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Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2012, 12:52 p.m.

How to deal with mildew, slugs, watering

Here it is the middle of July, and I woke up this morning to a fog that harkened me to a November day. Later on the sun came out (contrary to what the weatherman forecasted but no surprise there) and it turned into a very sunny and pleasant day. What is it with our weather anyway? The Midwest is experiencing the worst drought in 50 to 60 years, Texas is underwater, and Colorado is going up in smoke. We had a crappy June to be sure, but compared to the rest of the country, I suppose we shouldn't complain.

This year has got to go on record as the worst mildew year for roses ever. Despite three very timely applications of fungicides our roses are still infected with mildew. The solution is to continue to apply fungicides weekly (rotate them using Ortho Funginex one week and Bonide Infuse the next). Try Neem oil every 4 to 5 days if you refer a natural solution. By now the first flush of flowers have faded and it is time to cut your rose stems down to the first set of five leaflets. This might help remove some of the mildew. Of course, several days of sun would do wonders as well, provided it isn't punctuated with several days of rain like we have been experiencing. Don't forget to make another application of fertilizer to your roses while you are fussing over them.

Slugs have been living the dream this year. Constant lubrication has enabled them to chomp away and breed continuously for months. I can't tell you how many pounds of Sluggo we have sold this year, and there seems to be no end to it. If you want to make a dent in the slug population, go out about 7 p.m. and lightly water the garden. This will wake up the slugs to move into action. As you see them appear, you can squash them or put them in a jar of ammonia water. Or do like I do with the grandkids, which is to spear the slugs with a 1/8 inch steel rod and fling them over my neighbor's garage roof. It's great fun and it gives me comfort to know I am making memories. Grandpa the Great Slug Slayer lives on in infamy.

Watering is a timely subject this time of year. Contrary to what many of us might think, the rains we receive this time of year do little to soak the soil. We need to remember that it takes one inch of water to soak into the soil 12 inches deep. A rain storm that comes through and drops a quarter inch of rain will only wet the top 3 inches of soil, provided the rain isn't deflected by the foliage or slope of the ground. There is only one true way to determine if plants need water before they show signs of moisture stress. That is to stick one of our fingers into the soil and see if we feel any moisture. Soils can be dry two inches down before we need to water. But when we do water, we need to do a deep and thorough job of it. Most of us fail miserably in this department. Slow and long applications are the best way to water our gardens.

It's not too late to plant. Believe it or not, the missus and I are still planting annuals. we fully expect them to flourish and bring us several months of enjoyment before they crap out in the fall. Don't be afraid to keep planting. Whether it is perennials, annuals, shrubs or trees, this is a superb time to plunge new plants into our gardens. Just make sure you pre-soak the planting holes and water your new plants in well and you should have 100 percent success with anything you put in the ground in July or August.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery and can be reached at

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