GARDENS FOR HUMANITY: Pre-monsoon planning in the garden

(Courtesy Richard Sidy -- Gardens for Humanity)

(Courtesy Richard Sidy -- Gardens for Humanity)

The early summer garden is a magnet in the morning before it gets too hot. It inspires a “to do” list of both garden delights, and work to be done. It is really about relishing each day the beautiful relationship that we have helped create.

Like any relationship, it is gives both pleasure and demands our care. This year after a wetter than average winter and spring, it also offers abundant beauty and many surprises. As we savor its gifts of floral beauty and life-energy with all senses, we also see its needs.

These needs are key to managing and preparing for another burst of growth during the coming monsoon season: trimming, planting, mulching, and protecting. These activities all go together to maintain the web of life that is a healthy garden. While monsoon rain is a gift that energizes the growth of plants, it may also threaten to wash away soil with excessive runoff. We can gain some advantage by preparing for the abundant rains.

Trimming includes dead-heading spent flowers both to manage seed spread in annual spring flowers, and also to encourage new flower cycles in perennials. The phrase “crop, chop, and drop” signals the importance of keeping plant trimmings on and in the soil. As trimmings biodegrade they provide a source of biomass that adds carbon and micronutrients, improves drainage, prevents erosion, and suppresses weeds. The trimmings mulch and protect the soil, so it can retain more water and support more life.

A diverse garden, including annual vegetables, perennial and annual flowers, shrubs, and trees, along with managing and encouraging native plants, add to its beauty and sustainability. Plants contribute to the complex life in soil by channeling water deeply via their root system, and by charging the soil with nitrogen, carbon, proteins, sugars, and vitamins from the sun. This encourages fungi and micro-organisms that break down all the nutrients, feeding soil and plants.

In combination with mulch, plants reduce soil compaction, which helps absorb water. Building mulch increases fertility and creates a barrier against opportunistic weeds and, along with healthy plants, holds soil, preventing water and wind erosion. Besides capturing and recycling nutrients, mulch reduces pests since it provides habitat for beneficial insects and animals that prey on pests.

Our strategy for protection against pests is to encourage lizards, birds, and beneficial insects. A welcoming habitat does not need toxic pesticides and herbicides. Gardeners, as stewards of the garden, also participate in managing pests and weeds by selectively removing them. My role as gardener has evolved into that of caretaker as the garden matures and takes on a life of its own. We now host more birds, reptiles, pollinators, and plant varieties that have chosen our garden to live. Together we await monsoon rains like a spring coiled for release, that explosion of abundance that the thunder and rain deliver.

Gardens for Humanity provides garden education to help our community gain the tools and knowledge to create thriving garden habitats. Visit to find out more.

Richard Sidy is president of Gardens for Humanity, a founding member of the Sustainability Alliance and a member of the Verde Valley Food Policy Council. To reach him, email president@

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