Whether you’re an avid gardener or simply enjoy a well-manicured backyard, come August our gardens can use some TLC. Between weeds, the strong summer sun or lack of maintenance during vacation, it may be time for a spruce up. To help guide you on your plan of action, we spoke with the experts at Hicks Nurseries in Westbury for their best tips for bringing a late summer garden back to life.
One of the most common problems is, of course, weeds. “Even great gardeners get weeds,” says Hicks Nurseries’ Alison Caldwell, buyer and lifelong gardener. “The trick is to weed thoroughly in the spring, that way you nip it in the bud. However, if you notice weeds popping up later in the summer, pull them out and if you haven’t done so already, add a landscape fabric with a two- to three-inch layer of mulch on top. You can also then add a chemical preventative such as Preen for extra insurance.”
Another bonus of using mulch? It keeps moisture in the soil (less watering) and it gives your garden beds a nice manicured finish. And what if your colored mulch starts to fade? Simply add a bit more, says Caldwell. “A good layer of mulch should last one or two seasons, so while it’s not necessary to add more later in the season, cosmetically, it’s fine to do so. Like fabric, colored mulch can fade over time. That doesn’t mean it’s not doing its job. To give your beds a freshening up, it’s fine to give them a top dress.”
Now that you have your weeds under control, one of the next important care tips to remember is proper watering, especially if you are planning on going on vacation. “I recommend switching up your water plan a few weeks before,” says Doug Ackerly, vice president of operations at Hicks Nurseries. “Start to water less frequently, but double the length of time. That will give your lawn and flowers a deeper and heavier amount of water. It’s best to do this twice a week.”
Ackerly explains that roots are six to 18 inches deep so a quick watering only reaches the top few inches of root. It’s important the water reaches the entire root in order for your garden to thrive.
Of course, you can always turn to technology for a boost as well. “Our customers are really fond of water timers too,” Ackerly says. “They hitch up to your hose faucet and you can set them for as long and often as need. It’s a nice way to set the plan for yourself so you don’t need to worry while you’re away.”
So what about the decorative aspect of your garden? According to Ackerly, while many Long Islanders love the idea of cultivating a garden, he’s noticed a trend in “decorative” gardeners over the last decade.
“Gardening has definitely changed,” he says. “We now see lots of customers coming in looking to decorate, rather than garden. They are looking for instant gratification. For example, we sell lots of bigger and taller plants for summer and early fall parties. It’s an instant garden, an instant way to perk up the look of your home.”
Punchy colors are one way to pump up the appeal of your backyard and there’s no better way than to add a few bold-colored flowers. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if the variety you choose enjoys the hot summer weather.
For this reason, Caldwell prefers bringing in perennials or what she likes to call “meadow” or “prairie” plants, which are the best for hot weather. “Think about it,” she says, “If they’re found out in nature, you know they’re meant to strive in the hot summer.
Daylilies, coneflowers and daisies are some of my favorites. They will bloom beautifully throughout the summer because they love full sun and are wonderfully disease resistant.”
For a tropical punch of color, consider hardy plants like hibiscus or lantanas. They bring in loads of color and add a tropical summer feel, as well as hold up to the heat of late summer.
“Annuals, such as geraniums are also a popular choice this time of year,” says Ackerly. “They love the full sun and are bright, happy and colorful. One new variety that has been a huge success is the caliente—appropriately named! It has wonderful color and blooms amazingly, one of the best many of our longtime buyers have seen.”
For a quick and easy fix, Caldwell suggests buying a combination of flowers in a hanging basket. “You can take off the hanger, and replant it right into a decorative planter; it’s an easy drop-in solution.”
Speaking of planters Ackerly notes their popularity has taken off over the last few years as well. “Right now glazed pottery is really popular,” he says. “The colors that are available just brighten up a yard or patio instantly. Plus, the variety lends itself to coordinate with homeowners’ existing outdoor cushions or shutters. Again, it’s all about decorating.”
Finally, while you may be focused on creating a beautiful garden this summer, Ackerly recommends keeping the next season in mind as well. “It’s not too early to think about fall,” he says. “You might be focused on summer appeal, but think about how to extend that into the fall.”
A favorite tip? Go for potted ornamental grasses to add height and interest to a garden. For now, plant some colorful geraniums in the center and once those die out, come fall you can replace them with mums or cabbage (even evergreens in the early winter) and the ornamental grass still looks relevant and beautiful.