Jeff Lowenfels: Hot, dry weather brings advantages for gardeners

Jeff Lowenfels

I know I am not supposed to use the "R" word because when I do, it always rains, but as I sit here at deadline, we have not had any moisture since the start of the month. While this happens from time to time, it does seem to be a rare enough event that many don't know how to take advantage of it from a gardening perspective.

Take weeding, for example. Is it just me or is it really much easier and more effective to pull weeds when the soil is bone dry? Even grass and equisetum roots pull out of the soil, nice long strands, and when the old dandelion tool yanks at its find, it retrieves whole tap roots instead of just the tops. Simply put, this dry weather can make child's play out of what is usually some pretty time-consuming work.

My tools of choice for weeding when it is dry are my fingers and small hand tools. You can use your long-handled hoe, stand-up Winged Weeder or Cobra Head when it is wet and you don't want to get down on your hands and knees. Now, you can get right down into things.

For garden beds I have a gadget that is simply a coiled-up, thick wire with a finger-length hook on the end. I can pull it through the soil and snag a weed's root system. Cobra Head makes a great hand tool as well. Find your tool of choice and weed now. It will save a ton of time later.

If you have to resort to weed killers, the only kind you should use are the organic ones. Read the label. There is enough evidence pointing to problems with RoundUp that you should avoid it if only as a precaution. Organic formulas usually work best when it is sunny and dry.

After you weed, mulch the area so that new weeds can't get enough light. Again, how nice to be able to handle mulch that is not soaking wet. There are real advantages to this weather.

Next, dry conditions are perfect for what I call "deck flossing." If your decks are like ours, all manner of debris from spruce needles and cones to leaves and fallen potting soil can fill in the spaces between the boards. In our case it has gotten so bad that puddles actually form on the surface of the deck when it rains because water cannot drain through. It actually looks like some of the deck had been caulked.

This year, however, this "plaque" has not absorbed spring rains. It is dry and loose. You can either scrape it out with a knife, blade of a spade or use a leaf blower to make short work of many years' accumulation. Increase the life of your decking and make it look much better. The plaque should go into the compost pile.

Similarly, this is a great time to reclaim walkways and driveways from encroaching lawn. Take a look at the edge of your driveway. In most cases the lawn actually extends over the pavement. When it is dry you can easily flip back this "pad" and use a spade, a knife or one of those special lawn edging tools to cut it back to where it should be. Save any big patches. These are great for patching up after Fido.

I suppose with all the good, comes some not so good. Yes, it is probably raining as you read this. However, it takes quite a bit of rain to make up for its absence when it comes to our trees, shrubs and perennials. They leafed out pretty much in the absence of rain and need water.

I am afraid you are going to have to water trees and established shrubbery. Do so from the dripline outward and make sure to supply an inch or two between you and Mother Nature.

And, of course, perennial and vegetable gardens should get at least an inch a week. This time of year two or three inches won't hurt your lawn.

Now, if there was only something we could do with this smoke.

Jeff Lowenfels is co-author of "Teaming With Microbes" and author of "Teaming With Nutrients." Contact him on his website at

• Nurseries: Visit and stock up on extra plants. They are going fast.

• Yards: OK, you planted. Now clean up the mess. Save plastic pots and cell packs for recycling.

• Alaska Botanical Garden: What are you waiting for? Every gardener in Southcentral should join. There is the new fair, the annual Gala in The Garden, discounts at local nurseries and first dibs at the ABG nursery. Tickets and info at

• Delpheniums: Get those defoliators if it isn't too late. Start staking.

• Peonies: Stake or cage.Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Jeff Lowenfels