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Summertime... But the livin' ISN'T easy for your..

It's August. It's Summer and it's HOT. From Minnesota to Mississippi, the summer sun is beating down on us and our plants. Some horticulturists tell us we should talk to our plants. At this time of year, it's tempting to walk outside into the blistering heat and say to our assorted flora: "You're on you own, guys! See you in the Fall!"

But while we're indoors in air-conditioned comfort sipping on something cool, our trees and shrubs are out there steaming and wilting. This seemed like a good time to review one or two tips that will help your landscape beat the heat.

I've talked about the importance of watering in a recent column, but I want to remind you that there really is an art (or a science) to proper watering. Avoid the temptation for frequent, light watering. It is more effective to water your trees and plants less frequently and more deeply. How deeply? That depends on your soil. Clay soil should be wet to a depth of about 6 inches while sandy soil needs to be wet as deep as one foot below the surface. As I've said before, if you're not sure how much water will penetrate that deep in your landscape, water some soil (away from delicate roots) for a while, then dig down to see how deep the water has penetrated. You can then adjust the amount of water to reach the depth you need.

And as I've said before, beware of over-watering, particularly in the heat of summer in areas of poor drainage, or you can kill your plants with kindness!

If you have ornamental grasses as part of your landscape, you know that they require minimal care during the summer. After their first season, they generally don't need to be watered, except during periods of drought. If you notice your ornamental grasses drooping severely or flopping over, you might want to apply some fertilizer, although the optimum time to do that is in the Spring. Try about one half pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square foot and water in thoroughly.

It's a mean trick of nature that weeds seem to thrive in the summer while our shrubs and plants take a beating. If you need to weed, do so early in the morning before it gets too darn hot. Here's a neat weeding tip I can pass on from Skip Richter in an article at the Weather Channel's website: Wet the soil thoroughly (although tall weeds might need to be mowed first), then place a four sheet thick layer of newspaper over the weeds, covering the entire row up around your plants. Wet the newspaper thoroughly to hold it in place and cover it with leaves or hay. He says he's even come back a few weeks later and planted transplants or larger seeds through holes in the newspaper. You can find the rest of his article at http://www.weather.com/activities/homeandgarden/garden/education/ or go to my website and find this column under "The Plant Man" where you can click on a direct link to his article, and many other sites mentioned in these columns.

I want to emphasize the importance of mulching to the survival and growth of your shrubs and trees. And again, I want to remind you not to pile mulch around the trunks of trees or stems of plants. That said, next to water, mulching and its proper application are key factors to the success of any planting, according to Dr. Robert Nuss, a horticulturist at Penn State University. He points out that any material that reduces the loss of water from the soil surface could be considered for mulch, but aesthetics generally dictate that we use coarser organic materials with a dark brown color. You can read his entire article on Summer Plant Care at http://www.psu.edu/ur/2000/sumpltcare00.html or click on the link at my website.

One other point: You can put away the pruning shears until your plants are dormant, because summer pruning will reduce next season's blooms.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] or mail to: Steve Jones, "The Plant Man", P.O. Box 686, McMinnville, TN 37111. For resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org often.

QUESTION: "We have a relatively steep slope in our backyard; steep enough that I don't want to mow it forever. It has about 7 to 8 large cedar trees planted on the slope. I have planted astilbe, bleeding hearts, hostas, ferns, periwinkle and snow on the mountain this spring. Any suggestions on some shade loving annuals or perennials I could plant for more color, especially until my other plants are more developed?" - Chris Gard

ANSWER: One thing that comes to mind is lirope or monkey grass. I have planted it on slopes around our home with great success. It blooms in the spring for quite a long time and is great as a filler. There are many different types of monkey grass that you can choose from. Also you may want to consider different types of grasses for texture. Most everything else that is shade loving you may want to check with a reputable garden center.