Gardening: Water, mulching are biggest factors in summer gardening success

You can still plant container-grown vegetables, trees and flowers and they will transplant and do well if you are responsible with your watering.
BY RODD MOESEL Published: June 22, 2013
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Summer was a little late to arrive this year, but it looks like it has now landed in Oklahoma.

Most plants can still grow and prosper even when it is hot if they are properly hydrated or watered. Water and mulching are the biggest factors or the secrets to summer gardening success in Oklahoma. Water is the most important element — the lifeblood for all living things — and the need is greatest in the summertime, whether it be for humans, plants or animals.

Plants are particularly vulnerable to the hot, dry summer as they can't get up and move inside the house or a barn or even the comforting cool shade of a tree. Plants confront the hot, dry, windy summer conditions where they are planted whether they are a wheat plant in the middle of a wide-open field, a geranium in your big urn on the front porch, a tomato in the vegetable garden or Bermuda grass in the middle of your lawn.

We have been blessed to receive regular rains most of this growing season so that our plants were hydrated without our hardly lifting a finger until last week. A week of everyday in the upper 90s quickly dries out the topsoil and starts to dehydrate our plants without a little water from their gardening humans.

Every time a plant gets heavily stressed with too little or too much water or some other extreme stress, it “stunts” the plant a little or interferes with its natural growth momentum even if it is not enough to kill or even heavily damage the plant. Our goal is to provide a happy medium rather than extremes for our plants.

There are some “daredevil” plants that thrive on extremes, just like a few humans, but most do best when the conditions are more even or consistent.

We can help moderate the summer environment in our garden or yard by adding organic matter to the ground to improve drainage, aeration and microbial activity in the soil. We can moderate the soil temperature, dramatically reduce weed competition and reduce watering by mulching the top of the soil. This makes a “mulch comforter” of 1 to 3 inches to cool the soil and reduce surface evaporation and reduce the high levels of summer light bouncing or cooking back up into the plant canopy.