A Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener shares some tips
South Charlotte resident Margaret Genkins is a garden enthusiast. Her two-acre home site is garden-tour worthy. In 2009, she took her gardening hobby a step further and completed the Extension Master Gardener Program through the N.C. Cooperative Extension. The certification required 40 hours of coursework and a 40-hour internship. But now she can give back to her community by sharing her gardening knowledge with others. She talked with us about the dos and don'ts of watering your plants and yard this summer.
Do: Water early. The best time to water is between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. When you water during the heat of the day, you lose water immediately to evaporation. Many people like to water when they get home from work in the evenings, Genkins says, but that time isn't ideal. This time of year, nighttime temperatures often stay at 75 degrees or above. If warm water stays on a plant's leaves overnight, it provides an opportunity for fungus and disease to develop.
Don't: Apply fertilizer. Many plants, especially ornamentals, go dormant in the summertime to handle the stress of hotter, drier conditions. Genkins's lawn is a fescue blend, which is common in this area, and it should not be fertilized after mid-March. Some hot-weather grasses, such as Bermuda, can continue growing in hotter months, though. For further instructions about fertilizing different types of turf grass, check out N.C. State University's TurfFiles.
Do: Use Mulch. Mulching protects the soil and helps retain moisture. It also helps prevent weeds, which compete with plants for water and nutrients. Genkins has mulch around all of her big trees and open areas. For general use, she prefers hardwood mulch. This year, she decided to put mulch in her pots as well. For this purpose, she used pine fines. Also known as soil conditioner, pine fines are finely ground bits of pine mulch. For raised-bed vegetable gardens, she suggests a good layer of mushroom compost.
Don't: Water in short spurts. Giving plants a good soaking a couple of times a week is better than a short spinkling each day. Brief watering establishes shallow root systems, which are more likely to suffer from drought later on. Genkins has an extensive irrigation system that she runs in her beds twice a week and her turf once a week. If you don't have an irrigation system, soaker hoses are inexpensive options. Potted plants are an exception, though. Due to their container planting, they are more susceptible to evaporation and will likely need to be watered every day in the heat of the summer.
Do: Adjust amounts according to rainfall. Soil should be kept moist about six inches to eight inches deep, which requires about one inch of combined rainfall and applied watering every week. Use a rain gauge to see how much you need to supplement each week. If you have an irrigation system with automatic timers, be sure to adjust it, too.
While you're keeping your plants healthy, make sure to look after your own health. Check out Genkins's tips here on human safety as well as plant safety in the summer. To learn more about the Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener program, click here.