A midsummer gardener’s checklist

Gardening tasks for midsummer include (clockwise from top left): making decisions about grub control, plant second crops of some vegetables, monitoring all plants for pests and deadheading annual and perennial flowers.
Gardening tasks for midsummer include (clockwise from top left): making decisions about grub control, plant second crops of some vegetables, monitoring all plants for pests and deadheading annual and perennial flowers.

The summer solstice came early this year according to the meteorological forecaster, on June 20th instead of June 21st. But any Will County gardener knows that Mother Nature has been bringing us summer temperatures weeks, even arguably, months ahead of schedule this year.

I have marveled at the speed of the cycle of bloom this year. Mother’s Day flowers like lilac and saucer magnolia were almost done blooming by the end of April. And last week, I stopped my car (safely) just to confirm what I thought what I was seeing was correct. Rose of Sharon, the heirloom shrub that usually starts to put on her glorious late-summer flowers in August, about the time the kids return to school, was indeed blooming in someone’s yard, the third week of June. But Mother Nature waits for no one.

Besides marveling and wondering about this speedy summer, there are some tasks that the week after the Fourth of July holiday that gardeners need to attend to. I know the old phrase is “no rest for the wicked” (which often applies to me), but I prefer the to think for anyone that gardens or farms the phrase should be “no rest for the best.”

Nature is calling us every day. So, this week after the Fourth, it’s time to make a list and check it twice for these midsummer garden tasks.

First up, it is time to consider — not necessarily do something — about turfgrass grub control. Turfgrass grub damage occurs later in the summer, when homeowners might start seeing irregular, small, brown patches in their lawns, that start expanding.

The cause of this browning can be numerous. Before assuming the cause is grubs, do these “turf tests” to find the reason before you start purchasing treatments for something you don’t have nor need.

Our turfgrass grubs are the babies of beetles, including June bugs, Japanese beetles, masked white chafers and annual grub adult. In our area these beetles lay their eggs in late June. The eggs are impenetrable to chemicals, so treating in spring or early summer with season-long grub control is not recommended.

The test is grabbing the brown turf and pulling — if it rolls up like a throw rug, you have grubs. Even if you don’t see them, because on hot days they migrate deeper into the soil during the day to escape the heat. But rest assured, if there are no roots on your turf, you have grubs.

If the grass doesn’t roll back, the causes could be common midsummer fungal disorders of turf called patch disease, or if we haven’t had any rain, it could simply be showing signs of drought.

If you do have grubs and choose to do nothing, you can lose large portions of your turf, and it will not return on its own. Deciding on grub treatment is twofold — and it is kind of a guessing game because the season long treatment for grubs, in products like Grubex or GrubBGon need to be applied now, a few weeks before the grubs hatch out. The week of or after July Fourth is the ideal application time for these products.

The other option is called a rescue treatment. There are short acting products, like Dylox, that can be spot treatments for active grub damage. Many gardeners opt to wait to see if they have grubs and treat them then in spots instead of treating preventively and applying chemicals to their whole lawn annually. The choice is yours.

Another summer task is planting seeds. Yes, you read that right, mid-summer is the time to think about fall crops. In the next couple of weeks, if your green beans have already given you their best, you can add a few more rows to keep you in beans till frost. If you have been harvesting your root crops, now is the time to reseed your carrots and beets. Just be sure to remember to keep watering them for good germination.
If you want to plant fall lettuce and greens crops, hold off a bit until the weather cools, because those cool season crops like lettuce, greens, broccoli and cauliflower don’t germinate well in heat and tend to bolt (go to seed) instead of producing quality harvest.

If you want more of these crops that excel in the cooler months of late fall, you can wait to seed directly or better yet, start some new seedling indoors, to put out later.

One of the most important midsummer tasks is tidying up your annual flowers who may have been getting long and leggy. Don’t hesitate to clip back with the same chop your mom used to “trim” your bangs in the ‘60s. You can cut back a third or half of annuals that have become leggy. Petunias particularly benefit from this practice.

Deadheading your flowers, especially annuals, but also perennials, is important in midsummer. This involves removing spent blossoms either with a nice sharp thumbnail, one of a gardener’s best free tools, or using scissors to remove just the spent blossoms.

There are many “self-cleaning” annual flowers now, No, they don’t come in and do dishes and vacuum, but they clean off their own blossoms quickly after flowering. These include plants like impatiens and profusion zinnias.

Most other flowers are trying to keep those spent blossoms because they house their seeds. And the goal of nature is always to make more of themselves. Now if you plan to save seeds, which is a later-season activity, there will come a point where you will stop deadheading and let the plants focus on maturing their seeds.

You also stop deadheading late in the season on perennials, like coneflower, if you want to feed the birds naturally by leaving the seedheads. Some perennials, like the powder blue catmint planted in front of the Farm Bureau, benefits by one or two times deadheading, because that is one perennial that can offer a few seasons of bloom.

Finally do a little detective work, midsummer. In agriculture, it is called field scouting. While you are out enjoying the bounty of your gardens, look closely for any signs of something isn’t quite right. If you have leaves that have spots, clip them off. If you see insects, first find out of if they are doing anything negative enough that warrants treatment.

And if you don’t know, remember, that is what I and the Extension are here for — to help educate you on what is causing any problem, and the range of options if control is warranted.

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