Tips on avoiding the ‘double whammy’

June 25, 2014

Al Capp’s comic strip “Li’l Abner” gave America such classics as Sadie Hawkins and gave our language one of the most colorful phrases to describe a double disaster. One character, Evil-Eye Fleegle was just a small-time hood in a zoot suit. At only four-and-a-half feet tall Fleegle had one unique power. He could concentrate and send a destructive beam from one of his eyeballs. This was the “Whammy” and the even nastier “Double Whammy.” A double whammy could make Teddy Roosevelt’s head on Mount Rushmore weep.

But summer in the garden delivers its own double whammy of heat and humidity. Plants wilt and others “bolt” or go from producing flowers to producing seed stalks. The summer garden does best when we use heat and humidity-resistant flowers like cosmos, coleus, cleome, hibiscus, pentas, plumbago, portulaca and zinnias. Even these heat-resistant plants do well with regular watering. If it doesn’t rain, you should probably use a good inch of water per week. Watering deeply encourages plants to send roots down deeper into the soil. Potted plants will need even more frequent watering because they tend to dry out even quicker. During hot spells you may have to water potted plants several times a day to keep them from drooping.

Any trees or shrubs that you planted in the past three years probably don’t have enough permanent roots to get through a hot, dry July and August, so these will need even more water. Give them between two and four inches of water each week whenever temperatures are high, especially if there hasn’t been any rain. Slow-trickle watering is most effective. Let the water slowly seep deep into the soil without running off. This lets the water go right to the roots of the plants where it is needed. Water early in the day so that the plants dry off before night.

Just as you mist indoor plants, you can lightly spray or mist outdoor shrubs a few times each day. This increases the ambient moisture and helps keep the leaves from drying.

A good mulch at least three inches deep will cool the soil and keep the roots from drying out. Try straw or shredded leaves which will break down slowly and add organic matter to the soil. If you can, work in compost or other water-retaining organic matter right into the flower beds.

Set your lawn mower blades at lest three inches high. This will allow the grass to shade the soil underneath and keep it cooler. This cuts down on the evaporation of the water in the soil. Also, the shade will discourage weeds from sprouting in the lawn. Never fertilize your lawn during the hottest months of summer; the fertilizer can actually burn the grass roots.

Air circulation is vital to maintaining plant health, so be sure to prune all crossing branches. Never let any plants grow up against a house or other structure.

Water only once a week and water deeply. Keep the air circulating around your plants to prevent mildew, and you just may avoid summer’s double whammy.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.