7/31/15: In the garden this week

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Little bluestem, one of the toughest native grasses and, to my eyes, one of the most beautiful, is putting out its seed stalks now and will soon flower.

We’re having a heat wave; this weather shows the benefit of planting natives. Tough prairie plants stand up to heat and drought and just go on blooming. The sunny border is at its most colorful and exuberant right now.

Yesterday’s rain was abundant in some places, but according to my plastic rain gauge, we got less than half an inch, so the vegetable garden and newly planted shrubs and perennials need supplemental watering this week. Other than that, there is little to do in the garden:

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? An old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants makes a great rain gauge. 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.

Plan the fall vegetable garden: second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach can seeded directly in the garden in August.

— 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.

— it will soon be a good time to prune woody plants. Once all growth, flowering, and fruiting are done, the plants are relatively, but not completely, 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.

— 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 (watering every day is likely to cause fungal diseases). 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.

Stay cool! I wish everyone a shady patio and a glass of lemonade this weekend.

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Sometimes Rudbeckias are almost too exuberant. You can find them in any size to suit your garden. This is R. subtomentosa, which grows up to 5′ tall. I give away plants every spring.

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