July Gardening

By Kathy Figel 

July is here already, and it is soooo hot, right?  

That’s what your plants are saying as well. What can we do to keep our veggies from burning, the saplings from drooping and the soil from cracking without spending a fortune on water?  

According to industry experts, covering soil with mulch – whether you choose tree mulch, straw, grass clippings, or leaf compost – will reduce the loss of moisture, lower soil temperature and keep plants cool.  In turn, the plants help cool us, all while saving money and precious water. 

Trees, too, benefit from mulch around the bottom with the grass line kept three to four feet from the trunk. I don’t mean to be a “Karen” but it’s true:  trees and grass do not get along. Trees do better and grow healthier with mulch or native plants under their canopy.  

By way of example, take a walk through Hurley Park at 100th and Winchester, where the Chicago Park District has been trying to save the old oaks. Years ago they removed all the grass and have been trying to encourage baby oaks. It seems to have been a success. 

Mulching soil effectively serves to keep in moisture and to keep the soil cool. I usually like to purchase mulch locally. If I need more that 10 bags I call EZTree Recycling Look them up at e-ztreerecycling.com; they have lots of choices. Split a load with your neighbors for a cost-effective volume purchase, then host a mulching party followed by an adult beverage in the shade. But don’t mound up the mulch against the tree trunks; make a “volcano” with the deeper mulch several inches from the tree. Also, don’t confine trees within raised planters, which limit root grown and can harm the trunks.  

Compounding the plants’ vulnerability to overexposure to sun, flush tree canopies have decreased dramatically in our area, as cited in a series of articles in Chicago Tribune.  

Let’s take a moment to consider our trees during summer heat. Our community’s “concerned tree enthusiasts” (tree huggers sounds like a Trumper insult) are taking the lead in a grassroots awareness program word of mouth. 

Our city trees are planted on the parkways and along the streets, which makes them subject to mistreatment by winter melting salt, environmental stress, weed whackers hacking the base bark away, and those poor captive oaks, maples and pines being planted in tree coffins.  

Trees have weathered badly, too, in the changing winds of Chicago politics.  

To the best of my recollection, Mayor Richard M. Daley loved trees and established a brilliant Forestry Department in lockstep with the Department of Environment. When Mayor Rahm Emanuel slipped into office, he ignored best practices and disbanded the Department of Environment. This created a rippling effect in the way trees could be managed, purchased and cared for. The vital training required for those in the field tending trees fell off like a dead branch. 

 

Working in the company of community volunteers, the interaction would lead organically to introductions, job training, ties to the neighborhood and a renewed confidence in meeting people.  What’s not to like about helping those marginalized in society reestablish their communication skills, gain general confidence and get paid for a job well done. That was another good practice scrapped. 

A groundswell of concerned citizens is rising, formed to look at the trees in the 19th Ward to see what can be done to help our parkway trees. This modest space in our community publication wouldn’t hold the many ideas I, and others, have, so we’ll table that for now. 

BAPA’s new Save the Trees initiative welcomes volunteers. If you have ideas, give BAPA a call – 773-233-3100 — and join in this important cause to increase our tree canopy, which will of course help reduce carbon dioxide in the air, keep our plants from browning and provide important shade. 

By the time this paper is published it will be one week before the Beverly/Morgan Park Garden Walk. Like you, I love a good garden walk, and this one will really get you motivated.  

Feel free to take photos to document what these creative gardeners accomplished. One of this year’s featured gardens is an urban farm that produces food for those in need. You will see also gardens on hills, which can be very difficult to maintain. The solutions likely will convert one’s ideas about living in the city.  

The Garden Walk begins at Edna White Community Garden where volunteers are working hours on end to get the garden ready. On your next visit you’ll see we are reconfiguring the garden layout. Don’t look under the beds. Our community workdays are Saturdays, 9 to 11 a.m. and Thursdays 6 to 8 p.m.  Would love to see you there. 

Stay cool! 

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