Summer Garden Checklist

Kansas summers can discourage even the hardiest gardeners. However, taking time to manage your garden now will help your garden later. Here’s my Summer Garden Checklist for the Kansas gardener.

Control Warm Season Weeds

Summer brings with it a new set of weeds to control. Hot weather germinates summer annuals like crabgrass, foxtail. Nutsedge and other weeds invade your lawn and landscape as well. Manage weeds using nonchemical methods such as cultivation, hand weeding, or mowing; use toxic chemicals as a last resort. 

Mowing regularly and occasionally edging along sidewalks and walkways is needed to ensure your lawn is not overrun with weeds. In a landscaped bed, hand pull any of these weeds, especially if they have seed heads.  It is so important to not let these weeds go to seed. Stay vigilant even though the summer heat tries to squash your enthusiasm. A little extra effort now will make your garden better this fall and into next year. 

Crabgrass in tree mulch ring controlled with roundup: one treatment should clean up the mulched area and keep it weed free the rest of the season.

Be Water Wise

To reduce evaporation, water when temperatures are cooler and air is still, usually in the early morning. Water deeply to moisten the root zone, but infrequently. About an inch of water each week is a good rule of thumb!  If you have invested in container plants, they will need daily watering, as soil in pots can dry out quickly and damage plant roots on hot summer days.  Each of our gardens have indicator plants that show stress first, let these plants be your guide as when to water.  For new planting started this spring, water when the top one to two inches of soil is dry.  Remember it takes three to five years for sustaining roots systems to develop for most native plants.  Supplemental watering is necessary to encourage growth and root development in these young plants. 

We use pressure compensating 1/2 inch soaker hoses to efficiently water trees, shrubs and a few flower beds. Each emitter puts out 1 gallon of water per hour.

Prepare for seeding

If you are wanting to establish native prairie plants from seed, now is a great time to prepare your area.  Mow your area short (1-2 inches). Control perennial weeds such as bindweed or Bermuda grass by carefully spraying the area with Roundup. It will take several applications to get these problematic weeds under control. If you can see soil, tillage is not necessary. If you can’t see soil, till lightly to expose some bare soil. Remember, each time you till, you bring up more weed seeds, so tread lightly. 

Measure your area and order a seed mixture that matches your site. A good seed mix ratio of wildflower to grass is 70% wildflowers to 30% grasses. Grasses tend to dominate over time, so this ratio will give the wildflowers a good start. We typically spread seed in November and December after the soil temperature has dropped enough to discourage germination. The natural freeze/thaw of the ground will work the seeds down into the soil to the proper depth for germination next spring. 

This is the seed mix we established along our newly renovated path.
Sidewalk edge planting: We mixed some sand with the seed mix to make it easier to distribute. We then let the natural freeze/thaw of the soil plant the seed for us through the winter. Germination occurred the following spring when soil temperatures rose above 60 degrees.


Now is a great time to trim back perennials that have become unruly. Perennial and grasses that are encroaching sidewalks, paths, and structures can be sheared back to size. If this is a problem every year, you may consider moving the taller plants to another spot. Plants can be divided next February or March before they start to actively grow. 

Low hanging branches from trees can also be pruned. It is getting late in the season to do much pruning on shrubs. New growth may not have enough time to get hardened off before cooler/colder weather.  If a branch or shoot is in the way, then prune it, but prune sooner rather than later. If you can wait until the shrub goes dormant this fall, then wait. 

As a general rule, early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, lilac and spirea should be pruned right after they are done blooming since they bloom on the previous year’s growth. Pruning right after blooming will allow the shrub to grow and develop a new set of buds for the next spring. 

A large compass plant that needs to be trimmed away from the path.

Finally, remember “WHY” you are gardening; creating habitat, conserving water, aesthetics, attracting pollinators, attracting birds and other wildlife or curb appeal. Let your “WHY” reinvigorate you to take care of a few extra tasks that will give your landscape a boost. Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t forget to step back to enjoy what you are trying to create. If it is all work and no enjoyment, then what is the point.

Pale purple coneflower with a common buckeye butterfly. Fun to watch!

Old Wood, New Buds: A Pruning Guide

Though true winter approaches, there are still a few warm, sunny days ahead to be filled with raking leaves and garden clean-up. Here at the Arboretum we leave our perennial gardens uncut through the winter to create winter habitat and protect the soil, but just like you, we are plenty busy piling up leaves and preparing our Christmas decorations. If the weather is truly obliging, you may even be tempted to bust out your pruning shears and neaten up your trees and shrubs. Less work waiting for you in spring, right? But be warned, overzealous and untimely snipping could cost you! Below is a seasonal summary of pruning information compiled from the four corners of the web, along with a botany primer on buds  and the old wood/new wood conundrum.

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Don’t lose your lilac blooms, prune at the perfect time! Photo by AnRo0002 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

When to Prune What

The truth is, most plants don’t need much pruning. Pruning should never aim to distort the shrubs natural figure, only enhance its shape and thin branches to ward off disease and breakage. Gardeners often ask me when to prune their (insert flowing shrub here) for the best bloom – the truth is, I don’t have all that knowledge locked in my brain! I often whip out my phone to research the specific plant and find out if it blooms on new growth or last years wood. If a plant flowers on last years wood, pruning in winter or spring means you will cut off all the already produced dormant flower buds and greatly reduce or eliminate the coming year’s bloom. Here is a run-down of when to give some common landscape plants a haircut.

Crypemyrtle (Lagerstroemia) blooms on new growth, prune in late winter before it leafs out to get a good view of the form

Lilac (Syringa) – blooms on last years wood, prune immediately after flowers have faded, before next years buds form.

Butterfly bush (Buddleia) – blooms on new wood, so prune/shape in early spring

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus) – blooms appear on new wood, prune in late winter/early spring

Hydrangeas – very tricky, as not all grow the same! Cut back H. paniculata and H. arborescens in late winter; they bloom on new wood. H. macrophylla and H. quercifolia bloom on last years wood and can only be trimmed immediately after their blooms fade.

**A great in-depth guide to evergreen pruning can be found HERE from Morton Arboretum. But if you just want the quick dirt…

Pines – early spring just as new growth begins, but not before.

Spruces, Firs – early spring before new growth begins

Juniper, Arborvitae, Yew – late winter or early spring before new growth begins

Europaeische Eibe European Yew rot red arillus fruit frucht Taxus Baccata

Yews (Taxus) can generate growth on new or old wood, so they can tolerate heavy pruning and shaping in the early spring, then again in June if needed. Photo By Philipp Guttmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Know Before You Cut

Surgeons go through years of rigorous schooling before they make a single cut, so why don’t we spend a few minutes learning about buds and shoots before the amputations begin, eh?
A bud is an embryonic shoot just above where the leaf will form, or at the tip of a stem. There are lots of different types of buds: Terminal buds (primary growth point at top of stem), lateral buds (on sides of stem that produce leaves or flowers), dormant buds (asleep and waiting for spring, shhh!), and many more.

Buds can be classified by looks or location.
By Mariana Ruiz Villarreal LadyofHats [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In light pruning, such as pinching or heading, cut just above the bud at a 45 degree angle. Lowes has a great guide on the 4 types of pruning, and a very helpful graphic seen below. A cut too far above or below the bud may result in die-back and withered stems.

This angle is optimal for encouraging grown and also hiding your cuts. Graphic from,

Cutting directly above the bud tells the plant to release hormones signalling the bud to break dormancy and sprout! Learning about the process of plant dormancy can ensure we aren’t wounding plants at vulnerable times, The Spruce has a great article on this here.

Research first, then cut carefully, friends!

Eight Garden Myths Worth Knowing

Over the years, I have come to realize how little I knew about gardening the right way.  So much of what I knew as a budding horticulturist was gleaned from school.  It wasn’t until I had killed a few plants and tortured many others that I began to learn some basic principles that guide how I work in my own garden today. Many times, we do things to plants and flowers in our gardens for no reason, other than “that is how it has always been done” or “Mom or Dad told us to do it that way”. There may not be any legitimate scientific data backing a certain practice, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it anyhow. Begin to demystify gardening with these truths I have learned.

Myth #1  Add sand to improve clay soil drainage.

Truth: This takes me back to my days sitting in soils class and learning about soil particles.  Clay particles are fine and fit nicely between the sand particles which forms a substance similar to concrete.  Since every pore is filled with these particles, air exchange and drainage is reduced, if not made impossible.  The better choice for clay soils is to choose plants that thrive in them, such as milkweed, indigo, bluestem, or blazing star.


The result of mixing sand and clay soil-It will dry and become like concrete.

Myth #2 Drought-tolerant plants (native plants) don’t need to be watered.

Truth: They are still live plants that need water for survival, though maybe not as much as others.  Match plants to your site, for sure. But native plants are only drought tolerant to a point and may need water during prolonged dry spells.  Until they get established, they are very vulnerable to drought stress.  Establishment Guide

Myth #3  After pruning a tree, treat open wounds with a wound dressing.

Truth: There is good research suggesting that treating a tree scar/wound after you have removed a branch is bogus.  Trees are resilient and can heal themselves.  Treatments can delay the healing and even lock in plant diseases.


Oak branch scar with callus tissue

Myth #4  Amend the soil when planting trees and shrubs.

Truth: At the arboretum, we have heavy clay soils.  For years, I put soft soil (compost) in the backfill when I planted trees.  I have come to find out, that is like planting the tree in a pot.  The new roots often circle the hole, unwilling to venture into the hard clay soils.  This restricted root growth slows establishment.  Use the native soil in the backfill and force the tree to acclimate to its new surroundings.

Myth #5  Plant a tree even with the soil line.

Truth: In our clay soils, it is better to plant a tree high.  Find the root flare and plant the top of the flare at least 2 inches above the soil line.  It can even be 6 inches higher.  Planting too deep can deprive the growing point of oxygen or actually drown the tree if the soil stays too wet. Recommended Trees for South-Central Kansas


Newly planted Sugar Maple is slightly raised

Myth #6  Apply turf fertilizer early in the spring to help encourage new growth.

Truth: Applying early spring turf fertilizer only encourages top growth, resulting in more mowing in the spring and summer.  It does very little for the root system of the turf.  In our climate, the focus needs to be on developing healthy roots. That is why we fertilize in the fall (October and November).  Turfgrass growth slows in the fall as nutrients are translocated to the roots for the leaves.  This translocation process stores energy in the roots in preparation for next year, helping it survive the summer with less stress.

Myth #7  If a plant is under stress, it should be fed.

Myth: If a plant is under stress, fertilizer will not solve the problem.  Usually it is environmental (dry soils, overwatering, compacted soils, root damage, etc.).  Our soils generally have adequate nutrients, so diagnose the problem to find the solution.

Myth #8  When it comes to fertilizers and pesticides, if a little is good, twice as much is better.

Truth:  I have experienced this in a number ways over the years, from dead grass to burned foliage, causing me a few sleepless nights.  There are precise directions for a reason and label directions have been carefully developed to help you avoid catastrophes.  We want immediate results to a problem so we “kick it up a notch”.  BAD IDEA!!!  Too much of a good thing is usually harmful and often results in unforeseen consequences.  Using the exact recommended dosage is always the best practice.  Trust me.

These are some truths I learned the hard way.  Unfortunately, some plants took the brunt of my misinformation.  Myths, old wives tales, and folklore abound in the world of gardening.  Learn from my mistakes.  You and your plants will both benefit.


Winter Garden Checklist

Last week, in early December, I did some work in my yard.  The day was warm, which made the work more enjoyable.  While I was working I made a checklist of all the things I need to get done in my yard before next spring.  My daughter Allyson is graduating from high school and we are having her graduation party in our backyard.  So the pressure is on to get it ready for the big event.



It may seem strange to be thinking about spring when it’s cold outside, but in March and April, when things start blooming, you’ll be glad you planned ahead. Here are some things you should definitely include in your winter garden checklist:

Leaf Collection

It is critical this time of year to continue removing leaves so they don’t smother your grass.  Fescue lawns need sunlight even during winter months and a thick layer of leaves can stunt growth or kill the lawn altogether.

Pick Up Hoses and Drain Irrigation System

Unhook hoses from the faucet, drain them, roll up and store inside.  Hoses can deteriorate if left out through the winter.  The sunlight can be harmful and water left in hoses can cause damage due to freezing temperatures.  I drain sprinklers and irrigation systems that can be busted by prolonged cold weather.


Winter is the ideal time to prune deciduous trees because they are dormant.  Prune dead branches and shape trees.  Step back and look at the tree as a whole before pruning.  Envision what the tree will look like after the branch is removed.


Landscapes can really benefit from a fresh layer of mulch.  Put down 2-4 inches of wood chips or any weed-free organic matter before the ground freezes.  Mulch keeps the soils temperatures more even, holds moisture,  slows runoff,  and controls soil erosion.  Newly planted trees and shrubs will benefit the most from mulch.

Clean Gutters

Before winter rains and snowstorms, it is a great time to clear away any leaves or debris that has collected in your gutters this fall.  Impeding flow causes ice buildup which is a safety concern when it falls from the roof.  Be careful and don’t fall off the ladder.

Winterize Equipment and Tools

I run stabilized fuel through my power equipment and then drain the fuel tanks.  Gas left in the carburetors can do damage to them by deteriorating the components and aluminum parts.  A varnish can also develop which clogs small openings within the components.  Chainsaws, hedge trimmers, weed-eaters, and mowers will be ready to go next spring.  Clean, sharpen and store hand tools.  A thin coat of linseed oil will keep them from rusting.

Take Notes

What do you need to do next spring?  What plants will you need to fill the gaps in your landscape?  What are your dreams for your outdoor space?


First plant to bloom in the arboretum next spring

First plant to bloom in the arboretum next spring – Vernal Witchhazel


Spring will come too fast.  So will Allyson’s graduation.  It is hard to believe that 17 years have passed already.  People kept telling me that she will grow up fast.  They were right.  We look forward to that graduation day with anticipation and a lot of fear and trembling.  Hopefully, my backyard will be ready, because I know I will not be ready for that day.