Local Experts Share Gardening Tips to Prepare Your Yard for Summer

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Use these timely gardening tips from Barnes Supply Co., Witherspoon Rose Culture and Durham Garden Center to get your yard ready for summer

summer gardening tips from Witherspoon Rose
“Pruning is probably the best thing anyone can do to help stimulate growth,” says Mary Alice Pike of Witherspoon Rose Culture. 

Compiled by Charlotte Goto and Renee Ambroso | Photo by John Michael Simpson

What should folks do right now to prepare their gardens for the summer? 

“Late spring is the time to think about which garden beds and plots should be transitioned to hardy summer veggies and plant beds. Cold crops that have bolted from the warmer weather can be removed to make room for new plants. Empty beds can be pre-treated with a standard granular fertilizer or spruced up by adding compost or pre-mixed garden soils that are enriched with natural composts such as earthworm castings, bat guano or other manures.” – Brandi Cooley, office manager at Barnes Supply Co.

“Begin watering roses and applying insect and disease treatments on a regular basis. We treat every seven to 10 days for specific targeted insects and diseases.” – Mary Alice Pike, director of sales and marketing at Witherspoon Rose Culture

What are your favorite plants to focus on for late spring and summer?

BC “Cilantro and dill grow well in our region and are very pollinator friendly. Caterpillars love to eat dill, and you might notice a marked increase in butterflies after a few seasons of dill. Be sure to plant extra for sharing with our beneficial insects. Other pollinators benefit from cilantro plants as they bloom and ‘go to seed.’ Cilantro easily reseeds itself and will often return in the fall.”

Spring cleaning: If people want to weed out (pun intended) undesirable perennials or invasive species, what should they prune out of their gardens/avoid planting?

“Nandina and privet (Ligustrum)! Nandina’s beautiful red berries can be poisonous to birds if they run out of other forage. So, your options are: No. 1, plant only sterile cultivars, which don’t produce berries; No. 2, remove the flowers and/or berries as soon as you see them, before the birds can get to them; or No. 3, replace the nandina entirely. This is a pretty sad option, though, since nandinas are a versatile, hardy and visually striking plant. As for privet, it’s strongly invasive, spreading by bird-carried berries and, frankly, looks pretty boring. Try distylium as a foundation plant, or wax myrtle, cherry laurel, Leucothoe or holly for massed planting/hedges. And if you still have a Bradford pear, think about some alternatives – aside from being invasive, their growing habit is prone to weak tree branch joints, and as they age, the branches are vulnerable to breaking off and falling in bad weather. Flowering cherries are a popular spring ornamental tree, but are also vulnerable to health issues later on, so have a look at alternatives like redbuds, serviceberry and others.” – Jamie Knierim, apprentice horticulturist and receiving clerk at Durham Garden Center 

BC “Mint is a fantastic herb, but it is a terrible garden companion. Most people have heard that mint is invasive, but I don’t think we spend enough time really explaining why. One tiny mint plant can take over an entire yard during the span of just a few years. It has a nasty habit of choking out every other plant in its path. The roots grow under soil, on top of soil, through landscaping fabric, in tiny drainage holes of pots and even finds its way inside of raised beds. For those of us who do not use chemical herbicides in our gardens, this means that we spend many hours pulling and tugging mint from the nooks and crannies of our garden every year. Just avoid it altogether, or if you must, plant it in a pot and leave it on the porch.” 

For an abundant garden all year long, what steps should people take in spring? 

BC “Take advantage of the cool weather and wet ground now. Weeding, mulching and bed prepping is much easier this time of year. Get your cool veggies and flowers going now, and start your summer seeds indoors. Once the cool weather plants have died out, transition those beds to summer veggies and flowers. Get bulbs in the ground now and purchase bulk wildflower seeds to feed the pollinators and birds.” 

MAP “Prune, fertilize and consider some preemergents to keep the weeds down. Check your irrigation if you have one installed in the garden, particularly if you plan to apply fresh mulch. Check for working parts, timer set, leaks, etc.” 

JK “Add plenty of organic material to your soil, like manures or composts. Over time, as it decays and is integrated into our classic North Carolina red clay, it’ll improve the drainage, water uptake and general soil health. Add some every year, and after a while you’ll have lovely loose dark soil full of happy microorganisms.” 

What common mistakes do home gardeners make in springtime? 

BC “Planting too many high-maintenance annuals rather than focusing on hardy perennials. Also, planting summer crops like tomatoes and peppers before our frost date (April 15) can be a costly mistake. Our North Carolina false spring can give folks a false sense of weather security. It is best to keep summer veggies inside, in a greenhouse or at least on a covered porch until the final threat of frost has passed.” 

MAP “Not pruning your roses is a mistake. At Witherspoon, we prune most roses down about 24 to 30 inches. If you aren’t comfortable with that much, you can cut off less.” 

What are some of the main threats to a healthy rose bush? How do folks ensure their roses stay healthy and happy? 

MAP “Some of the main threats to healthy roses are lack of water, lack of adequate sunlight, insects and diseases. We plant our roses in full sun (at least 6-8 hours of direct light per day). We also fertilize our roses to ensure abundant growth.” 

For summer and fall blooms, people should plant … 

BC “Staggering spring bulb planting with summer bloomers like gladiolus and dahlias are a great start. Going heavy on native flower seeds is a great way to ensure that some colorful flowers make it through the summer heat. Zinnia, lantana and portulaca are all flowering plants that require little maintenance and water.” 

JK “Heat- and drought-tolerant plants, since no one wants to be out there watering in the 100-degree heat and humidity. For summer blooming perennials, try: yarrow (Achillea); Tickseed (Coreopsis, native); coneflower (Echinacea, native); blanket flower (Gaillardia, native); beardtongue (Penstemon, native); or Russian sage (Perovskia). And for fall, goldenrod (Solidago, native) or asters (most are native and go well with goldenrod).” 

What are common (and environmentally safe) treatments to prevent disease and insects, and/or to stimulate growth? 

JK “Proper plant selection and placement are your first line of defense against disease, insects and wimpy growth. Try to find disease-resistant species and cultivars when possible, and plant them in spots that fit their needs. A full sun plant in a shady place won’t be at its most healthy, and will be more vulnerable to pests and disease. Similarly, a plant that likes drier soil will struggle in a damp spot. Organic fertilizers and amendments like bone meal and fish emulsion will also help – try getting your soil tested to see what nutrients it might need more of.” 

BC “Crop rotation (not planting the same plants in the same bed consecutive years) is a natural way to avoid disease and insect issues. Switching up watering habits can help decrease plant disease. Neem oil and diatomaceous earth are two great insecticidal options that are considered ‘safe.’ Knowing when to prune and pinch can help stimulate blooms and growth. For organic gardening, it is a good rule of thumb to remember to plant extra – some for you, and some for nature.” 

MAP “Pruning is probably the best thing anyone can do to help stimulate growth. On roses, we prune when the growth is starting to reach about a quarter inch, and the plant really takes off! The great thing about pruning is there are no chemicals involved. We do recommend a dormant oil around January to help with any disease spores that might be trying to overwinter.” 

Any other practical tips/tricks you’d like to add for novice gardeners to follow? 

BC “There is nothing wrong with trial and error in regard to gardening! As a matter of fact, it is a necessary part of knowing what particular plants will do well and thrive in your yard. Soil, light and water are all elements that are only minimally within our control. Save yourself some time and stress by container gardening. We have an extensive selection of pop-up containers and raised beds. Our staff loves to talk about gardening, and we have plants, seeds, bulbs, fertilizer, soils and everything in between to get you started.” 

MAP “Don’t be afraid to prune your roses. They will thank you tenfold in their bloom production throughout the year. Even Knock Outs and other landscape roses should be pruned. If you have any spring blooming roses like climbing Lady Banks, don’t prune now! Wait until after they bloom.” 

JK “Do your research, but don’t get too caught up in worrying about if you’re doing things right. Most plants want to live, and will allow a little room for messing up if it means they get the soil and water they crave at the end of the day.” 

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Durham Magazine Intern

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