I’M FIGHTING THE URGE to go inside, draw the blinds, and take refuge in streaming videos (perhaps with an entire rhubarb crumble by my side). Instead let’s fight together through “the shaggies,” the stage the spring garden inevitably goes through after all that fresh promise of April and May devolves into endless deadheads, and the emergence of the warm-season weeds. The June garden chores are the antidote:
The spring—which officially becomes summer June 21 at 6:51 AM Eastern Daylight Time in 2014–has been cool here, but also drier than I’d like. I’m already watering—a chore in itself because I have no system, but must drag hoses and sprinklers around all day from space to space. Despite lower-than-normal rain, though, the lawn is growing madly, requiring twice-weekly attention. Oh, dear—but onward I mow, and go.
weeding and watering
MAKE A PASS, with hand or hoe, through each garden bed each week, since weeds are not just unsightly but steal moisture, nutrients and light from desired plants. Apply mulch to all beds to help in the plight. First: Learn to identify your opponents. Here’s help with weed ID. I am about to do battle with this prolific one—called clearweed. Look familiar? I have a whole archive of weed stories at this link.
GARDENS WANT an inch of water a week from you or the heavens. Check your rain gauge to make sure they get it, and remember: Soak deeply in the root zone. Don’t spritz things with a sprayer now and again like you’re washing the car. Pots need extra attention, especially smallish ones in sun, and they also need regular feeding (no blue chemicals, please; try seaweed and fish emulsion concentrates that you dilute in your watering can). Be alert!
WHAT? Didn’t plant up any pots yet? Plenty of time still, and here’s how to take your containers up a notch this year.
WANT VEGETABLES all summer? Many of those early sowings won’t last, so here’s how I make room for more with the practice of succession sowing. Some examples:
SOW (OR SOW MORE) CARROTS, or beets (grow them like a pro), radishes, salad greens, dill. With salad greens, select heat-resistant varieties now for best results if they’ll bump into warmer weather in your zone. Direct-sow more kale and chard, too—or start kale indoors, like this, to give it an extra-strong start.
DIRECT-SOW BUSH BEANS; plant a short row every two weeks, and also sow pole beans if you didn’t yet, for an even later crop. Maybe try heirloom beans for drying, too? Did summer and winter squash, cucumbers, and melons go in?
I LOVE VEGETABLE SOUP, and freeze dozens of containers of it for year-round use, so yes, I’m growing the ingredients of a soup garden.
IF YOU LIKE CILANTRO, plant a short row every couple of weeks for a constant supply; most varieties bolt pretty fast (eventually yielding coriander seeds). Or try one of the substitutes in this story.
DID YOU HILL UP your white potatoes?
YOU HAVEN’T MISSED tomato time. These ambitious creatures will catch up and bear even if they go in July 4th in my area (but Memorial Day or early June is best here). Plant deep, and use heavy cages, or better yet, stake and prune tomatoes to help prevent disease. Some insights in what makes the best-tasting tomato.
EGGPLANTS AND PEPPERS should be in the ground early this month, too, and too-small tomato cages can be recycled to hold these guys up.
KEEP ASPARAGUS and garlic well-weeded. Let asparagus grow lots of ferns the rest of the summer and fall; never cut back the foliage until it’s totally brown. If you’re growing hardneck garlic, as I do, the delicious “extra” crop of their scapes (flowering stalks) will be coming in right about now up North.
WATER GARLIC during dry spells for biggest bulbs (and did you feed it?). Though many people wonder all spring about when to harvest, typically that’s in high summer sometime, around July here. Not now!
SOME PERENNIALS MAY be so tired they need a full cutback now or soon. My perennial geraniums, particularly the great groundcover Geranium macrorrhizum and extra-handsome G. phaeum, are like that. You sometimes have to make things worse for the garden to look better in the long run.
LET ANNUAL GERANIUMS, which are technically in the genus Pelargonium, dry between waterings for best results. More on these tried-and-true annuals.
SOME SPRING WILDFLOWERS can be multiplied by simple division around this time of year, including trilliums, and others can be divided in fall. Here is how expert Carol Gracie does it and how I propagate my trilliums.
DEADHEAD ANY messy-looking bulbs as blooms fade, but continue to leave bulb foliage intact to wither and ripen the bulbs naturally. I mow my daffodil drifts around July 4th, for example, or whenever they wither on their own. Deadhead spring-flowering perennials unless they have showy seedheads (same with bulbs), or you want to collect seed later (non-hybrids only).
EDGE BEDS to make a clean line and define them, and keep edges clean with regular fine-tuning with grass shears. A well-cut edge (along with mulch touchups) makes a big difference in how the garden looks.
Feeling like what you need most is help with reworking design issues? Landscape architect Thomas Rainer recently offered me some valuable tips on reducing lawn areas and massing plants for visual impact, and designer and nursery owner Katherine Tracey told us how to critique our own yards. If you’re feeling stuck, I suggest both articles as a start.
HOUSEPLANTS, including amaryllis, and also clivia, among many, can spend the summer outdoors, in a sheltered location with filtered bright light (not direct sun). Pinch back and repot those that need it as you transition them, and feed regularly.
DON’T BAG OR RAKE clippings; let them lie on the lawn to return Nitrogen to the soil…unless you waited too long between mowings, that is. Mow frequently if grass is growing fast (I’m at twice-weekly now because we have had heat and rain); never remove more than one-third of the blade of grass at any one mowing.
DON’T LET THE HEAP dry out completely, or it will not “cook.” Turning the compost pile to aerate will also hasten decomposition, but things will rot eventually even if not turned. How expert Lee Reich makes great compost the smart way.
trees & shrubs
SPRING-FLOWERING SHRUBS like lilacs get pruned now. Later pruning (after July 4th in my Zone 5B Northeastern location) risks damage to emerging buds for next year’s blooms. Clean up unsightly deadheads of other big bloomers like rhododendron if you care to, and other things that don’t make showy fruit next–anything where leaving behind the faded blooms just looks messy. With fruiting things (roses that make nice hips, viburnums, you get the idea…) faded flowers are left intact to set beautiful, bird-feeding fruit.
MULCH AROUND WOODY PLANTS after cleaning away weeds and grass, but no volcano mulch (meaning no piling thick mulch up against trunks). Two inches depth or slightly less is plenty, starting several inches or so away from trunks.
THROUGH THE END OF JULY, softwood cuttings of Buddleia, Weigela, Rose-of-Sharon and roses, among other shrubs, can be taken to propagate more plants inexpensively.
On using this list in your garden: The monthly A Way to Garden chores and based on my Zone 5B Berkshire MA/Hudson Valley NY location; adjust accordingly.