Water is important during hot, dry spell

Janet DelTurco and I had a lovely visit last week. She is doing well, busy as always with family, gardens and community. She currently is visiting her sister in England and plans to return at the end of the month. I brought her red current muffins and cilantro, she gave me a book on deer-proofing. She was watering her front yard flowers when I arrived.

It looks like we may have another hot, dry summer, so watering plants must be considered. Plants in pots, either houseplants summering outside or decorative planters, have first priority for watering, because their roots cannot grow deeper to find water.

My second priority is plants transplanted this past spring or last fall, ornamentals, young trees and shrubs, etc., that will not have developed large root systems yet. These plants are investments, requiring initial cost, planting effort, with great payoff in beauty and satisfaction. It is worth the effort to make sure they survive.

Next for me is the garden, especially plants such as tomatoes and zucchini that seem to produce in direct proportion to how much water they get. By now, my potatoes are coming down the backstretch, so it’s OK if the soil is dry.

Fruit trees require water if you want healthy fruit. This is the first year my pear tree has pears, so about once a week, I put the hose at its base for a good soaking.

Apple trees are on their own. A couple of years ago during another rainless summer, the big apple tree dropped all its apples and that was it — no apples that year. Last year, there was a huge crop of apples, so the tree knows what is best for its survival.

If it seems that watering is a big deal for me, it is. The houseplants are spoiled and only get rainwater from the two rain barrels under the downspout. That means I have to lug the watering can up to the deck several times to get everybody watered.

The garden and pear tree get city water from the hose and the distant, newly planted trees and shrubs get the rainwater in a watering can treatment. As I trudge back and forth between rain barrels and newbies in the far back yard, I try to think of the excellent exercise I am getting and the fact that it’s just this first year that they have to be babied.

The garden is at its best, lots of fresh vegetables and flowers. There are lots of green tomatoes in their cages; they’ll probably all ripen at the same time, like last year. If you have early ripening varieties, you are probably eating tomatoes now.

This year, I planted two zucchini plants. They are doing OK, but looking tired, so I have already replanted to extend the season into the fall. Don’t wait to pick zucchini until they are like huge clubs (unless you like to make stuffed zucchini); keep picking young fruit and the plant will keep producing them.

I pick carrots as needed for soup or stews, and leave the rest to get bigger. Garlic has dried out and is getting pulled. I trim the roots and top stalk; I’ll save one head of each of the three varieties I grow for replanting this fall and store the rest for cooking uses. Basil is doing well, threatening to start flowering; make your batches of pesto now and dry some leaves for winter use.

Janet was complaining about Japanese beetles, and they were in my yard, too. They love roses and, in my yard, devour the pussy willow shrub. Their numbers seemed to have dropped off in the heat and dry we have experienced; otherwise, Janet uses Sevin dust. I use it also and have tried the biological control agent that kills the larvae in the soil, with no particular success. It’s icky, but I have time, so I remove beetles by holding a container with water beneath them and when they let go (their escape mechanism) they fall into the water and can’t swim. Then I am sure they will not reproduce.

Zinnias in the garden are putting on a show. They make a great cut flower to bring beauty inside, and stargazer lilies are perfuming wherever they are. Enjoy the bounty.


(Recipe disclosure: I am not great about giving amounts of ingredients to use, so assemble based on your tastes and preferences.)

Into a blender, place a few peeled garlic cloves, about 1/4 cup roasted nuts (classic is pine nuts, but I’ve used pistachio and walnuts and just heard about sunflower), olive oil, salt and pepper. Start blender. Add washed basil leaves until a paste is formed. Add more olive oil and more basil until you’ve made as much as you want.

Susan Carty is a local gardener and a professor emerita of biology at Heidelberg University.

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