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Growing Together: Avoid midsummer garden pitfalls

Some weed plants can produce 1 million seeds that remain viable for more than 25 years. Removing them before they set seed reduces future populations. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 2
Don Kinzler2 / 2

I’m the perfect guy to discuss gardening mistakes, because I’ve made most of them. Gardening faux pas aren’t actually so bad, because even if things don’t turn out quite the way they ought, we’re still planting, pruning, potting and enjoying every minute of it.

Let’s take a walk around the yard and garden, while I describe some common mistakes. Maybe you can sidestep the quicksand.

1. When watering the lawn, don’t apply frequent light sprinklings, thinking you’re keeping its water supply well-stocked. Instead, water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep grass roots. Frequent shallow watering promotes shallow rooting.

If the lawn’s addiction to water is interrupted, it suffers and browns more quickly than deep-rooted grass. One inch of water applied once per week from rain or sprinkling is the rule of thumb.

2. Don’t buzz-cut the lawn. In midsummer, it’s tempting to mow a lawn just to freshen it up. But the ideal cutting height is 3 inches above soil level. The higher cut provides cooling shade to the roots, conserves moisture, and keeps the grass greener longer than the scalped alternative.

3. Don’t bag lawn clippings unless you haul them to your own yard compost pile. Hauling them to a waste collection site is giving away a nice commodity.

Grass clippings allowed to filter into the lawn provide moisture-holding mulch. As they decompose, fertilizer is produced, which is the equivalent of one application of lawn food per season.

4. Avoid watering in the evening. I once thought this was an appropriate time because night watering would seem to conserve water. But foliage that remains wet all night is a prime haven for disease organisms, which require moisture to establish and spread.

Especially vulnerable are disease-prone plants like tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, squash, melons and peppers. Gray, powdery mildew that makes the leaves of perennials unthrifty is worsened by dampness. Morning watering allows leaves to dry more quickly.

5. Don’t allow cucumbers or summer squash to become over-ripe on the vines even though you’ve had your fill, and neighbors don’t make eye contact for fear you’ll ask them to take a few. If you want prolonged harvest, remove ripe produce before it signals to the plant that it’s time to shut down.

6. Don’t trample squash, cucumber and melon vines when harvesting. You may need to do the side-step shuffle while balancing on one leg, but vines are irreversibly damaged if you squish them underfoot.

7. Remember to monitor vegetables for insects. Green cabbage looper worms also attack broccoli and cauliflower. Black and yellow striped cucumber beetles go for vine crops.

Potato beetles are round, fat and striped tan/black. Flea beetles are hard to see, but cause little dots and pinholes in radish and spinach leaves. Sevin, malathion, rotenone (Garden Guard) and insecticidal soap are good to have on hand for early insect treatment.

8. Don’t let weeds go to seed.

One purslane plant can produce

1.8 million seeds, and they can remain viable for 25 years.

9. Young trees are best watered deeply, and then allowed to dry a little. Soaking every seven to 10 days is plenty. Trees kept constantly moist can suffocate and drown.

10. Don’t leave tree wraps in place year after year. Suffocating constrictions are common when tree trunks expand and grow against the wrap. Summer removal is best, but at least make sure they aren’t girdling tightly with no growth space.

11. Don’t plant new trees too deeply. The widening flare between trunk and roots should be visible above soil level. Even several inches too deep causes gradual tree decline that may become most visible when the tree is severely weakened in five or 10 years.

12. You wouldn’t let a weed-whacker or string trimmer whip away at your pant leg. Likewise, trimmers and mowers should be kept away from tender tree bark.

Cumulative lower bark injuries weaken trees, making them more susceptible to winter injury and disease troubles. Circles of mulch reduce the temptation to get too close.

13. Let’s not spray trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and vegetable gardens with drift from lawn weed killers. I was taught that if you smell the aroma of 2,4-D spray wafting through the air, it is present in sufficient strength to cause trouble to desirables.

Over time, drift accumulations of herbicides in trees, shrubs and perennials is bound to stifle their potential. I prefer my tomatoes with mayo and salt, hold the noxious fumes.

14. After a long list of don’ts, we reach the most important. Don’t forget to sit back, nibble some raspberries and watch the butterflies on the Asclepius. Show a youngster the fun of snapping open an Antirrhinum blossom to show why its common name is snapdragon. Garden chores will wait a while.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Tune in to his weekly radio show from 10 to 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays on WDAY Radio 970. Readers can reach him at