It’s finally turned hot, and dry – typical August conditions for east Texas. Time to hunker down, avoid mid-day activities, and do our best to keep our garden plants out of stress.
While gardeners don’t like hot and dry conditions, that is exactly what chinch bugs like. These lawn pests damage St. Augustine lawns by their feeding activity, sucking out plant juice and injecting a damaging toxin. Infested grass takes on a wilted look that does not respond to irrigation, and then eventually turns straw brown.
Chinch bugs usually first get started in the sunniest, hottest parts of the yard. Yesterday I saw the beginnings of an infestation on a small, hot, sunny strip of grass surrounded by sidewalks and the street. If left untreated, chinch bugs can severely damage the lawn. Look closely for the tiny, 1/5 inch long black insects before making any treatment decisions. If you fix your stare for a minute at a suspected area, if they are present you should see them scurrying up and down the leaf blades during mid-day. When disturbed, they quickly hide under the thatch or loose soil. Quickly part the grass, (like looking for fleas on a long-haired dog) and you might catch a glimps of them before they hide again. Sometimes they can be coaxed out of the thatch by flooding a suspected area with water so they can be more easily seen. Misidentifying a problem and spending money trying to fix it with the wrong treatment only leads to a thinner wallet and an unresolved problem.
For a fact sheet on chinch bugs and treatment options, go online to citybugs.tamu.edu/ and look under Yard & Garden for the Lawn Pests section.
Miracle Mulch. That’s the title the Smith County Master Gardeners gave to a publication they wrote on mulch several years ago. Mulching the ground has so many benefits you might think it was a miracle product. Mulches conserve water by reducing evaporation. This not only saves on your water bill, but it creates a better soil environment for healthier plants. Many plants prefer a fairly consistent level of soil moisture. Bare, un-mulched soil will dry out quickly after a rain or irrigation in the hot summer months. Bare soil is also hotter, leading to plants more prone to stress and problems. A 2 to 4 inch layer of mulch also reduces the number of germinating weeds that compete with your plants for water and mar the appearance of your garden. And mulch provides an attractive, unifying element to a garden area, much like a carpet or tile does to a large room.
Edible Garden. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to grow some veggies. Even though it is hot outside, there are many vegetables that can be started now from seed and transplants. Warm season crops will die when it gets cold, and should be planted together so that space will be available for the next round of plantings. Cool season veggies will easily tolerate light freezes and provide nutritious additions to your dinner plate.
Here’s a quick list of what can be sown in August for a fall harvest: Warm season: beans, cucumber, and summer squash; Cool season: broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and Swiss chard. Seedlings and transplants will need extra care to help get them established, including paying close attention to soil moisture, and maybe provide some afternoon shade. All of the cool season crops listed can continue to be planted in September.
Here’s a tip to help get vegetable seed up in the heat of summer. Before seeding vegetables, thoroughly soak a shallow trench with water down the row. Plant the seed, and then cover and firm with dry, not moist, soil. To keep the soil cooler and prevent developing a layer of crust due to frequent sprinkling, cover the row with a board or wet burlap and check daily for seed emergence – remove at first signs of life.
Set out tomato transplants (if you can find them) right away for a fall harvest. Look for an early maturing variety (65 to 75 days). Remember that our average first freeze is mid-November and that tomato ripening slows down as the fall days get cooler and cloudy.
Peppers and tomatoes planted earlier this year will not set fruit during the heat of summer, even though they may still be flowering. If the plants remain healthy, they will set fruit again once temperatures stay below 90 degrees. Sidedress established healthy plants with fertilizer and keep watered to encourage new growth.
Horticulture Show at the East Texas State Fair. A new competitive event has been added to the East Texas State Fair, called the Horticulture Show. It provides anybody, both youth and adults, the chance to display your beautiful plants. Categories include potted plants, container gardens, and beautiful yet functional table displays. You must register with the East Texas State Fair by September 6 to exhibit in the Horticulture Show, which takes place September 27-29. For rules and registration, go to their web site at www.etstatefair.com
Another date to mark on your calendar is October 12, for the annual Fall Garden Conference / Bulbs & More plant sale, sponsored by Smith County Master Gardeners and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Great speakers and hardy bulbs, plus unusual native and adapted perennials and trees will be offered. For more information, and eventually a list of plants to be offered, check out the Coming Events section of the scmg.tamu.edu web site.