Our Do’s and Don’ts List for Summer Gardening

I can now report on my first “Garden Anniversary” that a little fear is still there...

It was about this time last year that I found myself in my local hardware store, staring at a wall of seeds, completely overwhelmed at the thought of starting a garden. I was anxious, to say the least. What if nothing grows? Did I buy the right fertilizer? I can now report on my first “Garden Anniversary” that a little fear is still there, but I am far more ambitious and excited to see what this summer has in store for me and my garden.

I still consider myself a beginner, but I learn something new every day, and I am ready to tackle the summer season.

My Do’s and Don’ts List for Summer

Do buy quality organic fertilizer.

Last year I was worried that budgets could get out of hand, so I tried to skimp on some less-than-stellar organic fertilizer. This year, I am going to find some excellent chicken fertilizer as well as some high-quality worm castings to add to my organically composted soil to ensure we start the summer off on a strong soil note.

Don’t buy the overpriced fancy hoses.

I am not sure why, but this past year I went through seven garden hoses. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to take a bucket to a faucet to water the plants, with a nearby leaking hose mocking you. Unfortunately, I was of the mind that I must not be buying good-enough hoses. Each time one broke, I would purchase a more-expensive one (because if it’s more money, then it must be better quality, right?) but the rips and leaks were occurring more often. And then I figured out it had nothing to do with the price tag and everything to do with the poor care I was giving them: not putting it away correctly, prolonged sun exposure and lots of dragging around by my little ones. Once all that was corrected, we could return to a more affordable, middle-of-the-road hose that promises long life and low leaks.

Do get to know your climate zone.

I reside in climate zone 10, which is known for its great temperatures and year-round planting opportunities, but we still get frost and high-heat waves. The more you track past temperature patterns or read about plant compatibility to your temperature zone, the sooner you can prepare your plants for shade, irrigation regularity and fertilizing schedules. 

tomato plant and marigold summer gardeningDon’t sow plants next to each other if they don’t get along.

Something I did not know this time last year was not all plants like each other. Think back to your high-school lunch days. Cheerleaders sat with the jocks, the cool artsy kids hung out with the musicians, and so on… Now, I don’t love to use stereotypes, but when it comes to plants, this theory holds true. Certain plants love other plants because of their high (or low) compatibility based on their genetic makeup. They can either thrive or fail in the presence of others. Don’t make a mistake putting vine plants in with rooted plants like potatoes. It’s all about finding their friends and having them sit together at lunch! [An excellent companion planting guide can be found at almanac.com.]

Don’t let your fruit and veggies rot.

One thing I plan to focus on this summer is harvesting at the opportune times. Last summer, I experienced one too many mushy cucumbers and too many fruits falling from trees to the ground. It’s such a waste, and I want to spend more time harvesting and utilizing the fruits of my labor—on our plates!

Don’t combat pests and critters with poison or chemicals.

Nothing rattles my cage more than hearing little mice running around our garden at night. And I certainly hate aphids and ants destroying my favorite artichoke plants, but for me, chemicals and poisons aren’t the answer. This summer, I have a new secret weapon, and her name is Princess Smokey Mullin (yes, my 6-year-old daughter named her) and she is our trusty feral barn cat. We rescued her with the help of Love Your Feral Cats, a nonprofit in San Diego that re-homes semi-feral and feral cats. I have noticed that she has been doing her job very well and there are fewer mice and gophers in our garden. I could do without the dead mice gifts that she leaves me as a token of her affection, but such is love. In addition to my favorite feral friend, I plan on planting mint around the perimeter of our yard because it’s an effective natural pest deterrent. Also, I’ll be using natural home-remedy sprays like white vinegar and neem oil for aphids and ants.

Do try trellises and upcycled decor.

As a budget-conscious mom, nothing gives me more pleasure than not having to run to the store and spend more money! For that reason, I love looking through Pinterest for fun and beautiful solutions for garden inspiration. I plan on trying two different DIY ideas this summer in the garden. First, the kids and I are going to try a trellis arch from some leftover rabbit fence sitting nearby. Second, we want to try some fun, interchangeable in-ground planters (you can literally use the plastic pots the plants originally come in) so potted plants can easily be swapped out from season to season.

Do prune.

Summer is the best time to trim back diseased limbs and branches on fruit trees while still pruning and tidying garden plants like tomatoes and herbs. Pruning is an art that I have not mastered by any means, but I find it very relaxing and rewarding, especially when I discover that the plant continues to flourish from the new trim. I tell my family that Saturdays are our bonding time to turn up the outdoor rock speakers to our favorite station and groom our vegetables.

Doan open-air compost heap in a wooden container with wheelbarrow summer gardening increase your compost.

There is no better time to take advantage of nature’s best summer season gift: the heat! The warm weather and a compact compost pile create a perfect storm to break down your organic matter and preserve its nutrients for your future soil. I’ve been using a cheap and easy black compost barrel, but you can bury your compost or pile it in the sun to achieve similar effects.

Don’t transfer last year’s mistakes to the current season.

I don’t know why it never occurred to me before, but cleaning and disinfecting tools and trellises were never on my radar…until I took them out of storage and saw the rusted dirt build up. Yikes! I definitely didn’t want that around my food, so I decided to deep clean any tools, cages and planters from previous seasons. Be gone diseases and problems from the garden past, and hello, fresh starts and new crops!


Categories: Gardening