9 Summer Gardening Tips from the Pros

Learn how to grow a flourishing garden that lasts through the summer with these nine helpful tips from seasoned gardening pros.

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We all start off gardening with gusto in the spring. But when the temperature rises in the summertime, we and our plants can both start to lose enthusiasm. But by following these tips from a panel of seasoned gardening pros, each with unique expertise, you’ll be able to grow and enjoy a flourishing garden all the way through fall.

Plant Sunflowers to Lure in Beneficial Insects

People plant sunflowers as a symbol of happiness and unity, but these plants also serve as guardians of the garden by attracting beneficial insects.

According to Jessica Walliser, author of Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden, sunflowers begin to produce nectar when they are as small as six inches tall. They continue to do so all the way through their bloom cycle. “Planting sunflowers within rows of vegetables is an effective way to attract more beneficials,” Walliser says.

They’re also a good companion for fruit trees since they attract many of the insects that damage fruit crops. “Plant rows of sunflowers between orchard rows or around individual trees to protect them,” Walliser says. “Just be sure to select a location where taller sunflowers won’t shade sun-loving crops.”

Grow Your Own Food No Matter Where You Garden

Norman Winter, a Southern gardening expert and former coordinator for the Mississippi Medallion Award trial program, says anyone can grow produce.

“Whether it’s in rural areas, historic districts or the newest neighborhood, the size of garden plots have grown smaller and more urbanized,” says Winter, AKA The Garden Guy. “This has led to a host of new, compact vegetable varieties that you can grow organically.”

A few dwarf fruits and vegetables to try growing in patio containers include everbearing ‘Tristan’ strawberries, high-yielding Goodhearted tomatoes, thornless Raspberry Shortcake raspberries and City Garden Mix leaf lettuce.

Use Self-Watering Containers to Take the Stress Out of Gardening

We all love flourishing pots of flowers on a sunny porch or patio, but who will water them when you head out this summer for that weeklong camping trip? Leaving plants unwatered for even a long weekend can take its toll.

Self-watering containers free you from that worry, so your petunias will be the last thing on your mind while your family takes that selfie at the state park.

Award-winning landscape architect Jack Barnwell invented self-watering AquaPots for this purpose. They’re handmade, glazed ceramic and frost-resistant with a built-in self-watering system. The water reservoir only needs refilling once a week.

“Every time we plant up an AquaPot, we add a couple of scoops of slow-release fertilizer right into the tank,” Barnwell says. “It releases underwater, so the fertilizer-infused water is constantly wicked up by the plants, which makes them grow faster.”

Self-watering pots are especially good for plants that grow better with consistent moisture and fertilizer like petunias, impatiens and hydrangeas.

Trim and Feed Your Flowers to Make Them Last

Summer heat can take its toll on flowering annuals. “The key to extending and maximizing the impact of annuals, both for blooms and foliage impact, is to provide some supplemental encouragement in the form of periodic fertilization and marginally aggressive trimming,” says Mark Dwyer, a Wisconsin horticulturist and owner of Landscape Prescriptions by MD.

In USDA Hardiness Zone 4 where Dwyer lives, annuals respond well to feeding with water soluble fertilizer every three weeks. In warmer states where plants grow faster, it’s best to feed weekly.

When annuals start to stretch or languish, Dwyer recommends trimming them back right before you feed them. “Cutting plants back followed by fertilization can invigorate plants to go the distance until hard frost or the end of the season,” he says. Calibrachoa, verbena, and petunias are a few of the annuals that respond well to this type of maintenance.

Prune Perennials for Pollinators

Two arms cutting flower with pruning shearsBen-Schonewille/Getty Images

If your goal is to provide pollen and nectar for pollinators, the more blooms, the better. By removing the spent flowers of reblooming perennials — known as “deadheading” — you will encourage them to send up a fresh round of blooms.

Perennials that often rebloom if deadheaded include yarrow, tickseed, blanket flower, dianthus, false sunflowers, red hot pokers, catmint and salvia. These plants are worth the few extra minutes of your time. Snipping off the spent flowers will result in more of them for you, the bees and butterflies to enjoy. Corona’s Snips are a great tool for this task.

Change Up Your Hanging Baskets

By early summer in the South, hanging baskets can start to produce fewer flowers. High heat, too-dry soil and lack of root space in the basket are a few reasons why this happens. Jenny Simpson, owner of Creekside Nursery in Dallas, NC, offers three solutions:

  1. Bump your original hanging basket up into a larger-sized basket. The extra root space will allow your plants to grow to their full potential.
  2. Transplant your hanging basket into a larger upright container and set it in a more shaded part of your landscape. This is a good option if your plants are becoming stressed by the intense summer sun.
  3. Take the plants out of the hanging basket and transplant them into the landscape. They will provide instant impact there  — far greater than if you started with small potted plants.

Keep On Top of Weeds

It’s important to keep up with weeding your garden so aggressive unwanted vegetation doesn’t take over. Nancy Szerlag, garden columnist for The Detroit News, says the scuffle hoe is exactly right for the job. It removes young weeds with a push-pull action that cuts at or just under the soil surface.

Szerlag prefers flat-bladed scuffle hoes to the stirrup variety. “Its four-sided, steel blade slides smoothly along the soil surface while severing roots,” Szerlag says. “Surface-rooted weeds are no match for this easy-to-use tool.

“Finding one with a handle that fits your hand well is important for reaching peak efficiency with the least effort. My scuffle hoe of choice is the Dewit Diamond Hoe (model D20) with a 60-inch ash handle and four sharpened edges.”

Reapply Deer Repellent

Repellents only work if they’re present when the deer decides to dine. “If you’re relying on a repellent spray to persuade deer to stop sampling your favorite plants, be sure to continue a regular spray regime as new leaves and buds emerge through summer,” says Karen Chapman, a designer at Seattle’s Le jardiner and author of Deer-Resistant Design.

“Just because you sprayed in May doesn’t mean that the new growth of midsummer is also protected. If the repellent states it offers protection for three months, remember that is only on the leaves which have actually been sprayed. Read the label carefully.”

Also, remember that many repellents need to be reapplied after a hard rain. It’s also smart to plant flowers that deer don’t like to eat!

Divide Perennials in Late Summer and Early Fall

Lifelong gardener and respected garden communicator Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, AKA The Hoosier Gardener, reminds us that many perennials including peonies, tall bearded irises and poppies respond well to division in late summer or early fall.

She recommends watering the plants you plan to divide first to hydrate them and soften the soil. Then water again after transplanting them into their new home.

Meyers Sharp offers these three transplanting tips:

  1. Don’t plant peony rhizomes more than about two inches deep. If too deep, they will not bloom. Make sure each section has two or three eyes (growth points).
  2. Examine the tall bearded iris rhizome to see where the new growth will be coming from. Irises only grow in one direction, so be sure to position the rhizome so that the new growth won’t interfere with surrounding plants.
  3. Poppies practically do the dividing for you. Although they go dormant after they bloom in spring or early summer, their fuzzy leaves reappear in late summer or fall. The plants are easy to dig and transplant.

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Susan Martin
Susan Martin is a lifelong gardener who enjoys sharing her passion for plants, gardening and the business of horticulture with fellow plant enthusiasts across North America. She has spent over two decades working in the horticulture industry on new plant development, garden design, sales, marketing and consulting. Susan has received visitors from around the world in her home garden which has been featured in numerous gardening publications. Her goal is to inspire and educate people about how to garden every day.