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The height of growing season: Three questions for gardening expert Jim Hole

It's water and fertilizer time, and bumblebees are your friend. That, according to gardening expert Jim Hole. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

With plenty of rain and sunshine through June, experts say July should offer great growth of flowers and vegetables in garden beds, containers and hanging baskets. Expert Jim Hole answers a few of our early summer gardening queries.

Q: How should we feed and water our gardens in peak summer?

Hole: Always water hanging baskets and patio containers of flowers or vegetables until water runs out the bottom, nearly every day in the heat of summer because they have limited root zone space. Fertilize either a bit with every watering, or once a week. Either slow release pellets or water-soluble fertilizer is fine. Pick a fertilizer with a high first and high last number, like 20-8-20, or 20-5-20. If you have good garden soil with compost, you don't need fertilizer in your garden beds.

For lawns, it's an inch of water (2.5 cm) per week; that's plenty. So if it rains, cut back on the watering.

Q: What can we do about garden pests like slugs?

Hole: Slugs like wet weather. There are safe, non-toxic baits available today, but there are natural remedies too: beer in a tray set at ground level, for example. With any pest control, you want to start early, before you see damage. The best defense against garden pests is diversity in the garden--a variety of flowers, herbs etc. attracts beneficial insects that will eat the bad guys. Whatever you do, don't buy ladybugs through the U.S. for pest control. That brings problems into the local population.

I like 'soft chemistry' like insecticidal soaps and oils. These work with the 'good guys' in your yard.

Q:  Is it a good sign to see bees in the garden?

Hole: Honeybees are never in danger of going extinct. Some are imported but many are reared locally. And you want to attract native bee species like bumblebees, by having a big variety of flowers and shrubs in the yard. Don't convert your entire yard to lawn, but rather have lots of flowering plants like chives and perennial beds with open soil. These conditions are great habitat for bumblebees--they're another of the 'good guys' that you want to encourage in a healthy yard and garden.