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Forget the pursuit of the perfect plant

Healthy is better and it's less stressful, too

Yes, there are some holes in those melon leaves. Am I worried? No -- I'm not growing melons for their leaves.

Yes, there are some holes in those melon leaves. Am I worried? No -- I'm not growing melons for their leaves. Kathy Morrison

Perfection is over-rated. It's also tough on the garden, on wildlife -- and on the gardener.

Experienced gardeners know this. We're used to the holes punched in rose foliage by leafcutter bees. We don't fly into a frenzy when the sunflower leaves are pecked by lesser goldfinches. And we know that the water spots or ragged edges or sunburn or slightly curled leaves are part of what happens as the weather changes and the plants adjust. 

There is no perfection in nature, but newbie gardeners or obsessives keep trying to achieve -- or worse, maintain -- that magazine-perfect look in their backyard gardens.

Sacramento has been spoiled this year, I admit, by the mild weather through the spring. The plants look happier than ever, unstressed so far by extreme heat. My tomato plants especially are gorgeous, full of developing fruit.

I did not achieve that by spraying them with insecticide every day. 

Yes, there is a gardener out there in the Sacramento area who sprays "insect killing soap" on his plants TWICE A DAY; he posted that on a Facebook gardening group that I'm a (mostly lurking) member of. This boggles the mind; never mind the fact that the package itself says "apply every 5-7 days as long as insects are present." There can't be a flying or crawling critter within half a mile of his garden by now. And he has a broad-spectrum insecticide as a "backup." Ay-yi-yi.

(By the way, spraying an infested plant with water is an excellent way to battle aphids, whiteflies, spider mites and powdery mildew. Just water.)

That same social media group has some members who fuss over every slight imperfection on leaves, who water twice a day "just in case" then wonder why a plant's leaves turn yellow, or who worry that their vegetable plants are dropping some flowers unpollinated. (It's biology, people, think about it.)

Zinnia with ragged leaves
Likely a caterpillar has been munching on this zinnia.
But it's flowering just fine; no action needed.

I wish more gardeners would turn to the UC Integrated Pest Management website first, for science-based solutions, before throwing a problem out on social media. ("Pest" in IPM refers to plant diseases or weeds as well as insect pests.) The California Master Gardener's Handbook sums up the approach: "A fundamental concept of IPM is that a limited amount of pest damage to plants can be tolerated." 

Now, big problems should be addressed and quickly: A tomato plant that collapses overnight, for instance, or a tree that's losing its bark. In those cases, check with experts (master gardeners or arborists recommended) about diagnosis and remedy. Most instances of online "crowd diagnosis"  include some really bad advice along with the good. 

So back off, gardeners. If the plant is generally healthy, if you did enough prep work before planting, if you have flowers and bees and a decent irrigation setup, the garden will do well enough this summer. Slow down, stop stressing and ENJOY that garden, ragged leaves and all.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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