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Mow less when the lawn is dry. Photo: daniel.sahlin via Flickr, some rights reserved.
Mow less when the lawn is dry. Photo: daniel.sahlin via Flickr, some rights reserved.

To do, and not to do when it's hot and dry

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With nothing but more dry, hot weather in the forecast, gardeners have an opportunity to clear out weeds that can overcome less hardy vegetables and flowers, and a chance to take a break from mowing the lawn. Cooperative Extension horticulturist Amy Ivy has a pep talk on weeding in her conversation with Martha Foley today.

And there's a caution as well about mowing too much when the lawn is dry. Timing can help. Here's their weekly chat.

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Martha Foley
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While recent weather has been ideal for beach-goers and picnickers, it poses a problem for gardeners. Homeowners are often sore and tired after weeding their vegetable and flower gardens, and there is currently very little moisture in the soil in some local areas.

Amy Ivy is horticulturist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service of Clinton and Essex Counties, and she said, “You really notice that when you start digging around in the soil too, it really is hard to tell just by looking at the surface and things like that. But it is a good time to get weeds out, unless if it’s bone-dusty dry, that can be a challenging time to get weeds out too, but you got to go with what you got.”

Ivy says that weeds may take what little water there is away from valuable plants in the garden. Once they are pulled out, weeds that have not gone to seed yet can be laid down as mulch. They already have moisture in their leaves and can provide nutrients for the other plants. However, some weeds, such as quack grass, will root again if allowed to stay in the garden and shouldn’t be left as mulch.

“I actually have been doing some pruning of the lower leaves of some things,” said Ivy. One of these is her flowering tobacco plant, which has huge leaves. She said, “It was crowding in, and so rather than pull the whole plant out, which I probably should have done, I broke off some of the leaves. They’ve got nice, big, flat leaves, and I’ve been laying that on the ground too.”

While dry soil can make weeding easier, it can also lead to the wrong plants being pulled up with the weeds. Ivy said, “That’s one of the drawbacks to letting the weeds get so large, and I know it happens to all of us. You go away and come back, and things have exploded. But that’s another reason why getting them early is certainly preferable. But almost every garden I’ve looked at, every farm I’ve been on, there are weeds that have gotten out of hand and it’s perfectly natural. But now’s the time to get them.”

According to Ivy, eradicating annuals such as lamb’s quarters and pigweed, or redroot, is important because these plants produce so many seeds. She says that even cutting off the plant, if gardeners don’t want to pull it out, will help. “Just don’t let those seeds be produced,” said Ivy.

Purslane is another weed that is often found in gardens. Ivy says that this is not a weed that should be left lying around once it is pulled up because every single leaf of it will root. Purlane contains high amounts of moisture. “All of them, they just compete for water and nutrients and space and all that,” said Ivy about the weeds. “I know it sounds tedious to talk about weeds and all that, but that’s all a part of gardening. And think about if you didn’t have weeds thriving in your garden, that’d be a pretty sad thing if you can’t even grow weeds, so be glad; that’s all part of a healthy garden is that you have weeds in it, so embrace it.”

Ivy reminded people that timing is everything, and said, “If it helps you psychologically to think, you know, by August you can slack off, but July, this is when the vegetables in particular and the flowers that you care about are really pushing out the growth and the size and production. This is when it tends to be dry and hot and so anything you can do now will really pay off.”

Watering is the second challenge faced by gardeners at this time of year. Ivy warned against wasting precious water by watering and then weeding. “Get your weeds out and then water. It’s a great time to water because the soil’s all loose and the water will go right down to the root system, and then whatever mulch you can come with to try to cover that ground to hold some of that moisture in would be a great thing to do too,” said Ivy. “I know it’s so hard to do it the way you’re supposed to do it. But at least knowing what you’re supposed to do might help you to prioritize when you only have that little bit of a window of time.”

The lawn also needs special consideration when it is particularly dry and hot out. Some parts of lawns dry out while others remain green, but in general, grass growth is limited. Ivy said, “There are times when, after those short rain showers that we get, that the lawn can really take off and start to grow. The best thing you can do, because we’re heading into the hot, dry part of summer that our lawns hate – the grasses we have here do not like that weather – the less often you can mow, the better. Try not to mow any more than you absolutely have to.”

Ivy recommends that people who are going to mow should wait, since mowing lawns too aggressively in hot weather can make them turn brown. Ivy says that mowing after a rainfall or during a cloudy period is ideal. “It’s more important to weed your garden than to mow your lawn,” she said. “It’s better to err on the side of letting your lawn get too long.”

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