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Ask a Pro: How to Keep Your Plants Alive in DC’s Summer Heat

The former host of DIY Network’s Yard Crashers shares his best tips.

Ahmed Hassan fell in love with landscaping early. As a ten-year-old, the California native caught the gardening bug while mowing lawns and trimming shrubs. A few decades later, Hassan is a landscaping pro best known as the original host of DIY Network’s Yard Crashers, where he and his team would help unsuspecting homeowners transform their yards with custom landscapes. He’s also shared his expert advice on CBS’s The Early Show, NBC’s Today, and The Nate Berkus Show. Off-camera, he’s a guest columnist for HGTV Magazine and owns an eponymous full-service landscaping company.

This week—just in time for Washington’s brutal summer heat—Hassan visits DC to act as a judge for the third Golden Streets Annual Landscape Competition, which will spotlight 18 green spaces in downtown’s Golden Triangle. On Thursday from 3 to 7:30 PM, he’ll show off his own skills by designing two landscaped tree boxes at 18th and K Streets in Northwest; on Friday from noon to 2, he’ll take part in a planting demonstration at Farragut Square.

We caught up with Hassan to get his take on how to keep plants alive and thriving in Washington’s high heat. Here’s what he had to tell us:

Know your plants’ needs: “Even plants that are rated and zoned for full sun can still suffer during the warm months of summer if they’re not properly hydrated and cared for. Remember, we buy plants at a nursery because these plants need nursing! One of the best things you can do is to know what types of plants you have in your yard. The more specificity, the better. Plant identification allows you to research your favorite perennial tree or ground cover and better understand what it needs and what you can expect. This goes for annuals, shrubs and everything in between. Simply know what the plant is and the specific variety, and Google or another search engine will deliver more information than you ever imagined. If you’re looking for some bullet-proof plants for your hottest, driest areas, try asking your local nursery professional for a few suggestions, then use your smart phone and do some quick research of your own.”

Smart water: “Plants use water like we humans use sunscreen. In order to maintain that water in the soil longer, I recommend a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch. Whether it’s a rose bush or Loropetalum chinensis, a little water and thick mulch layer goes a long way. Plants don’t benefit from routine watering on a schedule. Because the weather changes regularly, your irrigation needs change regularly too. Unless you have a smart controller you’re sometimes over-watering and sometimes under-watering. Water your plants when you see them wilt. If they don’t stand back up, they’re either suffering from too much water or they’ve been left too long without water and they’re dead.” 

Dig in: “Be sure to follow the plant tag’s instructions and dig the plant hole twice as wide (not deep) and mix in compost or planting mix to amend the planting hole. All of the cultivated soil will have plenty of air space around your young new plant and when you water, the water will have a wonderfully loosened soil to infiltrate and keep your new plant hydrated.”

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