Beat the Heat in Your Summer Garden
Good Watering Practices - Thoroughly water your garden, but do it less often. Deeper watering less frequently is better than shallow watering more frequently. It encourages the roots to grow down instead of the shallow roots out, so they don't dry out as fast.
For top watering, it's best to water early in the morning before the sun comes out. The water has time to soak in, and there will be less water lost due to evaporation and wind. It also allows foliage to dry off as soon as the sun comes out, reducing the potential for fungal infection. A drip irrigation or soaker hose system is idea because you won't lose as much water to evaporation and it keeps leaves dry. It's a good time to start doing research and consult with an irrigation professional about what will best meet your gardening needs.
As it starts to get hotter, you'll notice that a lot of plants will wilt during the middle part of the day. That doesn't necessarily mean that they need to be watered. This is the way plants reduce surface area exposed to the sun. It's important not to over water your plants this time of year. Only water if the plants are wilted during the morning when it is still cool or if the ground is dry to the touch. Group plants together with similar watering requirements, so you're not watering in large areas where it may be unneeded.
Mulching is a good way to regulate the surface of the soil temperature. The type of plants will determine what type of mulch you should use. You can use organic mulches like pine bark, mineral mulches like a crushed limestone or granite or the recycled materials such as tumbled-crushed glass. If you are trying to grow wildflowers from seed, be aware that if you mulch a garden, buried seed may not germinate. Most will grow on the surface of gravel, but bark mulches can be a problem.
Plant selection and design - Visit local natural areas and public gardens to see what looks good during the summer. Choose plants that are native to your region and well adapted to whatever your summer conditions might have to offer. Visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's Native Plant Information Network to find out what plants are native to your region, along with a wealth of other helpful information. While you can plant during this time of year, it's better to wait till the fall or spring so you do not have to water as frequently while the plants are getting established.
Design an evening or nighttime garden to enjoy when the temperature goes down. Select plants that will stand out in the evening like white flowers, light-colored flowers or foliage. Or choose contrasting foliage to highlight different forms and shapes in the moonlight or garden lighting. Plant species that are fragrant and involve your senses and then sit back and enjoy some of the nighttime pollinators that are attracted to your garden. You might include an open space where you can stargaze.
A source of water is critical in the summer if you want to attract wildlife. Ponds and water gardens can be a spectacular addition. Think about adding a birdbath or a water source at ground level for lizards, toads and frogs or a pond for fish and dragonflies. You should include a rescue platform in the water for wildlife so they can climb or hop out. Having a slow drip, trickle or gentle waterfall is a good element because wildlife will see it and hear it.
Seed collecting - Many of the plants that were in bloom during the spring are now going to seed. Some species will release the seeds quickly, but a lot of seeds will fully ripen on the plant. Seeds are generally ripe when they are full size and not showing much green, turning brown or tan. Remember, it is easier to identify the seeds you want while the plant is still in bloom or recognizable, so flag them during that time so they are easy to come back to.
Once you've gathered your seeds, if you are going to throw them back in your garden you don't have to do a lot of cleaning. A good rule of thumb generally is to plant the seed the same depth as the seed size, so if you have a ½ inch seed diameter you'll put it under the ground ½ inch, but if you have a small seed like most, you can rake it in or even just drop it on the surface. Some seeds take time to germinate so be patient.
If you are going to store the seeds, remove as much extraneous plant material as you can. Brown paper bags or envelopes are a cost effective way to store seeds and allow for moisture release. Just be mindful to protect your seeds from rodents and moths, and keep them in a cool, dry and dark place. Don't forget to label them with the type of plant, the date, the seed collector and where it was collected.
Stay cool - When you're working in your garden this summer, remember to drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen and use a hat with a wide enough brim to cover your face and neck as much as possible. Cover up. Long sleeves and pants may help protect your skin from the sun and keep you cooler, especially if they are made from breathable fabrics such as cotton, linen or silk. There are also specialty UV protectant fabrics available at many sporting good stores. If you are working in a particular area of your garden, bring out a box fan using an extension cord. This will help ward off mosquitoes and keep you cool.