Charlotte Kidd, M. Ed., is a writer, professional gardener, garden coach and garden designer. She’s a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Garden Writers Association. Contact her at

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Midsummer Checkup
by Charlotte Kidd       #Advice   #Pests   #Summer

A sustainable, healthy rose garden has perennials such as Acanthus sp. that attract pollinators and beneficial insects.

Tall, multicolored ‘Granny’s Bouquet’ zinnias flourish in the sunny border. We’ve been clipping them regularly for the table, which encourages new flowering. Heritage garden roses are into their second or third flush. Landscape roses continue strong and brighter than ever. Grape, patio and large luscious tomatoes are at peak production. Yellow and green summer squash are so prolific that neighbors walk the other way when they see you carrying yet another vegetable.

July and August also can bring out the worst in marginally healthy plants. Plants are a collection of living cells, just like us. We’re more susceptible to going downhill fast when stressed, underfed, dehydrated, injured, too hot or too cold.

Same with plants. Diseases and pests will take advantage of distressed, crowded, water-deprived, underfed or overfed, overheated, damaged or weak plants. Powdery mildew spews onto phlox and rose leaves. Aphids reproduce by the hundreds to suck juices from plump new buds and leaves.

Even healthy plants can be pest fodder. Japanese beetles devour many plants, including hibiscus, beans, zinnias and crapemyrtle.

Below is a list of tasks to keep the garden healthy and looking good through midsummer.


Topping off or refreshing shredded bark mulch stifles weeds and nicely defines shady beds.

• Water generously at the roots (not in the air). Roots (not leaves) absorb water that carries nutrients.
• Give plants a pickup with compost and kelp (liquid or meal).
• Remove garden debris.
• Improve air circulation and rain penetration.
• Plant flowers and herbs with pollen and nectar that attracts beneficial insects—daisies, coreopsis, cosmos, goldenrod, dill, tansy, yarrow, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace and thyme.

Garden Tidying
• Keep paths open and weed-free. Tidy paths welcome you and visitors into the garden for leisure and enjoyment as well as work. Refresh with straw or wood chips where the soil is visible.
• Weed!
• Remove dead leaves and flowers.
• Refresh or “fluff” organic mulches. Pull mulch away from the base of perennials, shrubs and trees. Mulch pushed up against stems, branches or bark is an invitation for fungi to rot the plant and insects to invade.
• In the veggie garden, pick ripe veggies and fruits. Pull out spent beans, borer-infested summer squash, bolting lettuce and spinach and split radishes. Plant cold-weather veggies for autumn harvest.

Get Your Rogue On
“Roguing” is removing and destroying infested, badly diseased or damaged plant material. Prune and rake out diseased leaves, stems or branches. Dig out diseased roots. Bag this plant debris for disposal — put it out for trash pickup or as yard waste for community composting at high temperatures.

Powdery mildew thrives in high humidity. Cornell University researchers have found 1 tablespoon of baking soda plus 2.5 tablespoons of Sun Spray Ultra-Fine Year Round Pesticidal Oil in 1 gallon of water to be an effective, nontoxic control of this fungal disease on roses.

The first step to removing aphids is clipping off infested plant parts, then using a strong spray of water to wash off the rest. Beneficial insects—parasitic wasps, lady bird beetles, green lace wings and syrphid flies—are top biological controls. Insecticidal soap, neem oil and supreme horticultural oil are the least toxic chemical controls.

A swarm of aphids attacks a bud.

For home gardens, handpicking Japanese beetles as soon as you see them is recommended over chemical controls. Shake and pick them off early in the morning when they’re sluggish. Dropping them into soapy water will kill them. Start removal when you see the first beetle. Japanese beetles produce pheromones that attract more Japanese beetles.

For black spot on roses, first, choose a rose cultivar that’s resistant to black spot. Second, provide roses with eight to 10 hours of sun and excellent air circulation. Cultural practices to control this fungus start with keeping rose foliage dry. Why? To germinate, spores must be wet for at least seven hours. Black spot fungus lives in fallen leaves and infected canes. So remove infested leaves. Rake up and discard all fallen leaves. Prune and discard infected canes. Disinfect pruner blades between cuts when clipping infected plant material. When using a fungicide spray, add a sticker spreader for better coverage.

Pace and Reward Yourself
If the garden looks too unmanageable or you feel overwhelmed, step back and breathe deeply. Once. Twice. Thrice. Okay, now which corner is most bothersome? Tackle that one space for now. Focus on it; tidy it. Then give yourself a pat on the back, a soothing foot massage and a refreshing beverage. Choose another spot the next time.


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of and


Posted: 06/28/17   RSS | Print


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