5 things you must read while i savage my garden

IN THAT MOST COUNTER-INTUITIVE OF GARDEN MOMENTS, it’s time to make things that were just very pretty look like hell, and to plant more of the same vegetables you may not even have harvested your first crop of. I know, crazy. But here’s the scoop, in five things you must read (and do) while I’m outside brutalizing my poor garden in the name of the greater good.  Feeling brave?

(If you prefer to listen to this subject in my weekly podcast, it’s here to stream, and also on iTunes, in the show recorded June 13, 2011 with WHDD, Robin Hood Radio, the nation’s smallest NPR affiliate.)

Perennials and Groundcovers

WHY WOULD ANY SANE PERSON hack her front yard down to stubble and mulch? Because many early performers—including some of the most popular euphorbias, like polychroma; some perennial geraniums such as macrorrhizum and phaeum; catmints and pulmonarias and some salvias (‘May Night,’ for instance) and much, much more will truly look like hell in a little while if you don’t spare them the descent into that state with a stern haircut. My brutal tactics.

Bulbs Gone By

YES, YOU CAN FINALLY CUT BACK the faded foliage of your spring bulbs, provided they have started to pale toward tan. If not yet, it will be any week now (I usually mow my big drifts around July 4; sometimes they ripen sooner). My Bulb FAQ includes this and other care, like what to do with bulbs that didn’t bloom well.

Plant More Vegetables

IKNOW, YOU HAVEN’T even eaten a green bean yet, or a beet, but you should have already sown more. Like many crops (including arugula, bush beans, carrots, cilantro, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, scallions, turnips and even spinach–assuming you’re using a heat-resistant variety and growing it in a cool spot) succession sowing every two weeks insures a staggered supply of peak-season crops over the longest possible season. Starting some more basil and dill right now to match up with late-summer tomatoes and cucumbers wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.  How I calculate what to sow when and where.

Change Your Sheets

THIS YEAR, THANKS TO A variety of creatures from flea beetles to a visiting woodchuck, I am growing all my tempting vegetables (everything but tomatoes, onions and garlic) under floating row covers. As the summer heats up, I need to change the sheets, or risk cooking the vegetables before they’re fully grown. The lightest-weight fabrics such as Agribon-15, sometimes called insect barrier, lets in about 90 percent of light and barely traps heat beneath it, weighing a mere .45 ounces per square yard (compared to several times that for fabric suited to cool months and offering frost protection).  This floating row cover chart from Fedco shows the range of weights and features. (If all you need is to shade things a bit, you may prefer knitted shade cloth instead.)

Having a Slugfest?

IAM PREDICTING A slug-filled season here, but before these slimy creatures get out of hand, I’m reviewing how to deal with them.

Now outside again I go; where’s my machete?


(Vintage photos from the Library of Congress archive are actually of child workers cutting off beet tops in the sugar-beet fields at harvest time in Colorado, circa 1915.)

  1. Brian G. says:

    I listened to the podcast today and it made me think of your ‘haircut’ post from ’08 which you linked above. Perfect timing. I have some Alchemilla that’s looking a bit leggy now so i will give it a trim. Haven’t tried this yet but Alchemilla looks pretty indestructible so it should be a good guinea pig.

  2. hnybnch says:

    I also have a huge swath of G. macrorrhizum, and I haven’t the courage to do this, but I know I must because it’s way overstepping its bounds (and I totally trust you). Did you use clippers? a weed whacker? And how long before I can invite my gardening friends to tea without shocking them?

  3. Been a crazy spring here in Ky Appalachians. We are late planting…my garden been out two weeks. Staggered plantings is always key….but becaues we were late most seeded items are just popping through the ground. Won’t be pulling up anything just yet….giggles

  4. Dee says:

    Timely post! I had forgotten about whacking down a clematis in mid-summer until I revisited the link mentioned above. I commented on the original post as writermom, which was back before I morphed into Gardening Nana. The clematis came back as always, just fine, even better for it. Your post is timely because I have another sun-fried clematis worrying me — guess I’ll go find the scissors!

    1. Margaret says:

      Perfect plan, Florence…and welcome! I was shocked at the volume of stuff that got hacked off Friday…wheelbarrow load after load…and there is much more to go. Onward!

  5. patricia says:

    Here in No California we are a little behind. We skipped Spring again this year and today we start with summer.
    I was getting a little discouraged and your words gave me some hope for the year. I am starting a lot of things over.

  6. Tim says:

    We just took garden shears to the remains of the rhubarb, which were really looking ugly. That made more room for edamame and cukes too.

    More tomatoes and basil for late season is a great idea, thanks!

  7. Ginger Goolsby says:

    I just planted Geranium macrorrhizum this spring here in East Tennessee. My young plants are thriving and there are even a few blooms on some of them.
    Question – should I give my young plants a “haircut” or just let them be this year? I have never grown these before and am hoping they will do well under my maple. I have mulched and watered them during the extremely hot and dry weather we have been having.

  8. Susan says:

    I just finished your recently published book, live in Columbia County as well, and could relate to many of your stories and feelings. I loved the book and want more!!!

  9. It took me a while to cut anything back, like it took me a while to move anything…..But I’m over both feelings of hesitation and happier for it……My plants look better more of the time if I show’em some tough love in the haircut department and if something don’t end up looking right or ain’t playing with it’s neighbor nicely, well it’s shoveled up and relocated faster than the meter man left my front yard the day he accidentally met a pair of my Dobermans…….:) By the way I love your website and your podcasts. I got a bunch of them on my iTouch that I listen to while giving haircuts to my plants that need it…..I reckon I’ve heard that guy on your podcast say you have the most popular gardening blog on the internet about a million times and after reading it faithfully for a while, I know why he says that……Have a great gardening year.

    Paul From Alabama

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Susan (neighbor!). I will try to hurry with my writing, promise. :)

      Welcome, Paul (all the way from Alabama). You are VERY sweet to send such kind words (and I love the hilarious approach you take to naughty plants: tough love!

  10. Johanna says:

    So glad they fixed the podcast glitch on iTunes and it downloaded automatically today! Just in time to remind me of more garden work, Margaret!

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