Seven Essential Summer Gardening Tasks

When the sun is shining and the breeze is warm, you’ll most likely find me enjoying some fresh air and exercise in the garden. There’s always something to do there–gardening is a process, not an event. Here are seven essential summer garden tasks I make a habit of doing, and you might want to consider, too, in order to keep your garden looking sensational all summer long.

Garden Trimmings in a bag

1. Tidy up the garden.

If there’s one task that is immediately satisfying and makes a huge difference, it is tidying up the garden. Take one hour and head out the garden with an empty bucket and a sharp pair of pruners. Start by trimming back any bulb foliage that has gone dormant (turned brown). Then, snip off any spent flowers on your perennials. Browning daisies be gone! Trust me, it will feel so good.

Early summer is also the time you’ll want to prune any spring flowering shrubs that have just finished blooming on old wood (i.e. last year’s branches) like lilacs, forsythias and viburnums. These shrubs will set their buds for the following year this summer, so you’ll want to trim them now to avoid accidentally cutting off those new flower buds.

trimming boxwood

Early summer is also a great time to trim and shape your evergreen boxwood and holly shrubs that have finished their spring flush of new foliage. I use a pair of electric hedge trimmers to do this task. I used to use regular pruners but after seeing what a quick and efficient job the electric ones do to form neat box hedges, I use them every year now.

2. Don’t let the weeds get ahead of you.

If you own a piece of land or have a garden, pulling weeds needs to be part of your weekly routine. Nature abhors a vacuum so if you leave a spot empty, you can expect Mother Nature to fill it with something and it probably won’t be what you would have chosen to plant there.

Make a habit of pulling weeds as soon as you see them appear in your garden. They will be much easier to pull when they are little and there will be far fewer than if you let them go to seed. Laying a thick layer of mulch on open beds will help to keep the weeds down so there are fewer to contend with.

dirty hands

My mail routinely has dirty fingerprints on it. Can you guess why? I can’t seem to make it out to the mailbox and back without pulling at least a few weeds. My mailbox garden is spotless!

3. Fill empty spots with annuals.

Once you’ve cut back all the now-dormant spring bulb foliage and pulled the weeds, you might find you have more space to fill than you thought. You wouldn’t want to plant perennials on top of your bulbs, but annuals which are typically shallower rooted and will be gone by the time the bulbs reappear in spring are perfect for this use. I save a few pots of versatile annuals like coleus, angelwing begonias or polka dot plants to plug in wherever I need a bright splash of color to fill a spot in the border.

assortment of foliage

Here, a Hippo® White polka dot plant fills the gap where spring blooming hyacinth bulbs have gone dormant for summer. Its neutral white color blends easily with the bright purple Dolce® ‘Wildberry’ coral bells and stripy ‘Rainbow’s End’ hosta.

4. Keep a look out for unwanted visitors.

When everything in the garden is lush and green, all kinds of critters will enjoy coming by for a visit. Some will be welcome, others won’t. Slugs, hornworms, petunia budworm, Japanese beetles and more all may make an appearance along with deer, rabbits, chipmunks, etc. You might not see them, but you’ll certainly notice the holes in your leaves and the missing flowers in their wake.

Here are some detailed resources we’ve put together for you on these topics:

hanging baskets

5. Feed your hungry flowers.

During the summer months when your annual containers are growing like crazy, it’s more important than ever to keep those plants well-fed. Especially when you grow “hungry” flowers like petunias and calibrachoa, you’ll want to feed them with water soluble plant food regularly. We recommend feeding every third time you water, or once per week if that’s easier to remember. One customer feeds her flowers on “Fertilizer Friday” which we think is just brilliant.

Many flowering perennials that were fed in spring could use a boost again in early to midsummer. A slow release organic plant food like Espoma’s Plant-tone® works well for perennials. Take care not to fertilize perennials after midsummer to allow them enough time to naturally slow down their growth as fall weather arrives and they prepare to go back to sleep for winter.


6. Keep the birds happy and healthy.

Birds are wonderful creatures to have around the garden. They entertain us with their antics and songs, but they also play a pivotal role in pest control. Birds eat bugs, including the ones you don’t want eating your plants, so encourage them to make a home in your garden.

If you have a birdbath or bird feeder, make sure to clean it out regularly to eliminate bacteria and potential diseases. Keep your birdbath filled with fresh water; positioning it near a sprinkler head will automatically replenish it. Also, consider delaying deadheading plants that produce seeds or berries that naturally provide food for birds like sunflowers, echinacea, cannas, chokeberries, elderberries and winterberry hollies.

7. Share the bounty.

Flowers, fruits and fresh vegetables are meant to be shared. They offer us a way to connect with and serve our family, friends and neighbors. Really, who doesn’t have tomatoes to share? How about cutting a few roses to bring indoors or to give to someone who doesn’t have a garden? Sharing the bounty is a simple but meaningful way to create lasting memories with those we love and admire.

Where will you begin? I’m heading out to the garden with my bucket and pruners. I know I’ll feel so much better when that bucket is full!

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