12 late-june to-do’s (since nothing lasts)

fallen-rose-petalsN OTHING LASTS, I NOTED BRIEFLY in last week’s email newsletter, but I wish to take that back: Nothing lasts except the list of chores, the presence of weeds, and this year, the rain (if the forecast is right today, and I get another 2 inches, that will be almost 7 in two weeks). Let’s get on with it, I guess; put on your rainsuits and galoshes and here we go, working through a dozen things that I think need doing here:

dillTaking Inventory, Then Resowing: Timing is everything, but getting your timing right takes some do-overs sometimes. I have dill all ready to eat right now…but alas, no cucumbers yet. When the cukes are ready, the dill will be spent. Time to sow more, so the two converge into refrigerator pickles, a hand-me-down recipe from a long-ago gardening friend’s family. Compare the life cycles of your intended duets: Will your tomatoes and basil overlap, for instance, or is there cilantro for the upcoming pepper and tomatillo harvest for that hoped-for salsa?

cut-back-samobor-areaHatchet Jobs: The garden gets its biggest haircut in early July here, normally, but with more than 5 inches of rain the last week things that might have held up another two weeks are looking tired and trampled. Off with their heads.  Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’ (perhaps my favorite of all the perennial geraniums) was the first sacrificial lamb (above; looks awful, doesn’t it?, but it cannot be avoided). The biggest bleeding hearts look a wreck (‘Gold Heart’ thankfully still looks OK), and down they’re coming, too. Cast a critical eye around the place and get trimming.

Top Up the Mulch: After cutbacks, when areas are more accessible, is perfect timing for a little more mulch where it has worn away or decomposed. I usually clean up the edges now, too, while I’m at it.

Daffodil Debris Be Gone: The first of many drifts of daffodils have ripened their foliage thoroughly, meaning it’s starting to yellow and fall down. Time to mow these areas, which I always do between now and July 4th. If the spot doesn’t look messy, and I want the island of long grass (around a tree, for instance), I just tease out the bulk of the drooping daffodil foliage and leave the grass be. Other bulbs get a cleanup from faded foliage now, too.

Mowing, and Then Mowing Again:
Never let the grass grow so long between mowings that you have to remove more than one-third of the blade height in any single cutting. For me that means twice-weekly mowing here in moist times of year like we’ve been having, even though I don’t feed my turf (which would push, egads, even more growth). Missed the one-third limit? Get out the rake, and compost the raked-up clippings (or use them as mulch).

Weigela and Barberry Pruning: Weigelas are among those shrubs you don’t just pick at with the pruners, or they just get worse-looking. Ditto barberries. If they are in need of reshaping, as they are inclined to get even without any pruning misfires on the gardener’s part, best to cut out the oldest branches at the base just after flowering, like now. If they’re really a total wreck: to 12 inches from the ground they go, for a total rejuvenation. (Pruning something else? Maybe the FAQ page will help.)

shade-cloth-on-saladShade for the Salad: Hot days (which may never arrive this summer here, but let’s pretend they’re coming) mean havoc for many salad greens. Plant your succession rows on the shady side of tomatoes or something else that will offer them protection, or drape them with shade cloth, above (not a heavyweight cloth that you’d use for early spring coziness, but a thin barrier or better yet black woven fabric meant for the job).

Pick the Peas, and Pick Some More: Biggest mistake after all that work  of growing peas and beans, in particular, is to skip a day of picking, causing the plants to cease flowering sooner and therefore producing less pods. I’ll plant another short row of bush beans while I am at it.

hilled-potatoesHill Up the Potatoes (Round 2, Perhaps): Whether you use straw or compost or soil, the potatoes need hilling up (to cool the soil, and create space for the potato crop to develop (as all the tubers will form at the same level as the seed potato you planted, or higher up).  Mine were topped with compost and then some straw to about 6 inches from their tops a couple of weeks ago, and they’re ready for another dose, as you can see.  I’ll add 2 more inches of straw (and also reach my hand into the mounds to grab some new potatoes soon).

Let the Asparagus Go to Fern: It was great while it lasted, and this year my asparagus went about 10 weeks (usually I feel blessed for eight), but it’s time to stop harvesting spears here. Key is to keep the patch weeded all summer so the ferns can flourish until frost. I’m sorry to see it go, of course, but remember: nothing lasts. Well, except…

chameleon-plant-in-lawnMarvel at the Tenacity of Some Plants: the ones you don’t want, that keep coming back anyway. I seeded lawn grass over my former bed that got infested with chameleon plant, Houttuynia cordata, figuring mowing was my only chemical-free method of eliminating this devil. So far, not so good. Check back with me in a few years on this one. Onward!

  1. Johanna says:

    Well Margaret, you’ve affirmed what I suspected. Spring’s beauty is done done done. I’m glad to hear you’re ready to clear the daffodil tufts. I’d planned to shear mine with the next mow (which, given the quantity of rain we’re having, ought to have been last weekend except it was so wet…!).

    Happily, I see lots and lots of buds forming on the lilies, so won’t be without gorgeous blooms for too long. In the meantime my prairie is looking great!

  2. Catherine says:

    ahh, just finished a quick walk of the gardens before reading your entry. Yes, yes and yes….today is a day to trim and edit. And mulch like mad before the 90 degree temps arrive next week. Margaret, you’re right on target.

  3. Peter says:

    My garden is in Northern Columbia County, where we had a torrential rain/hail storm this week. The leaves of my hostas were shredded by the hail. If I cut them back will new leaves sprout?

  4. Betsy says:

    It’s an ongoing challenge to layer later-bloomers within my bulb beds. The rudbeckia that I put in one doesn’t seem to be coming up this year. So everything looks more wilted.

    And Peter, I feel your pain. We had baseball size hail for about 30 minutes solid last year. We chose not to cut the hostas, and they did look scraggly but eventually looked okay, not great. A neighbor of my SIL cut his all the way back. Who knows for sure? Check your roof for damage/replacement issues. We got a new roof and siding out of that deal. :)

  5. Teresa Gordon says:

    Peter: I really feel your pain as this happened to me last year, all of my big lovely hosta shredded. I cut back some I simply could not bear to look at for the rest of the summer. Others I left. The ones I cut back have come back fine this year but they appear to be a little stunted in growth compared to the ones I left. example: cut one ‘Krossa Regal’ left the other one and the cut one is not as tall or vase shaped this year as the one left alone? ‘Sum and Substance’ also does not seem as big and tall as previous years.

  6. Margaret says:

    Welcome, Teresa, and as you said to Peter (as did Betsy), I feel the pain, too. Not this year; I was spared the freakish hail. But there have been numerous years when hail has come here (not good news for a gardener who collects large leaved plants as I do).

    As for cutbacks, I think one does cut them back (almost cannot help it) but with the understanding that the fewer leaves they have (and they will get another crop, though fewer/smaller probably) will therefore perform less of the work of nourishing the plant and the plant may not grow as it might otherwise, with a full set of foliage. Anything really ratty, I confess I cut back.

    It is good of you all to share the fact that I am not alone in facing up to the slipping by of spring into summer, and the work that means for those of us nutty enough to be gardeners. :)

  7. Ailsa says:

    I just got exhausted reading this Margaret … my hands and back are more sore this year than last and I keep thinking that after May, we’re home-free — wrong!

    On the cutting back hosta question, I think Teresa is right. I wouldn’t cut the leaves back unless its late in the season and you’re dividing them, or if you can get away with cutting only the worst ones off now (like 3 or 4 per plant). I would probably prefer to see ragged leaves than no leaves at all — especially if the leaves that do re-sprout are small and sparse, and the plant is given an overall set-back as a result. That being said, I just cut back some lungwort hard — they’ll look sad for a while but come back just fine. I don’t know why some plants react well to a hard cut and others don’t. Perhaps some perennials are more like shrubs and give everything they have at the beginning of the season, so that there’s nothing left until next year!

  8. chigal says:

    Couldn’t wait for my peas to get growing, and now I can’t wait for them to hurry up and finish. Lavender and melons are waiting for that spot!

  9. Honey Sharp says:


    Saw your Contained Exuberance pots yesterday when I gave a tour at the BBG – looking better and better (everyone loves the log ones)
    Comment here though: do you really still have barberry??
    I keep trying to eliminate mine since they’re listed as invasive here in MA.

  10. Janice says:

    I mulched yesterday knowing that the rain was coming for another 5 days. Enough already. Wish I had a rain barrel or 2. Can anyone recommend one?
    I’d like the cut back my forsythia now. Is it ok to whack it way back now? It’s out of control.

  11. Country Gardener says:

    Margaret, please send some rain our way – all we seem to get is half-hearted showers. Must plant that cilantro and some dill too.

  12. Margaret says:

    Welcome, Janice. The “It’s out of control” part tells me it needs to be done, even if perhaps earlier in the spring might have been preferable (just after bloom time). Take out the oldest stems right to the base to make way for fresh growth.

    Welcome Honey; glad the pots at the botanical garden are starting to shape up (not wash away with all this rain!). As for Berberis, yes, I do have them here, some old wine- or gold-leaved plants that have been with me for 15 years or so. I would not add more, but I have not cut mine down, no.

  13. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    I have started cutting back the daffodil foliage, to make room for the cleomes that have made it past the Preen application, the I applied the first week of April. Having more than a thousand in the beds, and boarders, they are now taking up a lot of room, and laying down on other plants. My main objective with the removal of the daffodil grasses is to cut back the ones in the front, and middle of the beds. Further back, I will let them go until I have everything cleaned up, and planted. Last year I had

  14. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    CONTINUING… a lot of damage from a spring hail storm. Most of the hostas here looked like they were machine gunned. All plants, with big leaves, not under trees had holes in the. I just had to look past the damage, and let it go. I think it was easier on me, than going over maybe fifty or more plants, trying to neaten them up. As for triming of Weigelia, I had to reshape an overgrown pair of Wine and Roses weigelia, two years ago. I did it in the fall, knowing that I was chopping off flower tips. I got it to the size I wanted, and it is doing fine. The first cutting made it a dome shaped, but after an extra year of growth, it took on a more natural look.

  15. Deb says:

    That “if the rain stops” notation made me grimace. We are not only inches behind (again!) this year in terms of rain but are coming off a string of near triple digit days featuring hot dry winds that have further punished anything foolish enough to stick its head out of the dirt around here. In Central Texas this year wise gardeners are choosing which plants to support with extra water (expense in our parts), noting which plants are living up to their xeric advertising, and sadly letting the others go.

    Climate disruption is already changing what we can grow in Texas. Are others noting any differences?

  16. Mary Jane Pagan says:

    Margaret, my first gardening note! Inherited a lovely garden completely neglected for 2 years; 8 seasons. So Sad. This is my second summer, and now she’s beautiful again. Don’t you love it when people feel happy to see the fruits of your work?
    On weeding. I found that if I hand weed for two years, I’ve got the odds in my favor. But I don’t have the grounds you do.
    I’m a frog lover, for now just a ceramic one discreetly guarding the impatiens. He also counts the robins visiting the central birdbath. They do an all-over shimmy I love to watch.

    Had 5 hours today w/o rain and it was glorious, worked like a banshee. Here in Rhode Island, we have just caught up w/last year’s rain fall. Yes, great time for fresh mulch.

    Pruning/shaping question on my bridal-wreath spirea. OK to keep shaping, not pruning? Same with forsythia.
    Thanks for past tip for my old wild rosebush; not dead-heading and leaving the hips to be pretty later.

    Mary Jane

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Mary Jane, successful rejuvenator of neglected gardens. :) As for that bridal wreath spirea, they are pruned after flowering by cutting out the oldest and weakest stems to the ground each year to open it up and make room for fresh growth….sort of a thinning process, as these plants always have lots of old dead inside and also produce more sprouts than there’s room for. It involves a lot of crawling around trying to get inside the thicket with a saw or loppers or pruners. I prefer when these arching shrubs (forsythia as well) are not topped by pruned by thinning at the base this way, so they retain their natural shape. Topping them reduces their gracefulness, to my eye (won’t kill them; just fights their innate habit). See you soon again.

  17. Jayne says:

    Speaking of peas – I was away for the week and came back to find that the oh-so-prolific sweet peas had begun to go to pod. I tasted one and found it quite edible – do people eat them?

    1. Margaret says:

      @Jayne: Please don’t eat the sweet peas (I assume you mean Lathyrus odoratus). In fact their seeds and flowers are poisonous (some sources say all plant parts, but particularly those). Critical not to experiment with eating ornamentals without first looking up any possible health risks; this one is on the poison-plant lists of the FDA, Canada, Australia, the UK, etc., so not an isolated fear or old wive’s tale. Risk of negative effects in this case also extends to animals, such as horses, apparently.

  18. Jayne says:

    Margaret, Thank you! Good thing I munched and did not swallow! At age 57 I should have known better! But I was one of those curious children that ate mushrooms from the lawn for many years without disclosing the fact to my Mother. I survived, and I do have lovely memories of those little toadstools that melt in your mouth!

  19. karen fredenburg says:

    i am latching on to the complaint about echinaceas. i planted a dozen last year. the ones i planted on the west side of the house did not do well, and only 2 survived. of the ones that did o.k. last year (on east side) were very disappointing as to their color! the pictures make them look so vibrant, but in my garden they are bland, bland, bland! what can help me with these flowers??

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Karen Fredenburg. I like some of the new “purple coneflowers” that aren’t purple, and I hate some; I bought a few at first thinking “oh, this is a good idea” and then stopped at like 3. I never incorporated them into the garden, just have them in the vegetable/cutting area sort of sitting there. As to why they did badly for you, don’t know. They would like full sun of course; did they have it in both spots?

  20. Marilyn says:

    Dear Margaret,
    I decided that it was time, after thirty years, to divide the agapanthus since it was becoming overwhelmed by its tubers and roots, the deer, and was beginning to look less like itself than it ever has. I found a foot high mass of tuberous roots at the end of which were some struggling leaves. The only solution was to hack it all out and start all over again keeping the last 6 inches of newest growth. Is this the right tactic and is there a pattern of planting agapanthus that is most ammenable to its healthy growth and that will enhance it’s appearance?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Marilyn. Can you tell me whether you are growing it in the ground in a warm zone or in pots (and bringing indoors) and when you say “start all over again keeping the last 6 inches of newest growth,” can you describe which 6 inches that is? Thanks, and glad to help once I visualize the details better. :)

  21. Dianna L Kerr says:

    I just came across this post about Chameleon plant. I need to know if you have found a way to get rid of it?! Oh PLEASE tell me you have!! Margaret, Please say you have good news for me!!

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