A little bit of gardening can go a long way in supporting the health of our planet. Whether you live in the city, suburbs or out in the woods, you can help local biodiversity flourish with a few of these simple summer garden tips. Learn how you can make small changes with big environmental impacts this season!
Pinch & Pluck
Keeping your garden looking lively and fresh during the hot months requires a bit of deadheading. An easy step to take, deadheading flowers is simply pinching or cutting below the bloom, but directly above the first set of leaves, once the flower has begun to fade or brown. Be sure to check for any other potential blossoms hidden underneath the wilting petals before cutting. The deadheading process helps redirect the plant’s energy away from seed or fruit production and instead toward root and vegetative growth, which is especially important for transplants or garden newcomers.
Almost all bulbs do well with deadheading, as long as you leave their leaves to soak up the sunshine. Some perennials benefit greatly from being deadheaded. Those that could do with a pinch include yarrow, astilbe, bellflower, larkspur, blanket flower, geranium, bee balm and phlox. Larger flowering shrubs, such as roses, rhododendrons, azaleas, dahlias, camellias, lilacs and tree peonies, respond well to deadheading.
Some perennials, however, should not be deadheaded. Those that need to reseed, such as hollyhock, foxglove, allium, love-in-a-mist and cardinal flower, should be left alone to continue growing next year. Other common flowering plants, such as cornflower, coneflower and sunflower, should be left as-is to dry. They produce seed pods that not only provide cool decorative winter looks, but also important food sources for birds in the coming months.
After a warm rain, you might notice mushrooms sprouting up everywhere in your raised bed. Some of these unexpected arrivals may seem to bring in flies or leave behind shockingly gross residues. Mushrooms, in fact, are simply a sign of organically rich, well-drained soil — exactly what you want in your raised bed — and while they themselves are not edible, they will not harm your other plants.
Before you consider removal, remember that these fruiting bodies, or the part above ground that you see, are deeply connected underground and will likely return a few times before they run their course. Ultimately, a bit of time and some hot summer sun will naturally take care of any toadstools.
Aphids might also have set up shop on the new growth of your favorite blooms. While these small, soft-bodied insects sap the plant’s much-needed nutrients, they are also a critically integral part of the ecosystem as a food source for other insects and birds.
If the plant is healthy and happy in its location, it will outpace the aphids — consider relocating or researching its requirements if there is a losing battle at play. If rain isn’t on the forecast any time soon, hosing the plant down periodically will also help reduce their numbers, as aphids do not like water. Another great strategy to reduce or combat aphids is to simply grow plants — including yarrow, white and crimson clover, tansy, spearmint, Queen Anne’s lace, hairy vetch, cowpeas and caraway — that foster their natural predators, such as green lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies and wasps. Avoid pesticides whenever possible, as this will likely harm other beneficial species of insects.
Summer offers all the colorful rewards of a year’s hard work. If you have been gardening for the last few seasons, now is the time to relax in the shade and enjoy the flowers. If you find, however, that itch to garden is unconquerable, some light maintenance might be the solution.
Cleaning the bird bath regularly will keep your avian visitors healthy, hydrated and coming back. Depending on its traffic, consider cleaning it once a week to at least once a month. Simply don some gloves, dump the contents, give the bath a scrub with a brush and rinse. Avoid soaps or cleaners, as these can soak into the material or leave a residue that will contaminate the water. Be sure to keep your bird bath out of direct sunlight, or it will all evaporate, and fill about two inches deep daily with fresh water — don’t top it off!
And while you’re down on the ground weeding, consider also straightening any stone or brick walls or even creating new ones. Now is a good time to rearrange any ceramic pots or borders in your garden, as you will be seeing most of your plants at their full growth size. Lay down a little mulch afterwards in spots that have been left open or uncovered to maintain moisture.
Once you find your gardening tasks completed, use this season to discover the science behind the biodiversity of your green space. iNatualist is a great place to start — simply post your wonderful photos of flowers and pollinators and get them identified. Every plant thrives in particular zones, so once you learn where your apartment or house is actually situated, you might find a plethora of new species to plant next year.
As you marvel at the brilliant blossoms adorning your yard or draped lovingly out of your planter, you might wonder what exactly all those parts are called. A flower’s anatomy is much more intricate than first meets the eye. And, perhaps as you discuss your blooming garden with the neighbors, they might ask for the name of a specific plant — be prepared to tell them all about any cultivars you grow!