Dealing with hot dry weather
by Ronella Stager, Columnist
Aug 08, 2012 | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
During this exceptionally hot, dry weather, about the only thing we can do is just to water a lot and try to keep the perennials alive. The short rooted annuals are not going to survive for long. This is all a part of the joys of gardening. You win some and lose some. I am remembering the gamble of the river bottom farmers who grew corn along the Cumberland River. My father said that you must expect to lose one crop of corn every seven years. This was before the dams were built to control the flooding.

If you have a wide variety of perennials, you will have noticed that some of them seem to be thriving in the dry hot weather. Some that come to mind are the sedums, yarrows, Russian sage and many others.

Sadly I am losing a beautiful crape myrtle that I planted about 8 years ago and also my large redbud is dead. Boxwood and Nandinas in the foundation planting are doing very well without watering.

I notice an especially beautiful crape myrtle in beds now. It is a dwarf true red and is in full bloom. It is a true dwarf which should not get any taller than five feet or less. It would be a good addition to any perennial bed. In fact, it would be a good center plant. I have two white crape myrtles that I bought in Georgia about 25 years ago and they have grown to at least 30 or 40 feet tall and are a solid mass of white now. They really are putting on a show this summer.

Since the popular crape myrtle is at its glory now, it is a good time to restate some facts about this glorious shrub. First, it comes in three heights, the largest growing to 20 feet or more. They are subject to mildew so it’s a good thing to watch for it. One way to prevent mildew is to cut the branches to four or five and then cut out some of the cross branches, giving more air circulation. Also, if you spot mildew, spray with a fungicide all over, and under the leaves. Do this every two weeks or so for the rest of summer. Crape myrtle, like any other flowering shrub, needs fertilizer. Use 5-10-5 fertilizer. Remember the middle number is phosphate and needs to be a high number for blooming plants. The first number is nitrogen and the last number is potash. Crape myrtle should always be free of grass and mulched as any other flowering shrub. And never, never put the same fertilizer on your flowering shrubs that you use on your lawn. If you do, they won’t bloom at all.

This is old advice but bears repeating. If you want to mulch around your flowering shrubs and don’t want to dig out grass, there is a method just for you. Put several, as many as eight, layers of wet newspaper around the shrub in the shape you want the mulch. Use about two inches of mulch and leave a few inches around the stem or trunk without newspaper so water will get to the plant. This is the same method for planning a flower bed for next spring and don’t want the work of digging it out. Lay the wet newspaper, add the mulch and let it stand till spring. Then the soil will be soft and easy to dig in to plant and all grass and weeds will be dead. In fact, you may just want to dig a hole for a plant and leave the rest of the paper and mulch alone.

I have recently put a bird feeder on the railing to my ramp at the front of my house so I can watch the birds. It has been so much pleasure and a bit educational. I have been seeing a little bird with what appears to be two horns. It is very slim with a long narrow tail and a rusty looking breast and brownish gray body with a little black on his breast. My biologist grandson in California identified it for me from my description. It is a Horned Lark. I am becoming an avid bird watcher. For my convenience I put a baking pan of water beneath the feeder and it also suits the birds. As in all things, there is a problem. Some squirrel, or maybe more, are also feeding and drinking for free. I like the squirrels and usually feed them corn but wild bird seed is a bit expensive for squirrels since they consume a lot. Oh, well, a minor problem.

I need to add one bit of information which I left out of the wood chip method of gardening. The bottom layers of wood chips decay and become humus in a short time so the roots of your vegetables are going down through the top layer of wood chips to the bottom layer of rich soil. That bottom layer stays damp most of the time. After a big rain, you can go immediately into the garden with no mud on your shoes. I hope you took the time to watch the movie of this method of gardening even if you want to try it on a small scale.

Please feel free to call me with questions or suggestions at 270-522-3632. If you want one of my books, please send a check for $13.50 to Ronella Stagner, 137 Main St., Cadiz, KY 42211.
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