Summer planting tips from a gardening meteorologist...

Left - temperatures relative to normal in June; Right - precipitation relative to normal last 90 days. (Great Plains Regional Climate Center)

Garden weather update

This season I have been referring to our climatic situation as a “sneaky drought”. We have managed to get just enough rain to barely stay out of a full-fledged drought.

For the past three months the rains in Washington, D.C. have averaged 70% of normal (as shown above) but temperatures have been consistently above normal. As shown above, the temperatures have been more than four degrees above normal since June 1! That evaporation is working overtime. It looks like irrigation will continue to be a weekly chore as hot, dry conditions are likely over the next two weeks.

Deer and beetles: dining pests

Now if that weren’t enough to worry about, two of my most dependable pests have arrived right on cue in the garden: deer and Japanese beetles. Little did I know that some of my plantings are, as a good landscaping friend stated, “their version of filet mignon”. I sort of feel like the neighborhood four-star restaurant to these four-legged friends.

Top of the menu? All those pansies whose virtues I have extolled.

Of course, as any gardener knows, hostas are also a prime target and mine are no exception. But the one that really kills me are my daylilies. The deer are true epicures and arrive just as the buds are swelling. Having actually cooked with lily buds, I can attest to their good taste, but oh how I miss that burst of color in the heart of the summer garden.

So what is to be done?! I anxiously look forward to your contributions on this one as I feel like a novice, having only dealt with deer for the past two years.

I have friends who swear that there is some spray in the hardware stores now that is just the ticket. At the same time, there are gardeners with years of experience in this battle saying they have never met an effective spray repellent. Some talk about motion detecting sprinklers but I figure I’d end up with a swamp with all the deer that pass through! I have noticed that planting behind short holly bushes has protected some of my lilies and I put out some stakes in other patches to see if that deters at all.

I am sort of a path of least resistance guy and am not ready to sign up for bow and arrow classes just yet. So my main deterrent will be to just plant what they don’t like.

Some of the best plants that are generally safe from the ravaging crowd are sedums which range from ground covers to the familiar fall bloomers. Surprisingly, most ornamental grasses are not on their menu nor are most ferns. For nice foliage and flowers, there are heuchera and salvia. Echinaceas and foxgloves are good choices as well. For shrubs, forget the dining-favorite hydrangea and go for the butterfly bush, quince, beauty berry and barberry. My personal favorites are Lenten rose for late winter and spring bloom, and euphorbia for all-season bloom.

As for the flying pest, this time of year marks the emergence of the ravenous Japanese beetle. I have to admit they have a beautiful iridescence but boy can they make mincemeat out of the roses. Other favorites of these marauders are hollyhocks, marsh mallow and oak leaf hydrangea. I cringe at the use of pesticides but will allow for an application on the rose bushes once a season to allow them to survive the one to two month assault. Once again, I mainly avoid treating the other plants to save heartache. I do encourage you with lawns to apply milky spore, available in most hardware stores. One application lasts for 10 years and really cuts back on the local numbers by killing off the grubs. Again, any other input on this critter is welcome.

Happy gardening and keep the hose handy!

Capital Weather Gang meteorologist David Streit is also an active gardener. He earned a certificate in landscape design from the USDA Graduate School and volunteered many years at the National Arboretum.