By B.J. Jarvis
Pasco Extension Horticulturist and Director
Summer heat seems to have settled in and gardens may be looking a little rough around the edges. There are a few simple things you can do to help your garden cope with the dog days of summer.
Mulch is a garden workhorse, providing numerous benefits. While it will help keep the soil cooler in the summer, it also insulates roots during the winter. Mulch also helps suppress weeds and those that do pop up are usually easier to pull. In addition to providing an overall finished look to the garden, mulch will decompose over time improving the typically poor, sandy soils in the area.
Mulch does a wonderful job of retaining available moisture. Reduce heat stress by applying a two to three-inch layer of mulch on the root ball. Mulch from wood chips or leaves/needles are better than rock or rubber. These materials can actually increase soil temperatures in summer and certainly don’t improve the soil.
Purchase an inexpensive rain gauge and install. This one act will help you know how much rain your plants have received. Always make sure automatic rain shut-off devices are functioning properly to avoid water waste and minimize the chances of fungus on lawns and ornamentals.
If you need a few new plants to liven up the garden, there are many that can really take the heat! Along with the faithful standbys of Vinca and Pentas, consider some of the newer hybrids.
–Angelonia’s purple, pink or white flowers can take full sun, has few pest problems and will survive a “normal” winter. If you have a green thumb, Angelonias are also easy to propagate from cuttings.
–Gaillardia, or blanket flower, is full of summer color. Hybridizing has produced some intense color combinations, usually in yellow and oranges. Some new introductions have unique ruffled flower petals and really dazzle in the garden.
–Bulbine is one hot “new” plant. This succulent, short-hand for a plant that prefers sun and needs little water, is a clumper reaching no more than about 18-inches tall yet covered with lots of yellow and orange flowers. Although graceful it is quite sturdy.
–If you like it hot, food that is, consider adding the edible ornamental pepper. Peppers are surprisingly durable in the hot summer sun, can have attractive foliage and have a spectacular display of bright orange, yellow and red fruit that lasts for weeks.
For more information about plants that perform in Florida, visit the University of Florida’s trial garden Web site, http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/floriculture/trialgardens/. It is loaded with pictures and results from several years of testing both winter and warmer weather plants.
-B.J. Jarvis is Horticulture Agent and Extension Director of the Pasco Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Florida and Pasco County government. She can be reached at .
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