The summer garden may seem to be on autopilot: Perennials are blooming, tomatoes ripening, houseplants vacationing outdoors are doubling in size. But things can go south in just a few days if we become complacent. Sometimes, I water on my way out the door in the morning and still come home to droopy, sun-shocked plants at the end of the day. If you're taking a vacation this month, be sure to arrange for watering in your absence. Keep on top of weeds, too; don't let them go to seed. Here's the chore list to ensure your garden doesn't look tired by month's end.
1. For best flavor, harvest herbs in the morning just after the dew has dried. Rinse flat-leaved ones like basil and parsley, lay flat to dry, then bag and freeze.
2. Plant cool-season crops like lettuce, radishes, spinach and peas now for a fall harvest.
3. Send a photo of yourself with your tomatoes, along with your growing strategy, to email@example.com. The 2012 Tomato Challenge is in just three weeks!
4. Although you might be tempted to let the zucchinis get big, they'll be tastier and more tender if you pick them when they're small.
5. It's Bloom Day! See photos of my garden, and show off what's blooming in yours at newsday.com/bloomday.
6. Keep mower blades set to a minimum of 3 inches. The lawn is really just a bunch of leaves that need to photosynthesize; cut them too short and they'll stress.
7. It's safe to relocate evergreens now through October. Just be sure to dig up as much of the root system as possible.
8. Electrical storm coming? Turn off pond pumps.
9. If cabbage heads split, bring them indoors immediately or they'll become inedible.
10. To keep heat wilt at bay, mist leaves of hybrid tea roses with liquid seaweed.
11. Monitor container moisture levels at least once a day; potted plants lose moisture more quickly than garden plants.
12. Harvest onions when tops flop over. Let them cure in the sun for a few days.
13. If you haven't sprayed roses with chemicals, you can use their hips to make tea and jam.
14. Clean up fallen fruit from around trees to prevent pest infestations.
15. Harvest beets when 2 inches wide. You can saute and eat the leaves, too (don't assume this is true for all vegetables; tomato foliage is toxic).
16. Water the lawn deeply. Less-frequent, longer watering is preferable to daily sprinkles on established turf.
17. Transplant spring-flowering bulbs that need to be relocated.
18. Expect some browning on the innermost branches of evergreens. It's normal for older branches to shed this time of year.
19. Take cuttings of impatiens, geraniums and wax begonias, and root indoors for a new generation of free plants next year.
20. Start placing your spring bulb orders now, before the best ones sell out for the season.
21. Re-edge beds to tidy up the garden. You'll be surprised at the difference it makes.
22. Collect seeds from daylilies, Cleomes, rose campions and other plants that produce pods. Store in a paper envelope in the fridge, away from fruit, until spring.
23. Time to renovate the lawn. Remove dead patches, aerate, apply compost and seed. Water deeply just once, then sprinkle twice a day until grass is 3 inches tall.
25. Say "no" to volcanoes! Check that mulch isn't covering plant crowns, and move it 3 inches away from tree and shrub trunks.
26. Plant white clover in future garden beds. Then turn the soil over next spring for naturally nitrogen-rich beds.
27. Replace faded annuals with pansies. They'll bloom through fall and again next spring.
28. Start dividing and transplanting peonies if they're getting too big. Remember not to bury "eyes" more than an inch or two below the surface, and throw in some compost.
29. Move potted tropicals and houseplants into a shady spot for a couple of days before bringing indoors until next spring.
30. Dig up and divide daylilies after they've stopped blooming.
31. Did you overwater? Underwater? Plant shade plants in sun or relocate at the wrong time? Confess to your crimes at newsday.com/gardenmistakes and your story might get published.