Madera County
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Elinor Teague

Elinor Teague
A note from Elinor Teague to the readers:

After writing gardening columns for the Fresno Bee for 18 years, it is a pleasure to be able to continue to offer readers gardening advice and tips here on the Fresno and Madera County Master Gardeners’ website.

If you would like to read more articles from this past year by Elinor click here to read. 

Thank you Elinor for your support of the Fresno/Madera Master Gardener programs. 

See current month's article below!

July 2020 Master Gardener website column

Summer flowers
Plants and trees have strong reactions to both high and low temperature extremes. The signs of cold weather winter dormancy (leaf fall from deciduous plants, slow or stopped growth) are well-known, but not all Central Valley gardeners are aware that the plants and trees in our gardens go into a summertime state of semi-dormancy during July and August, the hottest months of the year here.  This phenomenon is specific to hot, arid climates like ours.

Cool-season lawns (fescue and perennial rye) go fully dormant in summer, producing no new blades so that the lawn grasses thin out and lose some of their green color.  Roses are among the hardiest of perennial flowering bushes but even roses set few new buds in mid-summer and the few flowers that bloom tend to have paper-thin petals and far less fragrance.  Vegetable flowers drop in the heat before they set fruit and many plants seem stunted.

              When temperatures are above 96 degrees, as they are nearly every day in mid-summer here, plants try to conserve energy and reduce transpiration or loss of precious moisture through their leaves by closing up their breathing pores (stoma).  In other planting zones, plants get some relief from the heat at night, but in our extremely dry, hot climate night time temperatures seldom fall below 70 breeze less degrees.  It’s our hot summer nights that stimulate semi-dormancy.  

              When trees, bushes, flowering annuals and vegetables, and lawn grasses are in a state of summertime dormancy, they will still require watering to maintain consistently moist soil, but they will require little or no fertilization.  In fact, fertilizing semi-dormant plants and trees to try to force new growth can actually stress them further.  If plants seem unhealthy, try applying homemade fresh compost to each plant instead of a commercial fertilizer.  Homemade compost contains lower levels of nutrients and higher amounts of beneficial micro-organisms and fungi than commercial foods.  The beneficial micro organisms and fungi attach to plants’ roots and increase the plants’ ability to draw up water and nutrients.  

              We can resume feeding the plants in our gardens as night hours lengthen and night temperatures begin to drop below 70 degrees, usually in the third or fourth week of August.  Although daytime temperatures may remain in the high 90’s with a few late season really hot spells, the cooler, longer nights in late August allow plants to recover from heat stress overnight so that they once again begin to produce new growth and new buds.

              Fertilization during this transition period should be lighter at first.  Feed at half the recommended rate for the first feeding in August and increase rates as temperatures cool.  Because granular-type fertilizers take longer to dissolve and be absorbed by plants’ roots than liquid fertilizers, they remain available to the roots for a longer period of time.  They are a better choice for feeding plants that are coming out of dormancy.  Avoid feeding with high nitrogen fertilizers (above 6 per cent) that will force rapid new green growth.  (Lawn foods are an exception).

Slow and steady new growth is best for our plants in late summer and early fall.



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