We had a remarkably cool August here in Iowa, and that’s not only good for people, it’s also good for our gardens. When temperatures aren’t as high, our favorite garden plants tend to get less stressed.
Rainfall has been less favorable for our landscapes. Lawns and gardens need about one inch of water a week. Fortunately, on average, rainfall in Eastern Iowa averages out to about one inch a week. But right now Linn County is classified by the U.S. Drought Monitor as being in some areas “abnormally dry” and in others as under a “moderate drought.” Other Eastern Iowa counties are a mix of the two classifications, or are experiencing average rainfall.
In most smaller gardens, some time with a garden hose and a sprinkler can reverse the problems of low rainfall. Just be sure to avoid watering when it’s breezy or at the hottest part of the day, since the water from a sprinkler is more likely to evaporate.
Also try to water in the morning so plant leaves dry quickly, reducing mildew problems. And water deeply and less often, rather than light “baptisms” of water frequently. You’ll use less water in the long run and plants will be healthier — those deep waterings encourage deeper root growth.
Keep track of how much water you’re applying by putting out a shallow dish with the sprinkler so you can see when the sprinkler has delivered a half inch, a full inch, or whatever other amount you’re aiming for.
There are other things you can do to keep your garden fresh now:
• Weed, weed, weed. It can be a discouraging process this time of year but make your priority those weeds that are starting to flower or go to seed. They’ll just multiply the problem. Also, take heart in the knowledge that weeding now will save you clean up time come spring.
• Deadhead, deadhead, deadhead. Spent daylily and iris stalks, peony heads that are forming seedpods, annuals with lots of shriveled brown flowers — all these make a tired garden look worse. Pinch, pull, or trim them off. With annuals, deadheading actually encourages the development of more flowers.
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• Give flowering annuals, especially those in a container, a boost with a fertilizer made specifically to encourage blooming. Follow package directions exactly.
• Remove brown plant parts. Daylilies often develop lots of brown and yellowing leaves. Pull out as many of those as you can. Trim or pull off diseased plant parts of all your perennials and annuals. They’ll look better and you’ll also be removing disease microorganisms that can lead to the spread of the problem or reinfection next spring.
• If annuals are looking tired or diseased, simply pull them out. Better to have an empty space in your garden than a sick, diseased plant that has stopped producing or makes the garden look worse, not better.
• Cut back problem annuals. Many, such as petunias, tend to get ragged looking this time of year, with many brown leaves and stems. Carefully cut out problem stems and stalks, ruthlessly cut back even those that may still be flowering. We still have enough time in the growing season that they’ll recover in two to three weeks.
• Find replacement plants, if you wish, at local garden centers. This time of year annuals and many other plants are on clearance. But only buy those plants that are healthy. You don’t want to purchase a problem.
Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.