PRAIRIE GARDENER: Long, hot summer may be in the offing
Some gardeners have called this the year without winter. After one of the mildest winters on record since 1910, the summer is shaping up to be one that will be hot and long. According to the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration, the predict...
Some gardeners have called this the year without winter. After one of the mildest winters on record since 1910, the summer is shaping up to be one that will be hot and long. According to the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration, the prediction for June through August calls for warmer than normal weather for about three-quarters of the nation. This would include our region.
While rainfall amounts weren't included in the prediction, based on what has happened last winter and this spring, we could well have dry conditions. So far, records have been broken frequently. The period, May 2011 until April, was the hottest 12-month period for the nation. Records go back to 1895. So far, we have endured these records: Hottest March, the third hottest April and the fourth warmest January and February in U.S. weather history.
One of the reasons for the heat is that much of the country's soil is already unusually dry. As a result, the sun doesn't have to use as much energy evaporating water in the soil and instead, heats up the air near the soil surface even more.
Typically, this region has ample moisture to germinate seeds and get crops off the ground. After usual abundant spring moisture in May and early June, we typically experience dry soil conditions in July and August before rains return in September. That scenario may not hold true this year with the dry spell beginning earlier and continuing well into autumn.
Gardeners can combat the possible dry conditions with watering and mulching. During the dry 1980s, we underwent similar dry conditions and watering became the norm for maintaining a good lawn and garden. Since the wet cycle began in 1993, we haven't had to water as much and, in many cases, not at all.
Most landscape plants, lawns and gardens require about an inch of moisture every week, either through rain or irrigation. If you aren't sure how long it takes your sprinkler to provide that amount, measure the flow by placing pie tins or tuna cans in your lawn or garden to capture the water. This practice will indicate if you have too little or too much water.
Watering is best done when temperatures are coolest either in early morning or during the twilight hours. During the heat of the day, much of the water will be evaporated. If you water your garden or lawn at twilight the water won't evaporate as quickly. This practice allows the lawn to hold more water. However, some plants are prone to blight or mildew, so in those cases a morning watering would be better. Tomatoes are especially tricky, so it is best to water them at the base with trickle hose. This keeps the water away from the foliage and splashed less contaminated mud onto the plants, introducing blight.
Apply organic mulch on your landscape beds to help cool the soil and conserve the water available. Fine mulch, such as compost, works great for annuals, perennials and vegetables. Use coarser mulches, such as chipped wood, for landscape beds and around the base of trees. Always leave space between the mulch and the stems or trunks of the trees or shrubs.
Annual plants in container gardens are heavy feeders because they are watered frequently. Keep these plants robust by alternating feedings with granular and liquid fertilizers. Granular fertilizer slowly releases its nutrients while the liquid gives the plants a quick boost. Plants that produce a lot of flowers, such as petunias, need to be fed more than other plants. Fertilize them every 10 days.
If you have the "topsy turvy" tomato plants, be sure to water frequently during the growing season. In extreme heat, you may have to water twice or even three times per day. Due to frequent watering, you also will have to apply fertilizer more often.
If you want to garden, but you don't have any space, there is hope. Consider planting in containers. Containers are mobile and you can place them on a patio, steps or even window boxes. Care required is minimal and older or disabled people easily can tend these small gardens that can bring such delight.
If you are planning to plant a container garden this year, there still is plenty of time. There are plenty of plants available, as well as seed. You actually have until mid-June to get the planting completed and still harvest a crop of veggies.
Here are some container gardening tips:
• Be sure your container has drainage holes so excess water can be drained. You don't want it pooling in the container, damaging the roots. If you want to grow big vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers or eggplant, you should use a larger container such as a 5-gallon pot or pail. Smaller pots can be used for lettuce, radishes, green onions and herbs. Add potting soil, not soil from your yard. Potting mixes are lighter than our heavy clay soils in the Red River Valley.
• Find a sunny spot for your container. If your plants aren't doing well in the spot you first picked, move the container to a better place. You also can move the pots to catch the morning and early afternoon sun before moving them away to a shady spot when the late afternoon sun really beats down.
• Containers need to be watered more frequently as well as having fertilizer applied. When watering, add enough so you will see it leaking out the bottom. Morning watering is best so the leaves will dry before it gets sizzling hot. Pull weeds and thin plantings, so they will have room to spread out. Begin small and add to your container gardening operation each year. Soon, you will have a Garden of Eden right in the back yard or on your patio.
The weekly gardening show, featuring the Prairie Gardener answering listener's questions, will not be returning to the airwaves this spring. The show completed 11 years on the air in 2011. The hourlong show was offered on weekday afternoons over KNOX Radio 1310 (AM) during the growing season. Special thanks to all the listeners who called in during the show's many years, as well as to the KNOX staff who made the show such a delight. You will all be missed. Happy gardening!
Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008.