Virginia Landmarks
December 2, 1998
Fairlington Historic District
Gardening By The Yard
National Register
March 29, 1999

Photo by Guy L. Adams
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener

Questions and comments can be directed to - please reference:
"Gardening By the Yard Column."

Midsummer Gardening Tips
(August-September, 2007)
(Posted July 24, 2007)


If you have been watering regularly, by now your plants have developed good root systems. To keep them healthy you need to water deeply until the advent of cooler weather.

It is best to soak the soil, not just to sprinkle or mist it. Try to keep water off of the leaves as this can cause disease. The rule of thumb is to water in the morning hours so the plants are hydrated during the heat of the day; but if the only time you can water is in the evening, do so.

It is especially important to keep the leaves dry during evening watering as fungi and other diseases can develop in the evening cool.

Container plants are more than likely root bound by now. If your plant looks wilted even after watering, it is probably due to the thick root mass which the water can't penetrate. You can try removing the plant from the container and gently loosening the soil so there is space for water.

Mix in some fresh soil. When you "disturb" the root system, you need to prune the tops a bit to compensate for any root loss or damage.

If the container plant is "beyond the pale", just discard it and replant with new plants; these will grow well into the fall.

Container plants need a weekly supply of weak liquid fertilizer, such as Miracle Grow or Peters Plant Food to keep them healthy.

Consider turning under your old much before watering. Some mulches harden and prevent water penetration. Turning the mulch under now not only enriches the soil with organic matter but also means water will go directly to the plants' roots. Once you have thoroughly watered or after a good, soaking rain, you can supply new mulch to retain the moisture.

Deadheading and Pruning

The hot dry season has left the garden looking stressed! One way to promote plant growth and garden tidiness is regular deadheading (removing the dead blossoms). Most summer annuals require deadheading for repeat bloom. Begonias and impatiens are two exceptions as they do not require deadheading.

Revive struggling petunias, marigolds, salvias, and other summer annuals by removing a third of the growth, fertilizing with a good organic fertilizer (water it in well), and watch the plants revive to produce flowers well into the fall.

Continue to prune annuals and perennials to shape them and to promote branching and fullness.

Removing the tops of coleus, for example, to a set of leaves makes the plant sprout new growth at the cut producing a bushier plant which is less likely to be damaged during summer storms. Deadheading summer phlox will produce a second, albeit less prolific, blossoming.

For the sake of tidiness, remove dead and wilting stems to the ground. Removing the spent flowers of hosta and daylilies keeps the garden tidy. If you have a medium size crape myrtle, removing the flowers upon fading will cause repeat blooms.

If you need to shape your hydrangeas, do so immediately after flowering. Removing some of the old stems to the ground will promote new growth which will have time to "harden off" before winter.

Disease and Insects

Plants stressed from the heat are susceptible to disease and insect damage. Check for aphids, mites, Japanese beetles, etc. and other diseases. Treat with the least toxic product you can find. Most nurseries are willing to recommend the right remedy for the problem.

Click on Photo for Larger Image
Click on Photo for Larger Image

Drought and Trees

You have probably noticed that some trees have begun to drop leaves. This is a mechanism to protect them from the dry conditions and is not indicative of a disease or insect problem. Given the choice of watering trees and shrubs or grass, opt to water the trees and shrubs. Grass goes dormant during dry spells and revives during periods of rain. Large trees and shrubs, however, will succumb in the drought conditions.

Any recently planted trees and shrubs (planted within two years) cannot cope with this dry spell and need a minimum of 10 gallons of water a week to survive. Be certain to soak the soil completely as light topical watering encourages roots to grow to the surface; this condition means a weakened tree or shrub because it does not developed a deep root system.

Drought Tolerant Plants

With the seemingly changing climate and growing conditions in this area, look for plants which are thriving in the heat and drought and "borrow" them for your garden. Some plants, due to leaf texture and structure, are more equipped to handle dry weather. Once drought tolerant plants are established and well mulched they can survive lengthy dry spells.

The borders at Green Springs Park (just off route 236 beyond the Salvation Army store) will inspire you with plants that can take the heat.

Most herbs can tolerate hot, dry conditions. Lavender and Rosemary like the current summer conditions. Some Thyme also tolerate limited water. Herbs are not only excellent additions to your recipes, but also provide fragrance, color, and texture in the garden border.

Many superstitions and folk tales have grown up around herbs. Elizabethans thought that Rosemary, placed on a pillow, prevented bad dreams!

Rosemary has also been shown to stimulate memory. Rubbed on the head, it was thought to prevent baldness - how's that for "herbal essence"?

Lavender was thought to enable one to see spirits; it was also used as a means to prevent fleas!

Summer Fare

If you have plentiful basil in your patio garden and can find some tasty tomatoes from a local farmers' market, you will want to try P. Allen Smith's recipe for "Chopped Tomato and Basil Sauce".


  • 4 medium, ripe tomatoes
  • cup olive oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • cup chopped fresh basil
  • teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon hot red pepper flakes


  • Remove and discard the tomato cores, and coarsely chop them.
    Add olive oil, garlic, basil, salt and red pepper flakes to the tomatoes. Stir well.
    Cover and let set for a few hours to combine flavors.

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