Early Summer Gardening Checklist

Summer Gardening Checklist

Photo by oatsy40 on Flickr.

Now that the summer solstice has officially passed, a full season of summer gardening is upon us! The days are hot, long, and wet, and there is much you can do to make the most of these fertile conditions. You’ve probably already done a lot of preparation for your summer garden, but, as all gardeners know, the labor of planning and planting and maintaining a healthy backyard ecosystem is never really done. Here are some “official start of summer” gardening tips to give you an idea of how to prep for the busy and beautiful months ahead:

Hydrate

Though we’ve been getting a healthy amount of rain as of late, southern summers are not devoid of the occasional dry spell. On particularly hot and humid days, water evaporates rapidly and your plants will need regular waterings to make up for lost moisture. Be sure to water the roots of your plants and avoid overwatering–you may want to wait and see if that afternoon thunderstorm comes to fruition before planning an extra watering session. Overwatered plants can become misshapen, mushy, and discolored.

Weed Often

Your plants are taking advantage of these long, hot days by trying to soak up as much sunlight and nutrients as possible. They shouldn’t have to compete with weeds and other invasive plant life. For your plants to thrive, regular weeding is a necessary summer labor. Pull weeds out by the roots to ensure they won’t come back.

Harvest Cool Season Crops

Some crops you planted during the spring are now ready to be harvested and enjoyed! Broccoli, peas, cauliflower, and lettuce can all be harvested. In a couple weeks, biennials like carrots and collard greens should also be ready to harvest. Keep checking up on growing plants, inspecting for signs of pests and disease. There are many critters about eager to get into summer gardens. Be sure to have some kind of defense against hungry animals, such as foul-tasting pellets or a wire fence.

Support Warm Season Crops

Your warm season crops should already be showing considerable progress. You should be checking them regularly for insect bites, discoloration, or other problems. You can apply a fresh layer of fertilizer on most warm season crops this time of year. If you’re growing tomatoes, stake them up.

Keep Plants Cool

Sweltering summer days can scorch plants and cause irreparable damage. To keep plants cool, apply a fresh layer of mulch over roots. Mulch can help regulate ground temperature and protect your plants from temperature extremes.

Fireflies: Harbingers of Summer

In Southwest Virginia, summer is ushered in by the arrival of fireflies. As the days lengthen and become warmer, twilight is set aglow by the firefly’s lulling lightshow. The bugs are a well-loved sight for most Virginians, for they call to mind a magical point in the year: the in-between of spring and summer, when balmy temps and the lush green mountains are still novel, exciting, and filled with the promise of a burgeoning season ahead. To commemorate the beginning of firefly season, we thought we’d share some facts about these small but delightful creatures.

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Creating the Perfect Backyard Party Spot

The official start of summer is hovering closer and closer. June’s days are increasingly long, hot, and filled with the promise of outdoor fun. It would be a shame to let this gorgeous weather go to waste by not utilizing hardscapes, patios, and decks to their fullest potential. You probably spent a healthy chunk of change turning your backyard into the perfect warm weather entertainment spot, and now is the perfect time to spruce it up for barbeques, cookouts, and corn hole. Here are a few easy (and cheap) tips on how to add a touch of summer flare to your yard, so you’ll be ready for whatever adventures this season brings:

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The Fauna of the Blue Ridge

The Appalachian Blue Ridge Mountains are one of the most ecologically diverse habitats in North America. There are millions of insects, reptiles, and amphibians that call this region home. The Shenandoah region of Virginia, which encompasses the southwest part of the state and The Blue Ridge Mountains, contains thousands of species that are endemic to these particular mountain ranges and valleys. There are fauna within Appalachia that cannot be found anywhere else in Virginia or even in The United States broadly. The uniqueness of the fauna present in The Shenandoah Valley is a part of what makes this area so spectacular. Though this list does not come close to describing the complete variety of insects, amphibians, and reptiles within the Blue Ridge, it’s a small start. For more information, visit The Virginia Museum of Natural History.

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Give Your Kids the Gift of Gardening

Kids Gardening

Photo by winniepix on Flickr.

In a previous blog post, we discussed the numerous benefits gardening provides for senior citizens. Of course, senior citizens aren’t the only population of people who stand to benefit from spending time in the garden. Children, teenagers, and adults can all reap benefits from working with the land. Research suggests that children can especially benefit from the lessons instilled by growing plants; gardening, child psychologists and educators say, is beneficial to childhood development and a valuable educational resource. That might be why many elementary schools have gardening clubs, or why science classes are increasingly using gardening projects as discovery tools. No doubt, the lessons we all gleam from gardening start when we’re children and build throughout our entire lives. Cool, right?

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Five Smart Gardening Gadgets

Though many people garden to get away from emails, phone calls, and the constant machine buzzing of industrialized civilization, technology has no doubt aided many gardeners in their search for efficiency, time management, and heightened productivity. Garden gadgets have become a somewhat unavoidable part of modern gardening. Even the most luddite of gardeners likely have a couple smart tools they use to help them keep track of tedious chores. Simply, some technologies really do make our day to day lives that much easier. When you’re done reading about these gardening gadgets, you might find some of them far too useful to pass up.

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The Season of the Cicada

In the eastern United States, the deafening chirp of the cicada ushers in the dog days of summer every June and July. As the heat mounts and the days grow longer, cicadas emerge from their underground hibernation to mate and molt. Their calls can be heard throughout Appalachia, and the song of the cicada has become an almost mythic attribute of the mountains. In some places, they are considered good luck; elsewhere, they are referred to as a plague. But what exactly are these harbingers of summer, and why have they become such a ubiquitous part of southern life?

Cicada

Photo by Andrew Hitchcock.

The Cicada

It is generally difficult to tell cicadas apart, but there are two main varieties: annual and periodical. Annual cicadas have lighter grey bodies, bluish colored eyes and they emerge from hibernation every year around June or July, though they sometimes make an early appearance. Periodical cicadas, on the other hand, only emerge in cycles of 13 or 17 years. All periodical cicadas in a given geographic area emerge at the same time, and this grouping of cicadas is called a brood. There are thirty different broods, and, in a given year, two or three broods will be emerging in several specific localities throughout the south. This year, periodical cicada broods are expected to emerge in several counties within North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. During cicada season, these counties will be overrun with both annual and periodical cicadas, a cause for celebration for some and discomfort for others. Unlike annual cicadas, periodical cicadas typically have black bodies and red eyes (which is why red-eyed cicadas are sometimes considered good luck). Each brood has their own song, and some cicada experts have become some adapt at listening that they can tell the difference instantly!

Though a large group of cicadas is called a “plague,” neither annual or periodical cicadas are particularly harmful. They aren’t poisonous or toxic and they don’t like to bite. Unlike locusts and other pests, adult cicadas don’t feed on crops or flowers, so they coexist well with farms and gardens. In large amounts, cicadas do make a deafening din. Their “song” is actually a mating call, and both female and male cicadas “sing” to attract a mate. Not everyone is a big fan of their pervasive chirping, but there’s no doubt that summer in the south would seem eerily quiet and empty without that familiar backdrop: the constant, comforting, and well-worn cicada song.

Caring for Roses

The hardiness, versatility, and aesthetic beauty of roses make them one of the most popular flower varieties in the United States. There are hundreds of rose species, from old classic types to modern hybrids, and each kind of rose requires a distinct regime of care. This can be a daunting task for new gardeners, but the sturdiness of most rose plants make them an ideal project for novices who want to create lasting beauty in their garden. Here are some tips to remember if you’re thinking about growing roses this year:

Roses.

Photo by slgckgc on Flickr.

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Bear-Proofing Your Landscape

Keeping Away Black bears

Photo by Miguel B on Flickr.

As anyone who lives in Roanoke Virginia now knows, bears do not always keep to themselves. Yes, sometimes they leave their forest dwellings to set up camp near trash cans, swimming pools, or even parking garages. Most people don’t much enjoy having bears rummaging around their property, but rest assured—they look more intimidating than they actually are. Black bears—the kind we see here in Southwest Virginia—are generally docile and shy. They keep to themselves, but, when left to roam however they see fit, they can wreak havoc on an unsuspecting landscape. The best way to prevent against bear damage is to bear-proof your yard and neighborhood. If you notice a bear hanging around human habitats, it’s most likely because food or some other kind of resource is enticing him there. A bear that is given access to free food once will likely come back for more, potentially resulting in the bear eventually losing its innate fear of humans. Bears who do not fear people may act brashly in human environments (they may, for example, decide to set up shop in a busy parking garage or steal food from restaurant trashcans). Luckily, bear-proofing is fairly simple. Here are some tips:

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May Landscaping Tips

May Landscaping Tips

Photo by Roman Boed.

May is one of the busiest months of the year when it comes to landscaping and gardening, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. May, especially here in Southwest Virginia, is abloom with color and sweet smelling fragrances. Gardens are officially awake from their winter slumber, and you will start to see some results from your early spring prepping. But there’s still work to do. For a full and fruitful season, be sure to stay faithful to your gardening and landscaping chores. Here are some good places to begin:

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