my june 2012 garden chores

I KNOW, I KNOW: Why can’t it just last; why does it all have to start to flop and fade and fall apart? The spring garden, that is. June is the month when spring turns to summer—often well before the official moment (June 20 at 7:09 PM Eastern Daylight Time in 2012). Remember those gorgeous lilacs, rhododendron, flowering bulbs? Beautiful memories, yes, but also big brown messes everywhere. Uh-oh, get ready for another cleanup! Shall we tackle it together, one thing at a time (in print, and in podcast version)?

Prefer the June Chores in a Podcast?

YOU CAN listen in here, or subscribe free on iTunes to get all the weekly shows I do with Robin Hood Radio, WHDD in Connecticut, America’s smallest NPR affiliate. Also available on the Stitcher app.

Here’s where I begin this month or thereabouts (and probably never end, the usual story with the to-do list…but it makes me feel better having it, anyhow):

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. Help with weed ID.

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.

GARDENS NEED 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. That’s a garden no-no. Pots need extra attention, especially smallish ones in sun, and they also need regular feeding. Be alert!

WHAT? Didn’t plant up any pots yet? Plenty of time still; here’s the routine.


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.


CONTINUE SOWING carrots, beets, radishes, lettuce, dill, cilantro (and with that last one, remember what herb expert Rose Marie Nichols McGee told us about the three kinds of plants she grows for all-year “cilantro”). With salad greens, select heat-resistant varieties now for best results, and sow small amounts every 10 days. The shadier side of a tomato row or of the pole beans, for instance, is nice for lettuce right now…not baking sun.

DIRECT-SOW A SHORT ROW OF BUSH BEANS every two weeks, and also sow pole beans for an even later crop if you didn’t yet. Whether for eating fresh or drying, here’s how to grow beans. Did summer and winter squash, cucumbers, melons go in? It’s time.

SWEET POTATOES, despite their heat-loving nature, can grow in all 50 states, and late spring is the perfect planting time. 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. 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 into fall as harvest ends. 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.

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


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.


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.


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. Cindy Baugh says:

    Hi Margaret. I recently purhcased your book which led me to your blog and I am enjoying both immensly. What fun it is to discover a new to me blog and spend time perusing the archives! A question for you: I was just reading a post on composting and saw the contraption you were using to sift coarse compost. It was on a stand over a wheelbarrow. I want one of the those! Did you purchase it or have it made and if so where can I get the plans? Am looking forward to spending time in the garden with you via your great blog.
    Cindy Baugh

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Cindy. It’s sort of an easel-shaped device that a friend built from pressure-treated wood decades ago. Up top, a frame that secures hardware cloth mesh. The legs are hinged at the top (again, like an easel you can fold flat) so it can be set in place for work, or leaned up against a building out of the way. You want it (the mesh part) to be approx. the size that can stand over a wheelbarrow if you want to easily toss compost through and have it land in the barrow.

  2. Suzanne knowlton says:

    Hi Margaret! My good friend in the Berkshires turned me on to your blog and I appreciate all your great advice. I am on the west coast in Sonoma. I want to shape and prune my struggling lilacs. Advice? Mulch? Feed? How far can I go without risking next years bloom? They are so precious to me as I am a western transplant and they remind me of my grandmother! – sf

    1. margaret says:

      Sorry, Suzanne, not to see this question for so long. You want to prune them right after flowering as by summer they start to make the buds for next year’s flowers. Details are here in this story (which includes a coupe of links down at the bottom to an expert from Swarthmore Arboretum whose advice is very good).

  3. Carole Clarin says:

    Had some damage from a hail storm here in Monterey MA and wasn’t here to move my dragon wing begonias or Bonstedt fuchsia under cover. They don’t look very happy so I cut them back a bit. How low down should I have cut them? There are some little leaves growing low on the begonias so I cut to there. Sorry I didn’t get to the Open Day today-had a downpour here!

  4. I’d love to hear more about the way you ‘whack back’ perennial geraniums.

    I have one variety of perennial geranium (Rozanne, http://www.bluestoneperennials.com/b/bp/GEROP.html?mv_pc=dgar) and it’s still blooming heartily in my Zone 6 Middle TN garden.

    Should I cut it back soon? If so, how exactly do I do this? My plants are not that big (perhaps covering 2 or 3 square feet each) but it looks like your macrorrhizum covers a good stretch. Do you use a lawnmower set on high? A weed-whacker? Hedge clippers? Sorry if these are silly questions! :)

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Aaron. I basically let the plant tell me what to do. This is how I do it with the ones that look like hell otherwise (floppy, splayed open, and when simple deadheading flowers doesn’t really help). ‘Rozanne’ will probably floppy and look better after a hard cutback; be sure to water afterward so the plants have a chance to flush new foliage quickly.

  5. Michael McGraw says:

    Dear Margaret,

    Greetings from a long-time reader, first-time commenter. I was so excited to discover on your blog a few years ago your posts about big root geranium, which we had in abundance around the yard of the home we recently had purchased in Litchfield County, CT. We have divided it all over the place and it has thrived. Until about three weeks ago. All of it has become shot through wih tiny holes. It’s like lace. We’re in our fifth summer here now, and this has never happened before. None of our other plants have suffered in this way. Do you know what it cold be? We will be cutting it back in another couple of weeks, so maybe a fresh start will help. Would still like to know why this, why now? Any clues?

    Best regards,

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Michael — a neighbor, practically! — and hope this makes you feel better: HERE TOO! (And likewise for the first time ever.) I have slugs and snails, everywhere, and I have never seen such a mess on plants that usually are not troubled by them, like the geranium. Another reader alerted me that the cabbage looper (a green caterpillar) is eating hers, and I do see some excrement on the plants, alongside slime trails. UGH. I am about to shear the plants back halfway or so and let them grow fresh leaves (which I do anyhow, but this is one more reason to this year.) If it’s caterpillars, Bt is usually the choice (or vigilant hand-picking). You could get some nontoxic slug “bait” like Sluggo or put out saucers of beer at night if that’s your issue — more info on slugs is here in this older story.

  6. R.T. Wolfe says:

    It’s really nice to have such detailed and vast ideas. I am surprised at how many years I’ve been gardening and let something slip by me until it was too late! As a fiction novelist, my website contains the ten most basic tips for beginners. Although I hope it helps, sometimes us gardeners need to feed our inner dirt and read something deeper (pun intended!).
    -R.T. Wolfe

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, R.T. — nice to see you. Yes, a few things sometimes slip past me as well (tee hee). See you soon again, I hope.

  7. Michael McGraw says:

    Oh rats! We have slugs and snails! I have some sunflowers just poking up and am used to slugs ravaging those, so I had prepared those beds with Sluggo. But never the big root geraniums. Ah well, good to know what’s happening and that we’re not alone. (And yes we are practically neighbors! We’re in Falls Village, and have been meaning to come to one of your workshops. Hopefully next time!) Thanks much.

  8. Earleen Van Etten says:

    I planted a Concord Grape Vine last year..My husband built a strong horizontal trellis, and the vine immediatly took to it’s new home. It grew well and wrapped itself around the Trellis.
    However; this year I have noticed the leaves are turning brown on the edges,and the few bunches of Grapes that appeared in the spring have dried up.I have not pruned the vine, as I thought it would be good to allow it to take hold and just grow the first few years… What is happening to my Concord Grape Vine…

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