7/24/15: In the garden this week


The border has finally turned yellow! Two species of Rudbeckia create the fire, along with two species of perennial sunflower and some late-blooming butterflyweed. The tall purple flowers floating in the breeze are ironweed, Vernonia fasciulata.

Compare this photo with the ones from last week and week before to see how the border evolves over time. The shade garden changes almost daily as well; here’s a picture of that gorgeous shade-loving joe pye weed taken a couple of days ago:


Sweet joe pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) grows to great height with less than half a day of syn.

This is the time of year when there’s little to do in the ornamental garden (except admire it), although the vegetable garden needs continual tending. After last week’s oppressive heat, the weather has been pleasant, but much too dry. We are in a drought: precipitation levels have been below normal for the past 90 days. So pay particular attention to the water needs of your vegetable garden and newly installed woody plants and perennials.

water new plantings: newly installed plants and annuals, like vegetables, need watering. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all woody plants installed this spring or last season. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted last fall and 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.

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. Pick frequently: smaller vegetables taste better.

— As tomatoes ripen their fruit, cut back on watering to avoid split fruits. Keep removing suckers all summer long. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.

— it’s not too late to extend a garden bed or start a new one, and it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn: spread a 3-4 inch layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. In the fall, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch. I mulched an area of lawn about a month ago and am scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen. Columbine is almost finished ripening seed, and coreopsis seed ripens nearly every day.

— it will soon be a good time to prune woody plants. Once all growth, flowering, and fruiting are done, the plants are relatively resting, 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.

— 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 late now to reseed bare areas: wait until early fall. (Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, 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! If you hold off on watering entirely, your lawn will go dormant until the next rain, but it will not die.


It’s a lazy time for humans in the garden but a busy time for birds, as several native shrubs ripen their fruits. Elderberry, grey dogwood, and black chokeberry fruits (shown here) are gradually ripening, and the birds check them out every day. Hazelnuts ripened this week, and all that’s left are piles of hulls on the ground.

My latest Backyard Environmentalist column appeared on the North Jersey newspapers website and in the Glen Rock Gazette today. Please take a few minutes to check it out.

Stay cool, and enjoy the garden this week!


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