By Brent Gray
This time of year, unless we have had adequate rain, the big chore in the garden is keeping things watered. One of the easiest ways to conserve water in the garden is by mulching. Keep a two to four-inch layer of mulch around shrubs, flower, and vegetables. Pine straw, bark chips, and shredded hardwood bark are effective choices. As a general rule, one bale of pine straw will cover about 50 to 80 square feet of bare area, depending on how deep you apply it. For replenishing areas covered with straw, one bale will cover about 150 square feet. One cubic yard (27 cubic feet) of bark mini-nuggets will cover about 80 square feet.
During these hot days, flowers and foliage in cool colors can make outdoor living areas seem cooler. Consider using pastel-colored impatiens, begonias, petunias, Madagascar periwinkle (vinca), and hibiscus along with silvery foliage of artemisias or dusty miller in pots, hanging baskets or flower beds to “cool down” your deck or terrace. Varying shades of greens, blues, purples and lavenders combined with whites can trick you into thinking you’re cooler when its 90 in the shade!
A black, sooty coating on the leaves of azaleas, gardenias, and crape myrtles is a fungus that grows on the sticky secretions (called honeydew) of aphids. To control the sooty mold, you’ll need to use an insecticide, such as malathion, to kill the aphids. Once the aphids are under control the sooty mess will disappear over time.
The average first frost date for most of Mississippi is about 100 days from now. This means there is plenty of time to grow warm season vegetables left. There have been many reports of disappointing tomato crops this spring. There is time to start seeds and plant another crop to fill the freezer or pantry. Be aware that insects have had a long time to build their numbers and more diligence will be needed to manage insect damage.
One of the major causes of poor tomato production this spring was widespread early blight problems. The spores of this fungus float in the air and are very active at temperatures in the low to mid eighties whenever there is liquid water on the tomato leaves. The air borne vector meant that moving the tomato plants to a different place in the garden will not change the chances the disease will happen again. One way to manage this disease is to plant tomatoes where the wind can dry the leaves as much as possible and to irrigate so the leaves stay dry. Keeping leaves dry is the main reason tomatoes are pruned or suckered.
Gardeners with adventurous mind sets may want to try growing amaranth greens during hot weather. There are several species of amaranth used for greens, be sure to use a vegetable one rather than a quinoa variety for grain. the tiny seed are directly sown in the garden and the plants grow one to three feet tall. the leaves are harvested and cooked like any other green. they are a good source of vitamin a and beta carotene.
Remember to cut out the brambles that fruited this year. Blackberries are biennial and grow the bramble one year that bears fruit the next year.
Letting the lawn go without water so you won’t have to mow as often is risky. The stressed grass becomes more easily infected by disease organisms and you may spend more time fighting diseases than you would have mowing.