Follow This Summer Garden Checklist to Keep Plants Healthy and Vibrant

These guidelines will help you stay on top of summer gardening maintenance, keeping your plants colorful and thriving throughout the season.

Summer gardening can feel like barely surviving: The flowers need planting before it's too hot for them to thrive. The mulch needs refreshing to stop the weeds from taking over. After the first flush, the flowers need to be deadheaded to keep the color coming. It's a lot to keep up with, which is why we've created this summer garden checklist. Check off our to-do list to conquer the season with ease, maximizing the beauty and lifespan of your garden.

Spread Mulch

Elizabeth Oliver foamflower

Spreading a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch over your soil is one of the best things you can do for your garden. The mulch blankets the ground, shielding the soil from the sun and keeping it cooler. That makes your plant roots happier and also prevents moisture loss due to evaporation.

There's not a single best type of mulch. Anything made from organic matter—shredded wood, pine straw, a mix of grass clippings and shredded leaves—will help your soil as it decomposes and adds to the soil structure.

Learn more about the types and benefits of mulch.

Pull Up Weeds

Weed

Pesky weeds tend to love summer heat and can quickly go from tiny to gigantic. It's important to pull them from your garden, because weeds steal moisture and nutrients from your plants. Many weeds also encourage insect pests and diseases to move in or take over.

Weeds are easiest to pull when they're young and small; moist soil makes this task even easier. Another reason to tackle them while they're young: You want to stop weeds from producing seeds. A single dandelion plant can yield 2,000 seeds in a year, while lamb's quarters can produce 150,000 seeds in a year. That's a lot of future weeding you can avoid!

Check out our Weed Identification Guide.

Add Color with Summer Annuals

Angelonia Archangel Purple

Once summer heat arrives, many spring-blooming annuals—pansy, viola, osteospermum—fade. Keep your yard looking tidy by pulling out the spent plants and replacing them with heat-loving varieties, such as angelonia, lantana, ageratum, coleus, pentas, portulaca, salvia, sweet potato vine, and zinnia. These summer-friendly annuals grow quickly in warm temperatures and will soon provide a beautiful burst of color. Note: If drought, pests, or diseases wipe out any of your summer annuals, replace them to keep the color going.

Discover top annuals in our Plant Encyclopedia.

Plant Summer-Blooming Bulbs

Summer bulbs like calla, canna, and dahlia are a surefire way to add color and drama to your landscape all summer long. These varieties are tender, so if you live in a zone where they're not hardy, plant them after all danger of frost has passed. Once temperatures rise, they grow quickly.

Choose from among our favorite summer bulbs.

Pinch Mums and Other Late Perennials

Keep mums, sedums, asters, and other fall-blooming perennials standing tall by pinching the top inch or two of new growth. You can do so up to the Fourth of July. Pinching the tops of the plant typically results in a more compact, sturdy specimen. It may also encourage the growth of more blossoms from the sideshoots, though the flowers typically end up a little smaller and appear a couple of weeks later than normal.

Other perennials that you can pinch in May and June:

  • Balloon flower
  • Bee balm
  • Goldenrod
  • Joe Pye weed
  • Perennial sunflower
  • Phlox
  • Russian sage

Remove Faded Flowers

If you remove spent blooms from many of your annuals and perennials, you might see more flowers! Called deadheading, this process prevents plants from producing seeds, so they put more energy into making beautiful blossoms.

For plants that self-seed, deadheading cuts back on future efforts, too. Perennials (e.g. columbine, coneflower, cup plant, false sunflower, garlic chives, and verbena) and annuals (e.g. datura, flowering tobacco, kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, larkspur, and spider flower) can self-seed to the point of being weedy in the garden. Deadheading will prevent an unwanted takeover.

Watch for Pests

Grasshopper

As with weeding, keeping an eye on pests and plant diseases should be done all year. But midsummer is a particularly important time to fight these garden enemies.

Some of the more common midsummer problems to watch for include:

Water Your Garden

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If you experience dry summers or a dry weather pattern, you may wish to water your garden to keep it looking its best. Most common garden plants prefer an average of 1 inch of water a week. It's best to apply that inch all at once to encourage plant roots to sink down more deeply in the soil.

When watering, apply water directly to the ground rather than wetting a plant's foliage; water sitting on the leaves can lead to disease. Soaker hoses are great for this!

Raise the Mower

Raise the height of your lawn-mower blade if you have cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, or fescues. More surface area keeps the plants healthier during hot, dry weather.

Start a Fall Vegetable Garden

Fall Garden

Vegetables fall into two basic categories: cool-season and warm-season. The warm-season varieties—tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash—produce in the summertime. Once temperatures cool, these plants will fade.

Enjoy continued harvests by planting cool-loving vegetable seeds, including broccoli, carrots, kohlrabi, lettuce, and spinach, now. That way, you can enjoy fresh, delicious harvests come autumn.

Learn more about fall vegetable gardening.

Divide Your Bearded Irises

It may be time to divide your perennials if you notice they're producing fewer flowers or have a dead center. Most types of irises enjoy being divided every three to four years to keep them vigorous and blooming well. For the bearded iris, the best time to make the split is in later summer when they're dormant. (Other perennials often do better being divided in the spring or fall when conditions are cooler.)

Learn more about dividing iris.

Add More Color to Your Yard

Oso Happy Candy Shrub Rose

Keep your yard colorful by adding flowers that bloom in late summer, especially if your garden is starting to look tired. Many shrub roses are excellent picks for bold color in August, as are new sterile varieties of butterfly bush (such as the Flutterby, Buzz, and Lo and Behold series).

Harvest Vegetables

Don't let hot weather keep you out of the vegetable garden. Continue your harvests to encourage your plants to produce and to limit pest and disease problems. (Insects are attracted to overripe vegetables that fall off the plant and begin to rot.)

Figure out when to harvest your favorite vegetables.

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