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Surviving Summerís Dog Days

In drought-prone areas of the country especially, summer is probably your garden's least attractive season. Lack of rainfall combined with abundant sun and high temperatures can leave the best-intentioned gardens looking kind of drab.

Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's director of horticulture, says that even in the dog days of summer there is hope for these gardens. "Making your garden look its best requires planning in the seasons before summer hits and proper care at the right times of day once it is here."

She recommends thinking carefully about when you plant your garden. Depending upon your part of the country, it might be good to plant in fall and winter so that things are established before summer hits. In other places, it is best to plant during spring.

What you plant is also important. Native plants that are adapted to your region will look better because they will be suited for the amount of rainfall that your area receives and the degree of heat there. Even in places where it becomes extremely hot, your garden doesn't have to look dead during the hottest parts of the year because there are summer-blooming native plants that are adapted to your locale.

Because not every plant that is native to your region will thrive on your property, you should be careful to select plants that are suited for your site's conditions. For example, plant shade-loving native plants on shady areas of your site. Some plants may tolerate more sun but suffer less stress and require less water if they are grown in a bit of shade, according to DeLong-Amaya. Be sure to educate yourself on the growing requirements for each species you plant.

Nothing may be as relevant to summer garden care as when and how you water your lawn and garden. DeLong-Amaya recommends the following tips to accommodate great-looking summer plants:

1) Check the soil moisture before you water. "Just because a plant is wilting doesn't mean that it is dry," she says. "Rather, it could be that the plant has a vascular disease or that it has been over watered. Or, in the early part of summer, wilt could be the response to the heat before it has become accustomed to it."
2) Water early in the morning or use drip or soaker hoses. Plants can suffer if watered in the evening and then allowed to sit wet through the night.

3) Water deeply but less frequently. Instead of watering 10 minutes once a day, it's better to water one hour once a week. Drip and soaker hoses are water efficient, putting water directly on the roots of plants with minimal blowing and evaporation.

4) Saturate the plants with water. When watering plants in containers, for example, water the plant once and then go back and water it a second or third time. You may also fill saucers beneath pots with water so that the plants are soaked over time. If plants are root-bound in a container it can be difficult to give them adequate water and it may be better to transplant them into bigger pots.

Your plants aren't the only ones feeling the heat. Be sure to keep yourself hydrated and protected from the sun by drinking plenty of water and wearing a hat and sunscreen.

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