9/9/16: In the garden this week

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Summer-blooming perennials are still going strong, but asters are beginning to make their presence felt in the early fall garden.

It’s hot, hot and dry. Once again, one weather system after another passes us by. I have actually watered some of my established perennials–that’s how dry it’s been. Perhaps we’ll finally get some relief over the weekend.

Once it cools down a bit and you feel like getting out into the garden, here are some seasonal tasks to consider:

water new plantings: in any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, like this week, water all woody plants installed this spring or last fall. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted last fall or this spring need supplemental watering during dry spells. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? I use a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well. Sunday is my watering day, and I’m going to water my new trees and shrubs.

practice good horticulture with warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers. This is particularly important as the season winds down. Monitor for insect eggs and larvae and remove them before infestations become serious. Throw out badly infested or diseased plants to prevent the spread of disease (do not compost diseased or infested plant material).

— as tomatoes ripen their fruit, cut back on watering to avoid split fruits: provide no more than an inch of water per week. (If it rains, don’t water.) Keep removing suckers. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.

extend a garden bed or start a new one (it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn): spread a 3-4” layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. You’ll be able to plant right through the mulch and thatch next spring. You can scatter seeds there as you collect them.

collect seeds. Coreopsis seed ripens nearly every day. So does seed of daisy fleabane, a lovely native annual. It pops up in different parts of my garden each year. Seed of purple lovegrass and of little bluestem is ripening, as are seeds of nodding joe pye weed, penstemon, prairie onion, and monarda.

— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: if you feel you must fertilize your lawn, best practice is to give it no more than two applications of slow-release organic fertilizer each season, around Memorial Day and Labor Day. Even though Labor Day is past, hold off until the weather cools down a bit. And it’s still too hot to reseed bare areas. Early fall is the best time to do this, but wait until things cool down. If you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Let the grass grow at least 3″ tall for maximum photosynthesis. Lawns do not need water now (or ever), but if you do water, do it infrequently and deeply to encourage deep root growth. One inch of water once a week is much better than a few minutes each day. But remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow!

— plan for next season: Do it now, while the garden is still growing. Notice things that did great and things that didn’t, make lists of areas you want to improve, areas of lawn you could get rid of, places that are getting sunnier or shadier and need new plantings to suit.

I love this time of year in the garden! The asters are finally blooming, and the native grasses are glowing in the sun. Enjoy the garden this week.

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New England aster

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Little bluestem

Lying about lime

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If your garden is too shady for lawn grass, lime won’t help. Plant some lovely shade-loving perennials instead. Shown here are Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) and native Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum).

Do you add lime to your lawn each year? If so, why? I’ve asked this question of many homeowners and landscapers who swear by liming, and I get a variety of answers:

Lime kills the moss so the grass can grow. No, sorry. This is quite incorrect. Moss grows in the shade. Lawn grasses need sun. If you have a part of your garden where moss grows, either enjoy the moss (which is quite lovely), or plant shade-loving perennials and ferns.

Lime makes everything grow better. Wrong again. In some conditions,, lime might possibly make some plants grow better (see below), but in general it’s quite unnecessary in our area.

Lime corrects the pH of the soil. This response actually has some relationship with the truth. But let’s back up a bit. pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance: on a scale of 0 to 14, low numbers indicate acidity, high numbers indicate alkalinity, and 7 is neutral. Most garden plants, including lawn grasses, grow best when the soil is mildly acidic, with a pH of approximately 6.5 to 6.8. Lime, which is alkaline, raises the pH of soil. However, in our area, the pH of most soil is around 6.5 to 6.8. So unless a soil test tells you that your soil is extremely acidic, there’s no need to add lime.

Not adding lime is one way you can cut down on the cost and time involved in maintaining a lawn (getting rid of lawn by planting shrubs and perennials is another). You’ll find more about fall lawn care in this post from last year.

 

Changing conditions

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A large Norway maple once shaded the shrub islands on my front lawn; it blew down this spring, and now a small oak replaces it. Those islands, planted with shade lovers, get too much sun now and are suffering drought stress as a result.

When conditions change, garden care must change as well. And changing conditions can make a sustainable garden less sustainable, at least for a while. When you put up an addition, or trees outgrow their site, or a tree comes down, conditions change drastically for plants. You may be able to adapt your plantings (plant more sun-lovers, for example); if not, you’ll certainly have to adapt your care routine. It will probably be 5 years or more before this swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) supplies much-needed shade to these islands. I’ll need to provide supplemental water during dry spells for the whole time. I had almost never watered these beds before. Now, during this very dry summer, I’ve had to water every couple of weeks.

No time for a weekly post

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Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is a joy in the late-summer garden, and unlike its red-flowered cousin, cardinal flower, it’s easy to grow and adaptable.

Refer back to last week’s In the garden this week for a list of chores for the week, but it’s time to stop pruning of shrubs and trees now, except for removing dead and diseased material, which can be done at any time. Do keep up on watering newly installed plants: it’s hot and dry out there, and I’m seeing signs of drought damage everywhere.

And if you’re planning to doing any fall planting, please check out my latest “Backyard Environmentalist” column, which explains why everything you think you know about planting is probably wrong.

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Northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), a small, drought-tolerant shrub, is one of my new favorite plants. Consider it if you have a dry, shady area where nothing else will grow.

Blue berries

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Cornus sericea (red osier dogwood) growing in shade–look carefully and you’ll see the truly blue berries.

There are few truly blue fruits or flowers, perhaps because very few creatures can see the color blue (birds and primates are the most important groups that can). Some viburnums and dogwoods make blue berries, but with most of the these very tasty plants, you almost never see a ripe fruit–the birds eat them the second they ripen. If you look carefully at the photo above, you’ll see a number of ripe blue berries among the green unripe ones. I took this photo early yesterday evening, and all the ripe berries were gone this morning. (The colors and contrast on the photo were enhanced a bit.)

By the way, Cornus sericea is one of the most adaptable native shrubs: in nature it usually grows in very wet places, often in full sun. In my garden it’s growing in dry, sandy soil and almost complete shade.

Landskipping

Landskipping

I’ve just started reading this marvelous and marvelously written book about the history of the English landscape: not how it came to be, but how people have thought about it and looked at it since the Romantic era, when people began traveling to look at landscape. At the time philosophers came up with ideas about landscape, and rules for viewing it properly, that still influence us today.

Notice the sheep. On a visit last week to the Hudson Valley, where we toured the homes of Frederick Church and Thomas Cole, two major Hudson River School painters, I was most struck not by the beauty of the landscape but by the absence of sheep! In the eighteenth century, people viewed landscape under the influence of the contrast between the sublime and the beautiful, an idea promulgated in a seminal philosophical treatise by Edmund Burke in 1757. A rugged landscape dominated by mountains, waterfalls, and windblown trees exemplifies the sublime. A pastoral landscape dominated by gentle hills and pastures exemplifies the beautiful. The Hudson River School painters were most interested in conveying the majesty of nature–the sublime–while the English idea of landscape, although appreciative of sublimity in nature, tended to focus on the beautiful (think of the contrast between Constable and Turner). And to include lots of sheep.

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Landscape in Derbyshire, with sheep.

(And if you share my appreciation for sheep, check out Google Sheep View. Almost every day you can view sheep doing their thing in some beautiful corner of the world.)

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View from Olana, home of Hudson River School painter Frederick Church, without sheep.

8/19/16: In the garden this week

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Verbena stricta has been blooming since late June and shows no sign of letting up. At its feet is purple lovegrass and daisy fleabane. This is a new garden created by mulching part of the front lawn last fall. Both species of grasses you see here–purple lovegrass and little bluestem–were transplanted in very early spring and are blooming nicely.

I’ve been away for a few days, but the garden looks dry and there was no water in my rain gauge, so it looks like the scattered thunderstorms we were hearing about missed this area. But at least the heat has moderated a bit. So get out there and consider these seasonal garden chores:

water new plantings:  in any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all woody plants installed this spring or last fall. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted last fall or this spring need supplemental watering during dry spells. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? I use a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well. Sunday is my watering day, and I’m going to water my new trees and shrubs.

practice good horticulture with warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers: Monitor for insect eggs and larvae and remove them before infestations become serious. Throw out badly infested or diseased plants to prevent the spread of disease (do not compost diseased or infested plant material). Cucumber vines are showing signs of wilt: remove them immediately to prevent the spread of this fungal disease.

— as tomatoes ripen their fruit, cut back on watering to avoid split fruits: provide no more than an inch of water per week. (If it rains, don’t water.) Keep removing suckers. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.

extend a garden bed or start a new one (it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn): spread a 3-4” layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. In the fall or next spring, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch.

collect seeds. Coreopsis seed ripens nearly every day. So does seed of daisy fleabane, a lovely native annual. It pops up in different parts of my garden each year. Some seed of purple lovegrass is beginning to ripen, as are seeds of nodding prairie onion and monarda..

— it’s a good time to prune woody plants, but don’t  put it off much longer. Once growth, flowering, and fruiting are done, the plants are relatively dormant, giving you a window of time to prune before they get ready for their next critical task: leaf abscission (shutting down for the winter). I do most of my pruning in winter, but I also prune back shrubs as needed after they have ripened their fruit.

— pick fruit! Aronia berries are almost ripe, native plums are ripening; elderberries and nonedible fruits such as grey dogwood berries are almost gone–both are bird favorites. The second crop of everbearing raspberries is ripening—yum! The most plentiful crop in my garden is aronia, and I made a batch of aronia/plum jam.

— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: if you feel you must fertilize your lawn, best practice is to give it no more than two applications of slow-release organic fertilizer each season, around Memorial Day and Labor Day. It’s too hot now to reseed bare areas: wait until early fall. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Let the grass grow at least 3″ tall for maximum photosynthesis. Lawns do not need water now (or ever), but if you do water, do it infrequently and deeply to encourage deep root growth. One inch of water once a week is much better than a few minutes each day. But remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow!

Enjoy the garden this week! Don’t you feel like we’re starting to transition to fall?

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As sweet joe pye weed finishes blooming, great blue lobelia takes over and asters are still to come in this shade garden.