the june garden chores
THE SHAGGIES: It’s not a dance, or a hairdo—or some variant on the delightful British slang for sex. It’s a nemesis, plain and simple, one that descends on the garden when spring has had it, leaving behind what seems like nothing but deadheads, underplanted with a whole new palette of emerging weeds–the warm-season kind.
It’s the moment when the long-reach pruner (affiliate link) is your best friend (goodbye crispy lilac trusses), and when taking the long view is the only way home. The long view is summed up in the June garden chores that follow (and Ken Druse and I discussed it recently on the podcast).
First, a note: Spring won’t officially give way to summer in 2020 until June 20 at 5:44 PM Eastern Daylight Time. Of course it may look long gone by now at your place already if you’ve had more heat, or bouts of dry and warm versus dramatically cool and wet by comparison.
garden elsewhere? regional links
THE ORGANIC-GARDENING approach and the how-to tips I offer apply most anywhere–pruning a rose or sowing a tomato seed is similar, wherever the rose or tomato may grow. But the when is not the same. To adjust timing: My garden is in Zone 5B, in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA) area, where frost can persist well into May and return in October. You may need next month’s chores, or last month’s (the archive is here). For more Zone-specific advice, I’ve rounded up a links to calendars and checklists from around the nation (and the U.K.). But read on first, because I’m betting there’s something here for you, wherever you may dig, weed, or prune.
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. Some of my hit parade to help in that effort:
- How to ID your weeds—links to online guides
- A new weed encyclopedia for North America (published 2016)
- Why weeds succeed (those devilish plants!)
- A 101 approach to weed control
- Smothering weeds with cardboard and newspaper
- Piling on the mulch for weed suppression and control
- Clearweed, or Pilea pumila
- Hedge bindweed and spotted spurge
- Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata
- Galinsoga and Commelina
- A weed I accidentally planted, Houttuynia or chameleon plant
- All my weed stories
IN ZONES like mine, 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: If you have to supplement, 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 chemical crystals, please; try seaweed and fish emulsion concentrates, diluted according to label directions).
WHAT? Didn’t plant up any pots yet? (It was so cool here in much of May I started late, too, actually.) Plenty of time still, and here is some can-do design advice. Other ideas for taking your containers up a notch this year. When all else fails–when I have missed the boat on good-looking annuals at local garden centers–I go with young trees such as Japanese maples for pots, or shrubs, and gradually pot them up in the subsequent years, stashing them in my garage in winter like this.
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, at least not up North. These ambitious creatures will catch up and bear even if they go into the ground on July 4th in my Northeast Zone 5B area (but 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. Though many people wonder all spring about when to harvest, typically that’s in high summer sometime, around July here. Not now, unless the plant is showing you it’s ready, when several of the lower leaves go brown, but five or six up top are still green. Like this.
OTHER SHORTCUT LINKS to growing various popular crops:
- How to grow beets
- How to grow Brassicas
- How to grow spinach
- Try 8 heat-resistant spinach substitutes
- How to grow carrots
- Top tips for growing all root crops
- How to grow kale
- How to grow melons
- How to grow tomatoes
- How to grow onions
- How to grow peppers
- How to grow squash, cucumbers
- Grains and pseudo-grains (quinoa, sorghum, millet…)
- Oddball vegetables you might not have tried
WANT MORE WILDLIFE, including birds? Here’s how to create a habitat garden, and also a Q&A with wildlife ecologist Doug Tallamy of the University of Delaware on creating backyard habitat. In our latest conversation, Tallamy tackled the topic of showier “nativars” (cultivars of native plants, such as with colorful leaves) as compared to the wild type, and how wildlife views these ornamental changes. In our 2020 conversation, he shared the latest advice for gardeners wanting to support diversity.
ENCOURAGE POLLINATORS by getting to know more about them, with help from the Xerces Society in this interview, or in these other stories:
MY INSECT FASCINATION goes beyond bees. Learn about other native insects:
- How to ID butterflies
- The magic of moths
- Monarchs and the milkweed “arms race”
- Getting to know the fireflies
SICK OF MOWING? Less lawn means space for more diverse plantings, and therefore support of more wildlife diversity from insects on up. Do you want to mow differently (as I did the last three years to good result)?
SICK OF DEER? Maybe it’s time to plan for upgrades in deer control. If by this point in winter you have tired of deer damage, perhaps this will be the year you fence the yard, or at least a key area, using one of these approaches. Also: deer-thwarting advice from Ohio State’s wildlife expert, applicable no matter where you garden.
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–Ken Druse and I talked about that in spring 2020 on the podcast.
LET ANNUAL GERANIUMS, which are technically in the genus Pelargonium, dry between waterings for best results. More on these tried-and-true annuals. (I confess I have a soft spot for the ones with fancy leaves.)
SPEAKING OF ANNUALS, even the easiest familiar ones like zinnias or marigolds may poop out if you only sow once, in spring. Learn from a flower farmer about succession sowing of flowers, too, for ample blooms through till hard freeze.
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.
HAVING DESIGN ISSUES, with the yard just not hanging together visually? Landscape architect Thomas Rainer offered 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.
trees & shrubs
SPRING-FLOWERING SHRUBS like lilacs get pruned now. Later pruning (after about 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. Here’s how.
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.
HOUSEPLANTS, including amaryllis, 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 often at twice-weekly if we get heat and rain); never remove more than one-third of the blade of grass at any one mowing. More organic lawncare tips.
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.
need help in other regions?
AGAIN: I’m in the Northeast, in Zone 5B. For more Zone-specific advice, I’ve rounded up a new page of links to calendars and checklists from around the nation.