Tips for Keeping Your Landscape Fresh in the Dog Days of Summer

Climate change or not, this summer has been a challenge for any gardener.

With the heat and heavy rains, most of our landscapes look overgrown and tired.

We turned to two local landscape experts for their advice on how to keep your garden not just growing, but glowing this August.

For starters, both Anne Flannery, landscape architect and owner of The Beaded Garden, and Drew Johnson, landscape architect with Rocco Fiore & Sons, stress that gardening is an art, not a science. So nature will always dictate flexibility with these guidelines.

Keep Your Pots Pretty

  • Continue fertilizing annuals on a regular schedule
  • Dead-head spent flowers for continued flowering
  • Cut back leggy plants and overgrown plants
  • Replace annuals that just don’t work anymore (most garden shops still have annuals, now at deep discounts).

General Maintenance

  • Fight the disease caused by heat and moisture by removing spent flowers and old leaves, as well as any excess growth that may cause poor air circulation
  • Purchase cages or stakes to support taller plant material and keep them from leaning or laying on top of smaller plants
  • Identify your pests (bring a bug or affected foliage to your local nursery) and find the proper pest control treatment. Many nurseries now offer eco-friendly pest and disease treatments that can be used in your vegetable garden as well
  • Weed, weed, weed. Remember, to pull them before they flower to keep them from multiplying
  • DON’T fertilize perennials, shrubs or trees. By mid- to late-August, most are beginning their preparation for winter

Know When to Water
Despite the July drought, the Chicago area has had enough consistent precipitation to help out in the watering department. As trees, shrubs and perennials prepare for winter, they also need less water.

  • Buy a rain gauge to determine if your landscape needs water
  • DON’T water for a couple of days if it fills up to 1”
  • Use your rain gauge while you’re sprinkling. Take note of how long you need to water for the gauge to fill up to 1”, and stick to that time in the future
  • Water pots and annuals daily when it’s hot to keep flowers looking fresh and not droopy

Turf Considerations

  • Cut your grass as needed, and make sure not to cut it too short or it will burn. Johnson adds that cutting on very hot or sunny days when your turf is very dry can cause wheel stripping
  • Water grass early in the morning. And keep an eye out for any fungus or insect problems.
  • Turn on the sprinkler every three days instead of every day. This encourages a stronger root system, and you’re conserving unnecessary waste as well (both in water and cash).

Plan Ahead
Now that everything is in full growth mode, there’s no better time to take note of what’s working and what needs help for next year. This applies particularly to perennials and annuals. Flannery suggests walking around your yard to see what foliage works well and what colors you like. Then write down what you don’t like and what colors you need to balance your garden.

Taking photos will also help when it comes to locating spring and summer flowering bulbs. Whether you buy them or pass the job to your landscaper, this is the time to fill in the blanks.

And don’t forget your shrubs and trees. While pruning has to wait until they are dormant for the winter, August is a great month to decide which trees and shrubs need work come winter.