During hot, dry times, focus your attention on water management first. Most gardens need at least one inch of water per week divided, between two or three waterings. The frequency usually depends on the soil type and the temperature. When it gets in the upper 90s plants dry out much quicker than when we are in the normal low 90s. Also remember that rain water lasts a lot longer than irrigation water.
When it comes to watering, the most ideal situation would be to use soaker hoses or drip irrigation to avoid wetting the foliage. Wet foliage can lead to disease problems.
Overhead irrigation is OK if it’s all you have. But make sure you are watering during the morning to allow the plants time to dry during the day. Watering late in the afternoon or early evening keeps plants wet for several hours so diseases are typically increased.
For small gardens, using a watering can or hose can be effective. They make it easy to target the moisture directly to the plant, and no water is wasted between the rows.
Watering isn’t the only issue you need to concentrate on to stay on top of this summer’s garden. Attention should be focused on weeds too. They can rob moisture and nutrients from vegetables and create competition for space.
It’s always easy to control weeds when they are young and not yet fully rooted. Hand-pulling and hoeing are still the most effective ways to do this task.
Small mini-tillers can be used to quickly chew up weeds in vegetable rows. Be very careful not to get too close to the plants and injure their roots. For safety’s sake, till the middle of the rows and then hand-weed or hoe closer to the plants.
After weeding, place a few inches of pine straw, wheat straw, old wood chips or other mulch material around your plants to help conserve moisture and keep weeds away.
You can go even further in mulching by using about three sheets of newspaper around plants as a base mulch. Then cover the paper with straw to provide an extra layer of protection against weeds. The newsprint eventually breaks down into organic matter.
Be careful when using grass clippings as mulch, as many people do. You might be introducing more weed seeds into your garden. Don’t use grass clipping if you use herbicides on the lawn.
Don’t forget to scout your garden for pest problems.
Tomatoes, especially, have a hard time with disease in Augusta’s hot, humid climate. Hand-pick any infected, suspicious looking leaves. Leaving them causes the disease to spread even more. In some cases, you might even need to totally remove plants that are heavily infected with disease. Take samples or send pictures to any Extension office if you need help identifying a problem.
Another problem I have heard about on tomatoes is the tomato fruitworm boring in tomato fruit. The adult stage of this insect is a light grayish moth with dark lines on the wings. In the spring, the adults lay white eggs on the leaves and stems. The worms that hatch from these eggs feed on the leaves until they are about ½inch long. Then they move to the fruit and bore inside. The damaged fruit is usually inedible. After feeding for two to four weeks, they drop to the ground, burrow 2 to 6 inches deep, pupate, and emerge in several weeks as adults. There are several generations of worms a year, so damage can continue until the fall.
For control you have several options. If you only have a few plants, you can scout for the eggs and pick them off before they hatch. After they hatch you can watch them and just hand-pick the worms you see. If you have numerous plants you can use an insecticide for control. Carbaryl, bifenthrin, esfenvalerate, cyfluthrin, lambda-cyhalothrin all work well. You can find these products from Ortho, Bayer or Spectracide. For an organic insecticide you can use Bacillus thuringiensis which comes as Dipel (dust) or Thuricide (liquid). But once the worms are inside the tomatoes, there is nothing you can do. Just destroy the infested fruit.
Make sure you dispose of all tomato plants after harvest so that you will reduce the number of overwintering adults.
Other insects can attack your garden during the heat of the summer, too. Inspect your plants carefully for signs of insect damage. Be sure to check the underside of leaves and fruits, as insects often hide there to take advantage of the shade.
Remember that most insects in the garden are actually beneficial and cause no problem to your plants. Make sure you properly identify the insect pest before you spray an insecticide.
REACH SID MULLIS, THE DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA EXTENSION SERVICE OFFICE FOR RICHMOND COUNTY, AT (706) 821-2349 OR SMULLIS@UGA.EDU.