The Hort Report: With the weather heating up, consider using mulch to help with watering plants


Mulching around vegetables and flowers helps keep the weeds down and helps conserve water. | Photo courtesy of Laura Greenwell

Happy Father’s Day to all the special fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers. Let them know how much you appreciate them and how special they are to you. 

The weather has been great for all your gardening and yard work. The one thing we see is not having enough rain for all the plants in gardens and flowerbeds. 

It seems like we might be heading into a copy of the weather we had last year. Hopefully, this isn’t the way it will go. If it is, here are things I want you to think about to help you get the most out of any watering you will be doing in your garden and flowerbeds. 

Water before 8 a.m. before the sun starts to heat up the day or any time after 6 p.m. when the heat of the day is starting to drop.

When watering, I try to water at the base of the plant, just at ground level. This way the water can get into the root system better.

Mulching around vegetables and flowers helps keep the weeds down and helps conserve water. We weren’t getting much rain last year and when we needed to water plants, you could see how mulching was working. We didn’t need to water as often where there was mulch compared to where we didn’t mulch. 

I mulch all the vining vegetables at the base of the plant to about three inches in a circle. Mulch over time will start to break down and add to the organic matter in the soil. Mulch also will help protect the young plants from harmful weather. 

You can use straw, old leaves, grass clippings, shredded paper, sawdust and woodchips for mulch. Woodchips and sawdust will last longer. Don’t use freshly cut sawdust or woodchips, which produce acid as they dry. Nothing will grow there for several years. 

You also need to make sure to keep all weeds under control. Weeds are deeper rooted. They can survive dry weather, so kill them. 

Doing these things should help you keep vegetables and flowers growing.   

I have received questions of things I wrote about in a couple of past Hort Reports. I enjoy these questions and here are some answers. 

When using the vinegar-salt-dishwashing soap weed killer mix. I should have told you better that when using this mix, that’s also when enough salt gets into the soil. It won’t allow anything to grow there for several weeks. Also don’t spray next to any metal surface, as the salt might damage it.   

This mix works best during the heat and not having any rain within a few days. The salt gets into the plant and soil, killing it. 

The cicadas have started to die. Now we wait for the eggs to hatch and the nymphs to drop to the ground. Spray your soil with an insecticide like Sevin or treat it with an insecticide that will stay in the soil longer to help kill the nymphs. I treated the soil for Japanese Beetles a few years ago. We had just a few cicadas this year in our backyard. The insecticide killed cicada nymphs too. 

As you harvest cool-season vegetables, think about planting more seed in their place. We have done this with the raised beds at the community garden. We planted more green beans, radishes and onions in them. This makes sure we will be having new vegetables coming in all summer. 

I appreciate all your questions in the past and look forward to them in the coming days. You can call me at 573-588-2040 at Shelby County Implement in Shelbina, Mo. Come out and see me or ask me anytime you see me. You can email me at or Facebook me at Greenwell’s Greenhouse Group. 

Pat Greenwell is the owner of Shelby County Implement in Shelbina, Mo. He was a high school agriculture teacher for 11 years. He has taught adult vocational agriculture since 1987. He also is a research assistant at the Truman State University Ag Department Farm. 

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