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posted: 8/4/2013 1:00 AM

Monitor soil, provide water as needed

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  • Fall crops, such as cabbage, can be planted now.

    Fall crops, such as cabbage, can be planted now.

  • Fall crops, such as broccoli, can be planted now.

    Fall crops, such as broccoli, can be planted now.

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden

Although there was lots of rain in spring and early summer, conditions now have become warmer and drier. Monitor the soil in your garden and provide supplemental water to plants installed over the last three years as needed. Older, more established trees and shrubs will most likely be just fine. If large trees show damage, it may have been caused by last year's drought. Make sure that the root balls of evergreen trees planted within the last year or two are thoroughly moistened when you water. Densely branched evergreen trees can shed water from rain or a sprinkler like an umbrella, so that the root ball remains dry even if the soil in the surrounding bed is moist. Apply water right at the base of these trees.

Most lawns were still green at the end of July, but if August is hot and dry they will go dormant and turn brown without supplemental water. Dormant grass will green up again in fall with cooler weather and rain.

During the first week of August, plant fall crops such as short-season snap beans, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, carrots, mustard greens, spinach and radishes.

Pinch off developing flowers on herb plants to retain essential oils and flavor in the plants' foliage. You can preserve herbs by drying entire sprigs or plants or freezing individual portions in ice-cube trays.

Carefully cut back more vigorous perennials to keep your border from looking overgrown. Cutting leaves or stems off at the base can reduce the size of the plants without making them look pruned.

Make note of perennials that have flopped and need staking so you can install a support system next spring before the plants actually need it.

Continue to groom your perennials and annuals by removing yellowing foliage and spent flowers. You may want to leave dried flowers on certain plants such as astilbe and coneflower for fall and winter interest. Goldfinches visit my coneflowers in fall and eat the seeds.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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