8/7/15: In the garden this week


Summer exuberance: certainly you could design a more formal garden using native plants, but I like a more natural look (some would call it messy). This border includes perennial sunflowers (Helanthus mollis), Rudbeckia subtomentosa, Hibiscus moscheutos (large leaves, not quite in bloom yet), a volunteer aster that’s not in bloom yet, little bluestem grass, tall purple ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata), and orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa, second-year seedlings blooming late), among many other species.

The summer garden is at its height right now: the birds are finishing off the elderberries and grey dogwood fruits and starting to eat the ripe pokeweed berries. Yes, pokeweed is large and weedy, and poisonous, but I leave one or two plants in hidden corners of the garden. The birds adore it. Native plums are ripening, and the crop is large enough that we may get some this year. The squirrels made quick work of the hazelnuts: one day the shrubs were heavy with nuts, the next morning there were piles of shells on the ground.

And the flowers! The more I cut and bring inside, the more there seem to be. And many of these plants, especially the Rudbeckias, will continue to bloom until frost. The photo above shows just a few of the native perennials in bloom right now. The pollinator activity is enormous and unceasing: bees, wasps, and butterflies are around all day, and moths take over at night. The birds eat the insects, and they will soon be eating the seeds. Goldfinches have made their yearly appearance.

We’ve had very little rain in the last month: my garden received less than half an inch last week and this week, despite storm systems passing through. But the heat wave has moderated to some extent, and the plants are looking happier. If you’re growing tomatoes, they’re probably setting fruit again; they stop when the temperature rises much over 90 degrees.

Here are some things you might be doing in your garden this week:

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.

— this is 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 follow my advice and hold off on watering entirely, your lawn is dormant now, but it will green up as soon as we get some rain.

Enjoy the garden this week!


Aren’t these flowers adorable? This is Rudbeckia triloba, a wonderful plant, easy to grow and a great size for the middle of the border.


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