the june garden chores: 2013

Margaret's garden clogs and trowel‘NOTHING LASTS.’ That Eastern-style philosophical message of impermanence is also what the June garden teaches. What was just all about fresh color and foliage and newness can suddenly looks like a whole lot of big brown deadheads on things like lilacs, with floppy, gone-by perennials beneath them, waiting for you and your trusty shears to make it all better.  Are you up for the task—and for insuring the vegetable garden keeps on producing by keeping up the planting?  Here’s how:

Tender spring weather often turns to a fiercer summer pitch long before the official moment marked on the calendar (it’s June 21 at 1:04 AM Eastern Daylight Time in 2013). Here’s how I’m tackling the tuneups, which for me, after the crazy recent hail, means more wheelbarrows of debris than a “normal” first week of June.

No surprise that weeding figures heavily into the chores picture, too, as a whole new crop of things sprout in the oncoming heat. Watering is the other major must in most spots. So…

MAKE A PASS 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?

GARDENS NEED an inch of water a week from you or the heavens. Check your rain gaugeto 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. That’s a garden no-no. 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.

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:

CONTINUE SOWING carrots, beets, radishes, salad greens, dill. With salad greens, select heat-resistant varieties now for best results. Sow small amounts every couple of weeks, on the shadier side of a tomato row or of the pole beans, for instance, not in baking sun in high summer. Direct-sow more kale and chard, too.

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, 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.

SWEET POTATOES, despite their heat-loving nature, can grow in all 50 states, and late spring is the perfect planting time in the Northern garden. The how-to, in detail.

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). The entire tomato-growing tip collection is right here. Plant deep, and use heavy cages, or better yet, stake and prune tomatoes to help prevent disease.  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 untit 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!

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

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.

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). More about seed-saving.

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? All my vine-related stories are here to browse, and expert tips from Dan Long of GardenVines [dot] com are in this Q&A.

ORDER BULBS this month to get varieties you want (see Sources for bulb vendors). Remember our “early, middle, late” mantra when doing so.

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.


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.

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.

trees & shrubs

BE ON THE LOOKOUT 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 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.

  1. Gail says:

    Hi Margaret, I enjoy your website very much and hope to visit your garden one day when I visit New York.

    I have a big question for you…well it is for me anyway, and I know many others have this same problem, and you probably have addressed this before, but I did not catch it. I have an acre size property, which is mostly landscaped, and in the past three years it is really being taken over by horsetail. I live in Atlantic Canada, and we have highly acidic soil. Some of my property is spongy in areas not standing water, but it has been for the 20 years prior to our noticing this increasing amounts of horsetail. One garden with a small block wall even has been prepared with a good base by professionals and crush rock below the wall and tamped, drain tile and crush rock behind blocks with drain tile going 50 ft out to woods. I can’t believe what this stuff is doing to my gardens. I built these gardens 20 years ago, and feel like digging it all up and sowing it with grass seed it is that heart-breaking to see. I lime but maybe it is not enough. I know gardening is hard work, and have had no qualms about hard work in my garden until now. I have always told my friends and family that gardening is hard work when they would come to visit my gardens, but if I had known this was going to happen I would not have built all these gardens–climate change is probably a big part of it. It is growing up in my walkways and through all my gardens. It is back breaking work to pick every little piece of horsetail out of my property. I just can’t do the horsetail thing any more!

    Can you please help me with any ideas/experiences you may have had to try keep this notorious weed at bay, or if any of your readers have any suggestions that have worked for them I would greatly appreciate hearing them.

  2. chris herzeca says:

    i actually find that the “blue chemical” (miracle grow) works quite well with hanginf flower pots. wouldn’t use it in the garden though.

  3. karen says:

    Margaret, I’m getting ready to go on vacation (not sure I should say to where since you are dealing with storms. Ok, since you asked, to Hawaii – Sorry!) Anyway I have loaded “The Backyard Parables” audio book into my iTunes library and the digital book onto my nook. You are (kinda) going on vacation with me. Wanted you to know…

  4. harvey says:

    i love your opening comment on impermanence and gardens. in life and gardens, as things change, transition and end; we get growth.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Harvey. Nice to see you. How right you are!

      And I know what you mean, Rebecca — it’s a comfort to have the list even if it doesn’t all get done… :)

  5. winter says:

    Urgent Gardening Question!! Or is it Emergency Gardening Question?

    Either way, I need help. I’m having a huge cutworm problem, they are mowing down entire rows of direct planted seedlings. I grow in mounded beds that I don’t till at all, I just add fresh compost every year. This is the second year with this problem. Do you think it’s due to my non-tilling habit?
    Thank you Margaret, you are an inspiration and Jack is adorable. And fierce, I don’t want to insult him. :)

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Winter. Fall tilling and then cultivating before you plant are in fact two steps that are recommended to limit the number of pupae/larvae etc. that “make it” into cutworm stage. Read about their life cycle from U. of MN or even better U. of RI, which recommends a midsummer tilling/cultivation too to reduce the population.

  6. Molly says:

    This is such a wonderful blog….Thankyou! This may be a silly question but I ask anyway in case you or other readers have suggestions. I love my two peony plants….but every year there’s a gaping space around them when their 2 seconds of blooming glory are over. Because the leaves start to rot a bit and are generally ugly looking by July I cut them down a bit. However because they take up SO much space in the spring when they are getting ready to flower, and because the blooming branches spread out like they own the bed, everything else around it gets tangled and fairs rather poorly. What can I plant around it this fall for next year so that when the peonies are done something else is there to flower in its place? Many thanks for any suggestions!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Molly. Many people like peonies for their good-looking foliage, too — so even when not in bloom its nice texturally. The roots need the leaves to be left intact to photosynthesize/feed the underlying plant all summer, so perhaps best to find out what’s wrong and prevent it rather than have the foliage get all nasty? They do get several diseases, especially in crowded spots where it may encourage fungal issues. So I’d be more inclined to get them to stay up and healthy and ferny-textured all season long.

  7. Charlie says:

    Add to the chores: exterminating the lily red beetle! Has anybody gotten these yet? This is the first time for my lillies. Seem to just attack my stargazers now. They are hard to squeeze too! I had to pick them off and stepson the good to do it. And their larvae covered in poop as a disguise : disgusting!! Any advice folks?

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