5/24/13: In the garden this week

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Memorial Day weekend promises to start out cool and rainy but to improve by Monday; next week will gradually heat up. In this climate zone, Memorial Day is the traditional time to plant warm-weather annuals and vegetables. Here are some tips for what to do in northern New Jersey this holiday weekend:

— if the forecast pans out and the weather hits the 70s by Monday, go ahead and set out your tomatoes, eggplants, and squash. I know you can’t wait any longer, and neither can I.

— similarly, if you plant annuals, it’s safe to plant the more tender ones such as begonias. Avoid impatiens this year, which are subject to a new and fatal fungal disease.

— continue to plant perennials and herbs until the weather really  heats up. I love to fuss around in my perennial gardens, moving and dividing plants to fill gaps, contrast colors, improve bloom sequence, or whatever, but I generally stop by the end of May. It’s usually so warm by then that the plants need too much water to recover.

— continue to prune spring-blooming shrubs and trees such as forsythia and rhododendrons; do not prune summer bloomers, or you will cut off this season’s bloom. Now that shrubs and trees have fully leafed out, it’s safe to do nonremedial pruning once again. And now is the optimal time to prune evergreen hedges–while they are in active growth.

— remove spent blooms of lilacs to improve plant vigor and safeguard next season’s flowers

— weed, weed, weed! All this rain will cause the weed seeds to germinate and the existing plants to grow luxuriantly. It’s easier to weed all the time and a little at a time than to let the weeds get out of hand and have to do it all at once. And start soon–weeding is easier when the ground is wet.

— with all this rain, you should certainly not need to water your lawn or anything else

— one traditional lawn-care regimen calls for three applications of fertilizer per season: on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. So if you absolutely can’t live without fertilizing your lawn, go ahead and do it (but please, please use an organic fertilizer). But you’d be much better off not fertilizing at all and using more sustainable lawn-care methods: let the grass grow at least 3 inches tall to maximize photosynthesis, and use a mulching mower so that the clippings fall back on the grass and provide free fertilizer (this regimen requires much less money and work and is better for the lawn and for the environment).

And don’t forget to enjoy the garden this weekend! (To me, all of the above is highly enjoyable–I hope it is to you as well.)

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