the june garden chores

Margaret's garden clogs and trowelTHE 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 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.

First, a note: Spring won’t officially give way to summer in 2023 until Wednesday, June 21, at 10:57 AM 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. (Here we’ve been very dry with some early warn spells and consistently two weeks or so “ahead” of schedule. Sigh.)

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:

IN ZONES like mine in summer, gardens want water each week from you or the heavens. Check your rain gauge to make sure they get it (I feel happy if an inch falls each week, but lately it’s more feast or famine with rainfalls). 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).

container gardens

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.

vegetable garden

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, tooor 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.

MULCH VEGETABLES with baled or chopped straw, partially rotted leaves, or other available organic materials. Confused what mulch to use? Read this.

OTHER SHORTCUT LINKS to growing various popular crops:

wildlife-garden ideas

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.

SPEAKING OF wildlife magnets: Will this be the year you add water, whether in-ground or simply an easy, seasonal trough like this?

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:

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.

flower 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.

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).

TENDER BULBS like dahlias, cannas, caladiums, gladiolus and such should be in the ground, but with the glads, you can stagger flower harvest by planting a row every two weeks until the start of July.

ARE ANNUAL VINES getting the support they need, whether twine, wire, lattice? What about perennial ones like clematis? Expert tips are in this Q&A.

PREPARE NEW BEDS by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top. Need mulch advice?

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

BE ON THE LOOKOUT anytime for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune them out as discovered. Ditto suckers and water sprouts. Complete pruning tips are here.

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.

compost heap

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.

Categorieschores by month
  1. Tom Rozier says:

    Oh, Margaret! Love your comment about the weed you accidentally planted–Houttuynia. Definitely an invasive plant the NSA should monitor. We call it the “submarine” plant from a time at Cheekwood in Nashville, when we tried to remove it from a a rock garden, and it kept crawling under rocks; it went subterranean.

    1. LISA CARNES says:

      Houttuynia was given to me by a gardener “friend” before i knew any better-it is my most invasive weed now, the huge beds have been taken over by it and the roots go to China.. i suppose i could take all the perrenials and shrubs out and mow as lawn..a huge mess

      1. Leslie says:

        I’m in the same boat with these darn tubulars. THIS after I spent all spring digging out lily of the valley. Urg! Will NEVER trust a tubular again!

  2. irene stone says:

    Love your blog…and your lectures…and your books! One piece of information I need but haven’t found — is it necessary to deadhead azaleas? I have about 30 lovely pink ones, whose blooms are now a sad brown. any thoughts???

    1. Mary Beron says:

      I have found that the next years blooms are glorious if I deadhead the azaleas.
      Be careful to not pinch off small emerging leaves, though. (easier said than done!)

  3. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    I can’t help but notice your beautiful rhubarb! I was told not to let it flower – that it will make the stalks more bitter – but I LOVE the flower! Can I let mine bloom?

  4. Tiiu Mayer says:

    I’m one of the few people in the world who does not enjoy cilantro as a comestible but I do grow it for the flower garden. The flowers and greenery are just plain lovely and you can score points with your cilantro-loving friends by offering up a small handful of freshly picked organic cilantro ( be sure to make a big deal about the organic part and they will think you are awesome!) Left alone, the plants will self seed the following year.

    1. Lauren B. says:

      Once, 20 years ago, we let cilantro go to seed in our tiny veggie garden and next spring the whole place was wall to wall cilantro! My kids picked it all and the local fruit and veggie store manager gave them a handful of rubber bands. They made bunches and he paid them $20 for it all. He said he never sold cilantro out so fast! People were just grabbing it!

  5. Chella says:

    I personally never had an interest in gardening in my entire life until i stumbled on your blog. Since then, i stopped paying a gardener and try your tips a lot on my own. This is a good read for June!

    1. margaret says:

      Thank you, Chella, and welcome. Good exercise, good “meditation,” and a chance to connect to nature — I get all that from the garden, and much more. Enjoy it!

  6. Carol Long says:

    Hi.. Now at the end of June in Vermont. My tulips and daffodils are through blooming and stems dried, I have cut them down. Should I let grass grow over them in the summer? Straw ? Mulch ? Will they come back next spring? Thanks.

    1. margaret says:

      Trim back the withered foliage at ground level, or mow it all, yes. They will come back. Usually the grass here kind of fills back in (after being brownish because of shade and competition from the bulb foliage all spring). You can let that happen, or mulch, or whatever suits visually. Daffodils come back more strongly year after year than tulips, which can be short-lived. More on bulbs is at this page.

  7. Lauren B. says:

    I am moving through those chores, bit by bit! Today I sheared all the evergreen shrubs and now I can’t do anything else. Stiff as a board.

    1. DiAnna says:

      Margaret…love your post and always love reading i…however when I go to open, I get the msg from Google that says opening it as unsafe and passwords etc may be at risk..I override it to read but have the black triangle etc…how come?

      1. margaret says:

        Don’t know, DiAnna. Not showing in any browser that way for me and I haven’t heard from any other people (and can see incoming traffic all day).

  8. Joan DeRosa says:

    Margaret, my neighbor/friend and I had a wonderful day last Saturday thanks to you, your garden, Broken Arrow nursery and Kathy Tracey’s delightful succulent talk and workshop. We were the ones who had the nerve to arrive at your gate 30 minutes early.
    Back home in Setauket I’m still walking around the garden with the new bought plants, looking for the place that will make them happiest.

    Thank you.

  9. Mj says:

    I’m wondering what to do with my post bloomed alliums? Deadhead? Cut the stem at the ground?
    My first ever!
    Thank you.

    1. margaret says:

      I like the dry flowerheads left in place of some big varieties, or once they fully brown I cut them and use as dry arrangement fodder. Important to leave the foliage on to wither (aka “ripen”) naturally, so the bulbs restores itself, and the flower stalk helps in that effort, too — so if you don’t like the look f the faded flowers, just “pinch” them off right where they meet the top of the stem, like this.

  10. Gail Davis says:

    I have dozens of knock out and drift roses in my landscape and began losing them to rose rosette disease.4 years ago. I had bought sawdust inoculated with mushroom spawn to grow my own shiitake mushrooms but did not use it all. Knowing of the reported healing properties of mushrooms I sprinkled it around the roses. I pruned off the ” wild growth” and scratched the mushroom spawn into the soil. No sign of the rose rosette but I reapplied mushroom spawn this year prophylactically. I have shared this tip with every gardener that I know but I never see it suggested anywhere. Officially there is no cure for it and we are advised to dig up the roses and burn them. Please share this information with your scientific friends who can verify it and stop the needless slaughter of these lovely plants. Thank you for your lovely website.

  11. Judi Longstreet says:

    I have a question about ponds. I want to build one just off our back deck but we live in the country with the usual mosquito population and a friend suggested that a pond would attract more mosquitoes to the deck. Should I place the pond elsewhere?


    1. margaret says:

      A good question for our next Q&A show (which is taping later this week), Judi. I have to say in 30 years of having several water gardens right near by house, I do not have a mosquito issue. I have a small “waterfall” feature in all of them (a little tube of water that splashes back into the pond and makes sound and keeps the surface moving slightly — nothing fancy)…and that helps. And also I cover much of the surface with floating plants to shade the water and keep algae from forming, or the water turning into a slimy lagoon. I don’t know if you plan to have fish (who eat eggs/insects) or will get frogs/toads (ditto) but again, it all adds up to control. I think a container of standing water with no care would be an invite for unpleasantness, but that’s not how I manage mine. Info on them.

  12. Gail Russell says:

    Okay , so that post will take me hours to read. Thank you for your sight because if I read ALL of that advise right now the garden would be wondering if I had skipped out. I have to say that of all the garden blogs I read, it’s yours that I keep coming back too. The experts, the diversity… It’s the best. So thanks. I appreciate you and the time you spend teaching and encouraging us. Good job miss Margaret.

  13. Donna Harrison says:

    A very comprehensive article Margaret. I will have to reread a few times!
    I have a deep pink Jerusalem Sage given to me by someone who lives in a zone 1. I am zone 3. It was a total surprise when it flowered. I had never seen anything like it before and wasn’t sure if I even liked it. I still have it, and it self seeds, so have been able to share it.

  14. Carol Kelly says:

    Over the past week, I watched in horror as my neighbor totally butchered 5 shrubs. She attacked 4 viburnums over a couple of days this week using her hand-held, non-power hedge trimmers (after smaller pruning shears proved insufficient for the mayhem she intended). I had been admiring from my window the abundance of white flowers, great pompoms that weighed down the branches, and so was thinking what a wonderful quantity of berries would be there for the migrating birds come fall. Alas – that is not to be. She whacked back all four shrubs by about half in the end, diminished both in height and width. Next she crammed all the clippings into black plastic bags to go curbside: destination landfill despite my standing offer to recycle her yard waste by adding anything she had to our utility trailer. We use the trailer to take our yard waste to our local municipal compost facility; it already was half-full of branches and trimmings from our yard. Far better, I tried to impress upon her, to turn it into compost rather than adding it to the landfill. But this week I did not go out & say anything to her; I finally have accepted (painful though it was for me to watch) that she is who she is and will do it her way. She also has a lawn service that makes me very nervous as they spray (whatever it is they are spraying) adjacent to my vegetable garden. By the way – the husband died just before Christmas from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I cannot help but wonder – since he was out mowing their chemical-treated lawn several times a week for years! – whether the chemicals in his yard may have had something to do with his demise. And now his widow is doing the mowing – just as often!

    Later in the week, she had her grown son come and use a hedge trimmer on a flowering quince (it was too large for her to reach sufficiently). He wielded the power trimmer the way I have watched swashbuckling knights with broadswords flail wildly at their opponents. It was painful to watch. When he finished and began bagging up the branches – again, in black plastic bags – I could not help but go over & invite him to put the “trimmings” in our utility trailer that already was half-full of branches and trimmings from our yard. I explained that I had told his mom earlier in the year (when she was bagging up dried leaves from a flower bed) that she was welcome to add her yard waste to ours for recycling. He said he’d have to check with mom (!!??) and got her (apparently grudging) “permission” to add the debris to our trailer. [By the way, I did not subsequently take her leaves to be recycled, but shredded them up to use in my own beds!!] There is still so much ignorance…

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