs to find that cucumber and get to it before you do especially little things like potato bugs or snails, slugs. Because it’s got that ground contact, they’ve got a food source. The bugs have a food source and shelter all in one, and so they’re going to start munching on the bottom of that cucumber, whereas if you had the cucumber growing up a trellis, then you’ve got air circulation, you’ve got sunlight to keep it dry and a lack of that ground contact, and so you’ll have far less bug damage.

If you trellis them For something like a pole bean, it also makes it much easier to harvest If they’re growing vertically, because then you can see the beans more easily, you can pick at varying heights, like, say, you squat down and pick at ground level and you’re standing, you’re reaching, and so it makes it a lot easier to harvest, and because you’re getting out there harvesting more frequently, you will get a higher yield.

So, all in all, it is a huge benefit. If you can’t do it, though, it’s not going to kill your garden, anything like that But if you can provide a trellis, a fence, a bamboo teepee, some people use old bed frames which look really pretty, especially for flowers. You could use a little scrap of chicken wire tacked to the side of your house. If you’re growing up against your house, pretty much anything will work just to help get your plants off the ground, improve productivity, your ability to get in there and harvest air circulation. There are lots of benefits to allowing climbing plants to actually climb.

Okay, that was a lot of information, but I hope that there were some little tidbits, some tips, some golden nuggets of garden maintenance information that you either didn’t realize needed to be done, such as deadheading, or that harvesting frequently will actually help the productivity of your garden, so that you can implement them this summer, increase your yields, have more fun in the garden because you’re not worrying about what’s wrong with my plant and just have a great time when you are out there.

So next week, we are talking about some of my favorite mulches to use in the garden. That is right. I’m not done talking about mulch yet, and this time I’ve got some good ideas for where to find free mulches. These are all organic ones, so nothing like landscape fabric that you would have to buy, and some of the benefits to each one, and my own personal tips for where I source everything.

So if you’re getting value out of the show, as always, please don’t forget to subscribe follow. If you want to throw a review up there, that is awesome. It lets me know I’m on the right track and it also lets me know where I can improve so that I am more helpful to you and your garden. So I will talk to you next week. Bye.

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