Summer gardening tips and tasks for Portland, OR

Water sprays from a garden hose toward a bed full of summer plants.

Avoid over or under watering by sticking a finger about an inch into the surface of the soil to check for moisture. | Photo by PDXtoday

Cue Etta James because the season gardeners wait for all year is here at last. All the hours you invested into your green space — be it a container garden on an apartment balcony, a plot in your community garden, or a raised bed in your backyard — are finally bearing fruit. See what we did there?

Summer is a busy time for gardeners, but the outdoor chores don’t need to consume all of your free hours. Here are some simple ways to care for your garden and still have a social life over the next couple of months.

💚 Show your plants some love

No, you haven’t killed that bleeding heart that wilts more and more each day. As the weather heats up, many plants that sprung to life so eagerly in spring will start to die back, making room for heat-lovers like tomatoes, zinnias, marigolds + zucchini.

These stars of summer are following the lead of many sun-deprived Pacific Northwesterners by reaching for the rays, but they also need to stay hydrated. Watering in the morning is more effective than waiting for the hottest part of the day when the water will evaporate before it can reach your plants’ roots. Watering in the evening is also an option, but you may want to avoid overhead watering — moisture that sits on the tops of leaves overnight can encourage problems like powdery mildew. If you’re spending too much time hand-watering your plants every day, consider investing in a drip irrigation system, or even just adding a timer to your faucet.

Don’t forget to feed your plants according to their individual fertilizer needs. At the store, you’ll see fertilizers with three numbers that stand for “NPK” — nitrogen, phosphorus + potassium — and different kinds of plants need different ratios.

We all can use a little extra support sometimes, our plants included. Dahlias are among those that need help in the summer as their heavy blooms drag the stems toward the ground, causing breakage if they aren’t propped up. Stakes + cages can solve this problem, but be careful not to stab the plant’s underground tuber. A cheap and effective method is to corral the plant using sticks + twine.

🦗 Slugs, mites, aphids, oh my

Pests can become a problem whether you’re growing vegetables, fruit, herbs, or flowers. Beating these tiny terrors back can often be accomplished without pesticides; tap the superpowers of biological soldiers like nematodes and lacewings to fight your battle, or you can try physical methods like sticky traps — or even a strong blast of water from a hose. If the problem persists, experts suggest starting with organic pesticides low on the toxicity list like neem oil, pheromones, pyrethrins, and most essential oils.

Building a strong defense for your plants starts with healthy, nutrient-rich soil. You can also plant things that naturally deter critters or attract them away from the plants you care about. For example, planting fragrant basil near tomatoes will help disguise the latter from certain flies, while nasturtiums will lure aphids away + draw in beneficial insects like bees.

🍂 Looking ahead

Not to rush summer, but you’ll want to start planting (or at least planning) your fall crops in July. This is easiest to do indoors, where young seedlings won’t crowd the happily-growing plants outside.

Summer is also a good time to compost lawn clippings (as long as your grass isn’t treated with herbicides) + disease-free garden plants that are ready to be recycled. Once they break down, they’ll provide super food for your next round of plants. Talk about coming full circle.

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