Don’t Forget! 5 Essential Summer-Time Tips for Northwest Gardens

by Georgie Smith, farmergeorgiewrites@gmail.com

It’s FINALLY acting like summer in the Pacific Northwest. Time to kick-back and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your spring-time labors in the veggie garden, right?

Not so fast….

Mid-summer gardening is one of the most critical times to keep on top of your garden chores. Unless you don’t care if you have a garden much past July!

Here’s the top five things most Pacific Northwest vegetable gardeners forget (to their peril!) in the mid-summer gardening haze.

#1 – Now’s the Time to….Water!

The old rule of thumb has always been ‘one inch of water per week.’ But in arid climates, you figure at least twice that amount.  And yes, summer-time Pacific Northwest, where we often don’t see nary a rain cloud from July through September, qualifies as ‘arid.’

But other factors to consider are – what’s the temperature and is it windy? Many seasoned gardeners add in the rule of, for every 10 degrees over 60 degrees you need another ½ inch of water. So, if it’s 80 degrees, you really should be watering three inches a week. 

Plants need water…more than you think…in summer conditions!

And in windy climates, conditions are even more stressful as both soil and leaf moisture dries out quickly from a constant warm wind. 

Bottomline – pay attention to your plants.  Are they putting on new healthy, growth? Do they start ‘drooping’ mid-day? Are they looking crispy and sad? Time to water.

But don’t just hit your plants for 15 minutes on a timed sprinkler every day. That is even MORE stressful during hot, droughty conditions and will only ‘wet’ the top of the soil and not reach the roots of the plant.  (Pro-tip: Poke your finger in the soil. Is it damp all the way down or just the top ½ inch layer or so?  You want it damp as far as your finger will reach!). 

A much better plan is infrequent, but DEEP watering. Considering doing this every other day, or every third day depending on the outside temperature and condition of your plants. If you can water in the evenings, this will often give you the most bang for your watering buck as the temperatures cool down and evaporation slows. 

We are big fans of drip irrigation, soaker hose or spot irrigation as well. This is a great way to reduce your total water consumption, but still get your plants the water they need. It takes a bit more time to set up initially, but it definitely worth it in the long run. 

#2 – Hot Weather is a Great Time to…Weed!

Hot summer weather can be one of the best times to get rid of pesky, perennial weeds in particular.

Thistle – a tenacious weed! Use hot summer weather to ATTACK!

Persistent problem weeds like quack-grass or thistle that can re-generate from the tiniest bit of plant root missed in the ground, can be eradicated with a dedicated, hot-weather onslaught. They are stressed too from the heat and drought, if you can expedite that process by pulling them up as much as possible, you can oftentimes (finally) overcome them. 

This is where drip or spot-specific irrigation can help too.  Attack the weeds, leave them to crisp up and die in the dry sun and make sure to NOT water the area you pulled them out of.  

Presto! Dead weeds!

#3 – Pruning for air circulation and increased production! 

Make sure to prune vigorous plants for health, especially tomatoes.

Our summer-time temps, combined with high humidity levels, make Pacific Northwest summers the perfect condition for favoring the dreaded ‘blight.’ (Of Irish potato famine infamy, it also attacks tomatoes).

Pruning out excessive vines helps the airflow around the plants which in turn, dries out leaves before the blight fungus has a chance to establish. It also encourages ripening, bigger fruit and makes it easier to pick your tomatoes! 

Keeping tomatoes well-pruned prevents disease

Some perennial crops, like everbearing strawberries, will need some summertime attention to encourage continued production. Cut out the runners – not flowering canes! Keep the planting well-watered and fertilized and you can continue to enjoy an on-going crop of deliciously sweet strawberries all the way til fall. 

#4 – Don’t Forget to Harvest 

It’s easy to get behind a few days in the summertime garden and suddenly that crop you waited for all spring has come…and gone. 

For many ripening fruits, like tomatoes and strawberries, you’ll be safer picking just slightly under-ripe. That gives you more leeway for ‘missing the window’ and going from ripe, to rotten. And they’ll keep ripening after being picked without sacrificing flavor. 

The more you harvest, the more zucchini you get! (eek!)

Harvest also encourages plants to keep producing. 

Biologically speaking, most of our annual vegetable crops are primed to grow, produce their ‘babies’ (fruit, seed, etc) and then die. If you keep ‘picking’ their progeny, well the plant thinks it keeps needing to make more!  

This is a great technique for cucurbits – like summer squash, zucchini and cucumbers – and really applies well to most all ‘fruit-bearing’ plants like tomatoes and berries. But even harvesting leaves off plants like kale and chard will encourage the plant to keep producing tender new growth. 

#4 – Fertilize For a Mid-summer Boost

Even if you fertilized in the spring, most crops really appreciate a little extra boost in the summer. 

In fact, if you started your spring garden with a soil test and a fertilizing plan (highly recommended!) consider splitting up your expected fertilizing needs between your spring and summer fertilizing regime. 

Be careful to not apply TOO high of a nitrogen-based fertilizer. (When you look at a fertilizer it will show three numbers something like 10-6-6.  This is the N-P-K.  N = nitrogen. P = phosphorous. K = potassium). 

Dry summer soil will SO appreciate a mid-summer fertility boost

For some crops (like tomatoes), a high “N” fertilizer might actually cause problems in late-summer fruit development. But in general, if you are using a balanced, organic fertilizer – which typically have lower “N” percentages than conventional fertilizers, it is hard to go wrong. 

Even better is if you can apply summer fertilizer in a liquid manner. Dry fertilizer will take a while to release and work into the soil in hot dry conditions – it may not be available to the plants to uptake for several weeks or longer. Versus a liquid-based fish emulsion or compost-based fertilizer will quickly go to the plant and provide an almost immediate nutrient boost. 

If you have set-up a drip irrigation system, you can look into a fertilizer injection system (Dripworks offers an affordable and easy to use model). Or…you can simply set yourself up with a watering can and a mix of fertilizer to water! 

#5 – Keep Planting for a Fall and Winter Garden!

One of the biggest things summer-time gardeners forget to do is to KEEP PLANTING! 

With our mild, Pacific Northwest winter climate, it is very easy to have a nice selection of veggies fresh from the garden almost all winter. (One caveat – make sure your garden site is well-drained and does not flood during the winter). 

Tuscan kale is a great choice for fall and over-wintered plantings. Just make sure to plant it in July or early August!

Mid to late July is perfect time to get in the last of the fall crops. A planting of carrots, beets, turnips will be ready by mid fall.  July plantings of kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and all the ‘cole’ crops will often produce your best crops of the season as all those plants prefer growing into cooling temperatures and shorter days, versus the other way around. 

And then there is still plenty of time to get in multiple more plantings of your ‘fast’ crops. Radishes, lettuces, mustard greens and spinach are all good choices.  Keep planting those all the way til end of August.

So while you may be ready to kick-back and relax, your summer garden is still working hard and primed to produce loads more for many months. Give it a little extra summer love and attention and the rewards will be well worth it. There’s always time to rest up in January!

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