July 2015
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Harmless soldier flies quietly go about their work as recyclers of organic matter.  

Black Soldier Fly is a Good Guy

If you see flattened, brown, grub-like larvae about an inch long in your compost pile, they may be the young of black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens). This native fly is a composter’s friend, helping to break down the pile faster while inhibiting the development of bad fly species such as houseflies and blowflies. Commercially, black soldier fly larvae are used to compost and sanitize manure and waste. They are also commercially reared as food for reptiles, poultry and fish. The adults are sanitary, rarely fly indoors and do not bite. They are quiet flies that tend to hide. So, don’t be alarmed. Leave the larvae of the black soldier fly in your compost and let them do their work to help recycle vegetable and garden refuse into rich compost for your garden.

Healthy Cuts for Grass

When it starts getting hot, give your lawn a break from too much mowing. Ever noticed how the grass turns brown after it is cut in hot, dry weather? That’s because cutting all that top growth from the grass stresses it. Instead of just routinely mowing during the hottest part of summer, watch to see if the grass is actually growing. Often in hot weather grass doesn’t grow, it’s just trying to survive. If you water the lawn enough to support growth, make sure you or your mowing service raise the height of the mower blades to remove less leaf surface. Slightly taller grass grows deeper roots, which makes it more tolerant to drought. It also competes better with weeds.

Think a Year Ahead for Blueberry Harvest

Blueberry season is a good time to take note that the number of berries a bush will produce next summer depends on the health and vigor of the plants through this summer and fall. It is important to water and fertilize to encourage new growth and lots of foliage because one new vegetative bud develops for each new leaf that is produced. In late summer and early fall, some of those buds will become the flower buds that make next year’s berries. Research at the University of Florida has shown that the health of leaves and how long they remain on the plant into fall greatly influences how many flower buds are formed. So, early defoliation due to drought or lack of water is not good. Flower buds first form on old wood, then the new growth appears after a light pruning in summer after the berries are harvested. To encourage new stems this summer, trim back shoots on plants 2 years or older by about one-third their length after all the berries are harvested. Also fertilize lightly after pruning. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System advises against using nitrate fertilizer on blueberries because it can cause root damage. Instead, ACES recommends cottonseed meal or a slow-release product made from coated urea. As plants grow and set buds, they need adequate water. Be sure to continue watering during dry weather until leaves drop in the fall.

Vacation Plants

Going on vacation but don’t have anyone to water your potted plants? Move them to the coolest, shadiest place you have – a basement garage is ideal. Water well before leaving and place a saucer under each pot to catch the excess for later. Taking potted plants, even flowers and vegetables in pots, out of the heat and into a cooler place will help them survive on their own while you are gone. You can use old kiddy pools to group the plants and hold a little extra water for them to take up while you are gone. Just don’t make the level more than an inch or two high because water logging the soil could be worse than thirst.

  Mandevilla and dipladenia tropical vines love a little mid-season fertilizer.

Feed Mandevilla and Dipladenia

Pink-flowering mandevilla or dipladenia vines love heat and humidity and will grow very fast, even in mid-summer when many other plants are just trying to hang on. Because of this, they respond well to a little fertilizer in mid-summer after the slow-release product likely used in their nursery production is gone. To keep them blooming well, give them at least half a day of sun and a little liquid fertilizer every two to four weeks.

A Second Crop of Beans

You can get in another harvest of beans for fall picking by planting now. Kentucky Wonder pole beans, an all-time favorite, bear in about two months and will yield beans in September and October and even into November in South Alabama. Most bush beans bear slightly earlier. Soak the seeds overnight so they will sprout quickly and water daily because of the heat. The biggest threat this time of year will be insects, particularly Mexican bean beetles, especially on the young plants. Some gardeners use Sevin dust, but the dust form of this insecticide is easily picked up by bees. It’s best to use a liquid insecticide that will dry quickly and wait until evening to spray when bees are not active.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.