Spring is over and summer is in full swing. It's hot. It's humid. You're struggling with the weather. Your plants are too. The full on heat and humidity of summer here in Connecticut can cause a number of problems with your plants. Here's what to look out for and what to do if you see these issues in your garden.
Powdery Mildew. This is a fungal disease that occurs when humidity is high. White or gray spots coat the entire plant, much like if powder had been dumped on it. This can happen overnight. Powdery mildew is not only unsightly but can cause leaves to drop, curling or browning leaves. It can also reduce quality of the flowers and cause premature bud drop. A quick and easy, natural solution to this is baking soda. 1 tablespoon of baking soda, ½ teaspoon liquid dish detergent (this helps the baking soda stick to the plant) and 1 gallon of water. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Because powdery mildew coats plants so thoroughly, it can interfere in photosynthesis, so it's best to start spraying on a weekly basis to help prevent the fungus. Horticultural oil, derived from plant oils, is another organic fungicide and good for a host of problems.
Drought Stress. Otherwise known as wilt. We're all familiar with wilting plants in a vase, but it seems to be such an elusive problem to solve when in the garden. I hear all the time “ but I AM watering”, or “I DID water”. I'm sure that's the case, but it just may not be enough, especially in times of drought like we had last summer. The trick is to look at the leaves. If they look at all droopy, they're drought stressed. If the edges look dry and brittle, chances are they're drought stressed. Water deeply once to twice a week. The best time to water is early in the morning when the dew is still on the plants. If you water deeply, about an inch or so, twice a week, you won't go wrong. I always get asked “How long do I have to water to get an inch of water?”. Every house is different, especially if you are on a well. My suggestion is to put a pie plate in your garden and time how long that takes to fill up. THAT is how long it takes to water. By watering deeply, you're teaching your plants to grow deep roots and search deeper in the ground where moisture is more likely to be, rather than on the surface where it's likely to evaporate faster.
Weeds. Let's face it, weeds are unsightly, problematic, and they can make the best garden look awful. Your best bet for weed control is a combination of a few things. First, mulch. You want approximately 3” of mulch in your garden. The best time to do this is in the spring. Personally, for my own garden and gardens that we maintain for our clients, we mulch every year. Between leaf removal and natural breaking down of mulch (which you want because it becomes compost, adding organic material to your garden), you lose an inch or two every year. It's always good to top-dress your mulch, and it looks great too! Lots of plants. If you like the cottage garden style, you're in luck. Cottage gardens not only combine colorful perennials, but they're FULL. The fuller your garden is with plants you want, the less room there is for weeds to even germinate. Hand weeding. Sorry, but this is the best way. Even if you put a chemical control in your garden, such as PREEN, there will still be weeds. The best time to weed is early in the morning when the ground is still damp. Weeds pull out better that way. If you hate to weed, call us, we'll be happy to weed for you!
Dog Vomit Slime Mold. Yes, you read correctly. No, I didn't make this up. There actually is a fungus which can appear seemingly overnight that's called dog vomit slime mold. The scientific name Fuglio septicai, is often seen in wood mulches, lawns, and even along the woodline. It truly looks like your dog, or your neighbor's dog – for lack of a better way to say it – lost its lunch. They're not really harmful to plants, but they are unappealing. There are several varieties, but all can be controlled by simply removing it. If you can, get a shovel and just skim along the base between it and the surface it's growing on, and toss it either in the woods if you have some, or in the trash. Like any other mold, it does have spores, so I try not to break it up.
Slugs. Slugs are common garden pests that sneak up on your garden, leave slime trails, and nibble on – or even devour – your plants. There are a few organic ways to control these pests. You can add crushed eggshells or diatomaceous earth to your garden. The sharp edges of both are problematic for soft-bodied slugs. You can also attract toads and birds to your property. They love to feast on slugs. What a win-win situation. Colorful, pretty birds that are not only entertaining to watch but can act as garden sentinels when it comes to slugs.
Harmful Insects. Harmful insects such as Japanese beetles or aphids are a nuisance and a problem for so many gardeners, both ornamental and edible. If you can stomach it, you can pluck Japanese beetles from your plants. Personally, I AM a gardener, but I loathe beetles, so this is definitely NOT an option for me. Try going after the grubs in the soil before they become beetles. Ladybugs and Lacewings are just two species of beneficial insects that you can either attract to your yard or buy online, to naturally control these pests in your garden. Again, horticultural oil is another great, all natural option to control insects. Be careful of all pesticides because even organic and all natural pesticides kills both harmful as well as beneficial insects. IMPORTANT! There is something called a “Tolerance Threshold”. A tolerance threshold is a certain volume of damage that's tolerable. If it's not decimating your plant, it should be left alone. Keep in mind, it's important to identify your pest. Caterpillars, which turn into beautiful butterflies, do need to eat. They won't defoliate your plant, but they will show a certain amount of “munching”. If you carefully ID the pest, you should be ok. If you're not certain if it's a harmful pest or not, you can contact us or your local horticultural extension center.