Patchwork: Keep an eye on the garden in hot weather

Proper watering of tomatoes, controlling slugs, and rejuvenating spring annuals are some of the gardening activities for this month.
Dark leathery spots on the blossom end of tomatoes is likely to be a condition called “blossom end rot” that’s caused by uneven watering. Mulch will help moderate the fluctuating moisture levels that nature provides, and it’s not too late to spread some around your plants. Mulch will help the soil from drying quickly after wet weather — another fluctuation that may lead to this disease in tomatoes as well as peppers, squash and even watermelon. Also, make sure with a soil test that both the pH and calcium levels of your soil are correct.
Coffee grounds, diatomaceous earth, iron phosphate bait (use caution or not at all if pets roam the area), crushed egg shells, and even raw sheep’s wool can deter slugs and snails. Spread any of these materials in a ring around individual plants. Wrap pots with copper tape to keep slugs from crawling up. One of the more common controls is simply to place saucers of beer among your plants, which attract the slugs and in which they drown. Or simply place boards in your garden, under which they’ll hide by day and can be found and gathered.
Pansies, lobelia, petunias, and some other cool-season annuals can go into a slump in midsummer with the heat. To rejuvenate them, cut back the stems by one half and apply liquid fertilizer when you water to bring them back and they will start blooming again for late summer and fall. Many of the newer cultivars (cultivated varieties) of petunias, however, keep on blooming. Plus, they are “self cleaning,” meaning the old flowers just wither and drop off, so you won’t need to cut them back as was common with older cultivars.
Many of the newer selections of annuals have been bred to require a highly fertile soil, so make sure you apply plenty. If they stop blooming, or have fewer blooms, this may be the reason. Fertilize regularly according to label directions, at least weekly. If using an organic solution such as liquid seaweed or compost tea, you may need to fertilize with every watering.
Take just one-half hour every day to inspect the garden and pull weeds. Weeds really do sprout overnight and by next week they’ll be towering over your tomatoes and annual flowers. A visit to the garden before work, or as soon as you get home, can keep the weeds in check.
Strawberry plants are actively growing and new runners are spreading everywhere in mid-summer. Remove runners to keep plants spaced according to the method you’re using so plants will put their energy into producing future fruit instead of new runners. Left alone, a bed will turn into a mass of foliage and few berries. Usually everbearers are planted in hills, with runners removed. June-bearing cultivars are usually planted in rows, with runners kept within the beds and removed from the paths.
At the first sign of powdery mildew on phlox, bee balm and other susceptible plants, treat with Serenade or other labeled fungicide, such as one with potassium bicarbonate (relative of baking soda). Spray plants every two weeks, thoroughly wetting the foliage.
Birds love blueberries as much as we do, so protect the fruit with netting. Use stakes to suspend the netting over the shrub so birds won’t reach the berries. Secure the netting to the ground to prevent birds from sneaking in. Get your cover in place before the berries turn ripe.
Editor’s note: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant and garden coach. Leonard Perry is a professor at the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Vermont.

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