A fifteen or twenty minute “garden inspection” once a week is usually all it takes to identify trouble spots. Pest and disease problems are much easier to solve if identified early and require less aggressive treatment if nipped in the bud, so to speak. Pay particular attention to soft new growth – this is the favorite hangout of aphids. Watch for ants in your plants. They are harmless by themselves, but are often an indication that aphids are present somewhere close-by (Ants have the same relationship to aphids that humans do to cows: they milk them for their honeydew).
Also keep an eye on “indicator plants” that are the first to display drought stress-they tell us that we need to water more often. Thirsty hydrangeas are a good one, because their leaves wilt and sag so pitifully – other plants may not exhibit drought stress so readily, but the indicator plants can tell us they may also be dry.
The secret of a successful garden lies in the soil, and you have only one chance to make good soil, so do it right the first time. If your soil is heavy (clay) add and incorporate equal parts of coarse builder’s sand and organic matter over the whole area. This improves the soil and raises the area at the same time, so the plants don’t sit with wet feet all winter.
most plant failures are due to poor drainage and winter wet. If you are digging in sand and compost, do this when the soil is reasonably dry – otherwise you will end up with a mass of clumps. Tilling overly wet soil with a rototiller can also alter the soil structure resulting in a hard, compacted mess.
Mulch, mulch, mulch
We do harp on about this, but it really is the kindest thing you can do for your plants. It is easiest to do this in early spring or in fall when your perennials are dormant. A two to three inch layer of mulch (compost, leaf mould, rotted manure, ground bark) will suppress weeds, insulate the root zone against cold and help conserve soil moisture in the heat of the summer. Don’t bank mulch up against the trunks of your plants though, taper off the mulch as you approach the trunk.
When you water, water deeply. This encourages, strong, deep roots. Shallow waterings don’t penetrate deeply, so the plants are disinclined to sink their roots deeply into the soil. Having the roots so close to the surface leaves the plant less able to handle the heat of the summer as the soil dries out.