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June in the garden: Get ready for higher temperatures by using water wisely

The Peruvian lily is among the beauties that bloom in June.
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Soon we’ll have warm evenings and hotter days. But we are in the worst drought of the past 1,200 years, so don’t overdo watering the garden. It helps to grow plants that “drink responsibly.”

Enjoy the blooms!

What blooms in June? Take a walk through your neighborhood and photograph everything in bloom. Start a digital notebook so you can add those beauties to your garden in the fall to bloom next June.

Here’s what’s blooming in my neighborhood:

  • Kangaroo paw
  • Texas olive tree
  • Walking iris
  • Mexican bird of paradise shrub
  • Cape chestnut trees
  • Matilija poppies
  • California buckeye
  • Climbing penstemon
  • Desert willow
  • Grevillea
  • Peruvian lily

And much more!
All of these plants grow with little if any summer water after they are established. Plant in fall or winter and water well through the first year. After that, water deeply but only occasionally through late spring, then stop watering for the year.

What to do about grass

Grass is the thirstiest plant in our gardens. With diminishing water resources, we can’t continue to support lawns. But don’t just turn the water off — there are many alternatives.

• Native grasses make beautiful fields of green. Replace your lawn with buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) or purple three-awn grass (Aristida purpurea).

Yarrow, which makes a meadow of flowers, is a nice alternative to grass.
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• Plant a meadow. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) makes a ferny, soft-looking meadow with stalks of pink, white, yellow or reddish flowers in spring and summer. Clustered field sedge (Carex praegracilis) looks like a flowing, soft grass and can even take mowing to make a great lawn alternative.

Kurapia, the trade name for Lippia nodiflora, grows into a flat green surface with tiny white flowers. It needs to be bounded by concrete or other strong edges to keep it out of surrounding flower beds.

• Don’t replace lawn with synthetic grass or artificial turf. These surfaces get very hot in the summer, need to be washed regularly, fill landfills and are of concern as a source of environmental microplastics. Living plants are simply a better choice than artificial turf.

• If your plan is to replace your lawn, this is the time to start planning. July is the best time of year to solarize your lawn. It is the easiest method and very effective. Learn how by watching the episode of “A Growing Passion” at bitly.ws/s4UW.

Support tiny critters

Green caterpillar crawls along on green leaves.
Caterpillars may snack on leaves, but they seldom kill the plants.
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Insects and other tiny garden critters can be unnerving but seldom are a problem. A few pests in the garden ensure that their natural predators stick around. Your goal is to support the natural cycle to keep your garden in balance.

• Caterpillars and worms nibble on leaves but seldom kill plants. Though a few aren’t an issue, if they are truly decimating your plants, pluck them off and leave them in an open area where hungry birds and lizards can find them.

• What to do about aphids? Squish them with your fingers or hose them off with a sharp spray of water. Aphids’ soft bodies can’t withstand the impact of the spray, nor can they survive the fall to the ground.

• Fungus gnats are pesky but don’t hurt plants. The adults lay their eggs in moist potting soil. Those eggs hatch and the larvae nibble on plant roots but don’t destroy them. To keep fungus gnats at bay, water less and top your pots with an inch or two of rounded gravel. Block their access to potting soil and they’ll soon disappear.

• Gently dislodge scale from plant stems using a soft toothbrush. Check for tiny, pale-colored juveniles in the crevices between stem and branches.

• Mealy bugs succumb to isopropyl alcohol. Dedicate a bottle of 70 percent isopropyl to pest control. Dip a cotton swab in the alcohol and then swab the mealy bugs. Or dilute the alcohol to 10 percent to 25 percent and screw on a spray top. Test the spray on a single leaf, and if there is no damage after a few hours, spray the stems or leaves or wherever you see mealy bugs every week until they are gone.

• Before you reach for any treatments, put your houseplants outside in a shaded spot. Often, natural insect predators find the plants and clean them up within a few weeks.

Vegetable gardens

Use a trellis for cucumbers so their vines grow off the ground. They’ll be easier to find.
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• Resist overplanting your vegetable garden. Crowded plants grow into a jungle that reduces production and makes plants vulnerable to insects and disease.

• If you still have room, start another round of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplants, basil and so on. The plants you start now — from seed or seedling — will produce into the fall.

• Prevent powdery mildew (white powder on leaves) by ensuring good air circulation around plant leaves. Selectively remove branches to open the plant. Rinse leaves with water early in the day to wash away spores. Make sure leaves are dry by late afternoon.

• Remove the lowest tomato branches to prevent soil fungi from splashing onto leaves.

• Mulch vegetable plants with a thick layer (three or more inches) of straw — not hay, bark or wood.

• Feed vegetable plants with an organic vegetable fertilizer. Pull the mulch back, sprinkle fertilizer over the soil, water, then replace the mulch.

• Skeletonized tomato leaves and tiny balls of green are evidence of tomato hornworms. Search for the green, white and black striped caterpillars on stems and backsides of leaves. Pull off the worms and put them in an open space where birds and lizards can find them.

• Skeletonized sunflower and squash leaves could be attributed to tiny birds called lesser goldfinches. The birds also eat aphids, so welcome them to the garden.

• Avoid tomato and squash blossom end rot by keeping soil damp (not wet) at all times. In our climate and soils, blossom end rot is caused by uneven watering.

• Use a trellis for cucumbers to keep the vines off the ground. It makes the fruits easier to find, too.

• Plant cilantro in the shade of cucumber trellises. They will produce more leaves longer in a bit of shade.

• Give pumpkin plants plenty of room. The vines of a single plant can easily cover a space 20 feet long by 20 feet wide. Watermelon plants do the same.

Fruit trees

• Fertilize fruit trees with organic fertilizer, following label directions. Water regularly and deeply during the fruiting and growing season.

• Fertilize citrus and avocado with granular organic citrus and avocado food. Follow label directions.

Pomegranates need watering only every two to three weeks.
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• Water citrus deeply once a week or so. Pomegranates, figs and pineapple guava are best watered every two or three weeks, depending on how hot it is and your garden’s location.

• Practice good garden hygiene to avoid attracting hungry birds, green fig beetles, squirrels, rats, etc. Harvest fruits as they ripen, before they rot. Clean up fallen fruits, too.

Ornamental plants

Keep potted plants like Fuchsia in the shade for sun protection.
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• Drought-tolerant shrubs need little care this time of year. Clean out dead flowers and spent leaves. Keep them mulched and water deeply once every few weeks.

• Container plants need more attention through summer. Fertilize non-succulent potted plants with an all-purpose organic fertilizer (liquid indoors, liquid or granular outdoors), following label directions.

• Potting soil dries out much faster than dirt. When it’s time to water, do so slowly to saturate the entire pot, soil and all. Wait until the water drains out and then do it again. Sit lighter-weight pots in a basin of water and let the water wick to the top.

• Move sun-shy potted plants like Fuchsia and orchid cactus (Epiphyllum) under the shade of a leafy tree or an east-facing eave.

Nan Sterman is a garden designer and writer and host of “A Growing Passion” on KPBS television in San Diego. Discover more California gardening, horticulture, agriculture and native plants by watching at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays and 11 a.m. Sundays, or online anytime at agrowingpassion.com.