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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Gardening During Summer

When summer sizzles we may notice a number of changes in our gardens and gardening habits.  Smart gardeners will begin early morning/late evening gardening routines to take advantage of cooler morning and evening temperatures and will include in their summertime schedule some annual gardening maintenance.  Queen Palms and lawns might show signs of yellowing, weeds will emerge with summer monsoon rains, and bugs like mosquitoes become more prolific.

Queen palms and lawns are the first to show symptoms of common summertime gardening challenges.  If your palm has yellowish fronds, and new fronds are emerging with accordion-like folds, your palm may be suffering from nutrient deficiencies or heart rot.  Both commonly occur in the summer.  Queen palms are tropical palms that love acidic soil and must have iron and manganese to stay healthy and green.  If you haven’t acidified your soil and fertilized with a micronutrient mix containing iron and manganese, and your palms are looking yellowish and spindly, apply a soil acidifier such as First Step soil acidifier and fertilize with a micronutrient mix and a palm food.  If your queen palm doesn’t show significant improvement within three weeks of acidifying and fertilizing, heart rot may be the cause of your palm’s maladies.  Heart rot is a fungus transmitted from tree to tree on birds’ feet.  This fungus is very prevalent in the Valley and easily treated by applying to the center of the palm a mix of water and a copper sulfate powder, which is available at your local nursery.

Lawns will begin to show symptoms of salt build-up as municipalities use other sources of water to supply summertime demand.  Browning on the tips of new growth, yellowing, and standing water are evidence of salt build up in the soil.  Fortunately, there’s an easy solution … acidify. Applying a water-soluble soil acidifier like First Step will leach the salt build-up out of your plants’ root zones, loosening soil and releasing nutrients bound up in our clay-like soil.  The loosening of the soil will help water to penetrate deeper and faster removing habitats for insects like mosquitoes.  This is essential to prevent the West Nile Virus.

Roses will also benefit from acidification now, however, do not fertilize them now.  Fertilizing them will cause new tender growth that will be susceptible to summer’s sizzle.


Monsoon Maintenance

Smart gardeners will also take advantage of some preventative monsoon maintenance by pruning desert trees and properly staking them before monsoon winds rip through our gardens.  Desert tree canopies that have become particularly dense will act like large sails catching monsoon winds.  Some light thinning of branches can decrease the density of the tree’s canopy allowing the wind to more easily pass through the foliage and decrease the likelihood that branches will snap off, the tree will uproot or that the trunk will snap under the stress of high monsoon winds.


Proper staking can also help younger trees weather the coming storms.  Most trees come with one growing stake from nurseries.  The nurseries’ growing stake is intended to help the tree grow straight, not keep it from snapping in the wind.  When at the nursery in containers, the trees may blow over in a hard wind and then we simply stand them upright after the storm passes.  Once they are planted, trees need staking to prevent them from snapping or leaning over in the wind and then growing at an angle.  Proper staking uses a system of two stakes and tie wires placed in the ground at the edge of the tree’s canopy.  Place the first stake in the direction of the prevailing wind and the other on the opposite side of the tree.  Tie wires with rubber bumpers come pre-packaged for your convenience.  The wires won’t break and the bumpers prevent the wires from digging into the trunk.  Tie the wires so they are snug but not taught, placing one about 1/3 the distance up the trunk and the other at the 3/4 mark.  Trees will benefit from the added stability while they establish a strong root system in about two years.

Proper watering of trees is a key preventative measure for avoiding monsoon tree damage.  Drippers should be away from the trunk and toward the drip line (outer edge of the canopy) of the tree.  Adjusting them should be an ongoing project as trees mature.  Wherever the greatest amount of moisture is, the roots will be as well.  Too often we see a tree with a 10-foot canopy blow over and expose a one-foot root ball.  In this situation, it is very likely that the drippers were never moved from around the trunk as the tree grew.  By moving the drippers properly, the roots expand and better anchor the tree.  The amount and frequency of irrigation depends upon the type of tree and the character of the soil.  A rule of thumb would be to slowly, deeply and thoroughly irrigate according to the chart below. The water needs of plants and trees changes with the seasons and the irrigation frequency and duration should be changed accordingly.  Allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings and make certain that all of the drippers operate properly.

Arizona soils are hard caliche that does not allow the water to penetrate to encourage deep roots.  Encourage downward root growth with soil acidifier.  This inexpensive solution should be applied about 3 times per year – remember holidays such as Valentines Day, Memorial Day and Labor day.  If you have never done this, start now.


Watering Schedule

Duration and frequencies for watering will vary with individual soil conditions.  During extremely hot weather conditions, inspect your plants for dry soil (deep at the roots) and wilt; these are indicators the plant needs to be watered more deeply and adjust your watering accordingly.  If the soil is wet and the plant is wilting, do not water more.  Do NOT water every day, let the root-zone dry somewhat between waterings on most plants.  The chart below is for average “hot” conditions.  When temperatures are over 110°F pay special attention to your plants and adjust your watering as needed.




Duration & Frequency of Watering

Vegetables & Flowers TTape or Lazar

Vines & Shrubs


Shrubs & Trees


2, 1GPH

Shrubs & Trees


3, 1GPH



4, 1GPH

Container Plants Drip











30 min

10-20 min.

Days per Week









Prevent Weeds

When summer rains come, apply a pre-emergent now to areas that you want to keep weed free later.  I prefer a granular product.  Applied at the recommended rate and watered in, the granules create a three- to four-inch barrier in the soil that prevents seeds from sprouting. Once you activate the pre-emergent by watering don’t cultivate the soil by digging or planting. Cultivating will break the chemical seal and allow seeds to germinate.  Obviously, it is not recommended for areas in which you may want to plant seeds like flowers or vegetables.  This type of product does a good job in gravel areas and shrub planters where the beds are established.  Weeds in flower and vegetable beds will need “traditional” handling with a little sweat and physical effort and maybe a hula hoe, another great gardening tool.  Also, a two- to three-inch layer of mulch will help prevent weeds.


Here’s a little myth buster: It’s okay to plant when it’s hot.  There’s no need to wait–summer is a great time to plant, especially desert-adapted plants.  In fact, landscaping companies are busy all across the Valley planting a whole host of plants in homes and businesses.  Desert-adapted plants include Mesquites, Acacias, Palo Verdes, and Sages as well as many other plants that thrive in the heat.  It is also important to choose Arizona-grown plants that are already conditioned to our outdoor environment.  However, if you aren’t conditioned to our summertime sizzle, choose a cooler time of day to garden or hire a licensed landscaper.

Written by Kari Petterson



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