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What Not to Do


By Paul James


I usually write about what you should do in the garden, but today I’m doing just the opposite. After all, it’s the middle of summer, a time of the year when what you don’t do is arguably more important than what you do do. (I admit that’s an odd way to end a sentence, but it is grammatically correct!)

Don’t just “sprinkle” when you water. Shallow watering is basically a waste of water, because if water doesn’t percolate into the root zone of plants it doesn’t do any good. You’ve heard it before, and you’re about to hear it again: Deep soak each time you water.


Don’t spray with oil-based products in the middle of the day. This includes horticultural oil and Neem oil. Although they’re great, all-natural pesticides/fungicides, they can be phytotoxic, meaning they can burn leaves, especially when temps are in the 90s. Instead, apply oil-based products after sundown.


Don’t cut your grass too short. The height of your turf is roughly equivalent to the depth of its roots, and this time of year you want the deepest roots possible. So raise the height of your mower at least one notch (preferably two) regardless of the type of turf you grow.


Don’t allow water to stand in pot saucers, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s mosquito season, after all, and those little buzzers need only a thimble full of water to lay their eggs.


Don’t transplant anything. Now is the absolute worst time to transplant pretty much anything and everything. (Irises can be transplanted next month.)


Don’t apply fertilizer too aggressively. Feeding plants when it’s really hot forces them to grow at a time when they’d rather take a break. If you feel you must fertilize, use half the amount recommended on the package. Otherwise, wait another month or so.


Don’t plant large trees or shrubs this time of year. The odds of them surviving aren’t good, so better to wait until things cool off a bit.


Don’t overdo it. Take frequent breaks, drink lots of water, and try to get your gardening chores done early in the morning.


Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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30 responses to “What Not to Do”

  1. William McKamey says:

    Thinking ahead, I would like to replant Knock Out roses that I lost three years ago to the blight, but, I don’t know if that is wise. Has there been any advancement in developing a hardier rose? If not, what rose would you suggest.
    Bill

    • Paul James says:

      Bill, we generally recommend waiting two years after removing roses that were infected with Rose Rosette virus before replanting. The issue isn’t one of hardiness, but rather disease resistance, and currently there are no known resistant roses. The virus is spread by a tiny mite, so refrain from using a leaf blower around your roses to limit their spread through the air.

  2. Sharon Jordan says:

    I have a small redbud tree that I planted in the Spring that doesn’t look very well. The leaves have brown spots & tips on them. I would love to get a picture to you but it doesn’t look like I can on this website. I would like some advice on what I can do to get it healthy again.

  3. Lenore Reitz says:

    Paul! Hi.
    My beautiful gardenia plant hasn’t bloomed since first part of June. It’s happy!! Lots of new growth and bright green leaves but no new buds
    Any advice would be appreciated.
    Thanks!!!
    Lenore Reitz

    • Paul James says:

      It’s probably just taking a break. Don’t prune it and don’t use high nitrogen fertilizers. Beyond that, be patient.

  4. kathy neal says:

    I have taken some cuttings from a crepe myrtle we had. Once they develop roots, when is the best time to plant them?

    • Paul James says:

      It may take months before they develop a sufficient root mass for planting. Once they do, early spring would be the best time to plant.

  5. Sara R Harrell says:

    When is the best time to trim back trees and bushes?

    • Paul James says:

      Late fall to early spring is the best time for deciduous trees and shrubs. Prune evergreens and conifers in spring.

  6. LaDanta Kowis says:

    If you deep soak your flowers this time of year, how often should you water.

  7. Pat says:

    I have a new (this spring) weeping cherry in my front yard. I noticed that the leaves are brown and dry….the knock out roses in the same bed are doing fine. I noticed this yesterday and have been deep watering every couple of hours today. Is there any chance it can recover?

  8. Ashley Warren says:

    You mentioned to not plant large trees or shrubs… would it be okay to plant an Arborvitae Highlights? It’s going in a morning shade/ afternoon sun area. Thank you!

  9. Janice says:

    All of a sudden, my pots of million bells stopped blooming. I water them every day. Get full sun.

    • Paul James says:

      They’re just taking a break. Flowering requires lots of energy and plants often rest for a while after they flower. They should bounce back soon.

  10. Mark Ribelin says:

    Paul, we have a Weeping Cypress and a Dwarf Cypress that has bag worms. What would be the best treatment to rid the pests?

  11. Rebecca Rowe says:

    I planted 2 hydrangeas and 2 gardenia plants next to each other in a small bed. My hydrangea blooms are burnt looking and crusted. My gardenias are still blooming but the under leaves are turning yellow. The bed is on the west side of my home and does receive afternoon sun. I also wasn’t aware how much watering they truly need. Is there a way to save my dead looking endless summer blooming hydrangeas?

    • Paul James says:

      The worst place to plant most hydrangeas is where they receive afternoon sun. They do best with a few hours of morning sun followed by shade the rest of the day. Consider moving them next February. Gardenias are notorious for yellowing leaves, usually because of too much/too little water or poorly drained soil. Water often enough to keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. They also must be grown in acidic soil with a pH of between 5 and 6. If the pH is too high, the roots can’t absorb iron, which leads to yellow leaves.

  12. Lisa Kipp says:

    All of my clematis are presenting blotchy whitish on the top of leaves, and little black spots underneath. The spots underneath don’t move. Is this a type of scale, or another condition?
    Thank you!

    • Paul James says:

      Sounds like powdery mildew, which favors war, humid conditions, especially when humidity is high overnight. Spray with a fungicide such as Bonide Revitalize. The fungus won’t likely kill your Clematis outright.

  13. Don says:

    Hi Paul,
    I live in Maryland and don’t have a specific question about your post, but I do want to thank you for all of the wonderful information and advice, given in your entertaining style, that was given in GBTY when I was a first time homeowner and younger gardener. I also enjoyed your recent appearance on Growing a Greener World, as well as the earlier podcast with Joe Lamp’l. I, too, have a lawn that very much resembles a pasture — it is better for my four bee hives. I even plant clover for them.
    Our gardens provide a joyful sanctuary from the world’s cares, and help enrich our lives. I think your work has encouraged people to see gardening as a joy — not a job.
    Thanks again and God Bless you.

  14. Mary Moore says:

    Hi Paul,
    I have a fairly large space under a huge magnolia. The limbs have been trimmed up (not by me, but long ago by someone who didn’t know better). Of course, now I have a terrible spot where nothing really grows except weeds and covered by leaves. What is your favorite fast growing evergreen ground cover for shade? I live in northeast Texas in Zone 8. Thanks for any ideas how to fix this spot!

    • Paul James says:

      Try Mondo grass, Liriope, Boston ivy, white avens, Texas frogfruit, or horse herb. None are exactly fast growing, unfortunately. The simplest solution would be to mulch the area, add a park bench, and call it good.

  15. Don Wood says:

    I had Whiteflies on one plant early last spring and sprayed it with Lambda-Cyhalothrin. It seemed to work, but they’ve reappeared on that plant and have spread to several other areas of the garden. How can I get rid of them?

    • Paul James says:

      I’ve had pretty good luck controlling them with Neem oil, and it kills eggs, larvae, and adults. But you have to spray every week.

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