7/8/16: In the garden this week

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The white blossoms of Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) bloom for a relatively short time in mid-summer, but the pollinator interest they attract is amazing. This plant is considered a wetland species but will do well in any sunny spot.

I guess the weather had to turn brutally hot sometime, although I certainly prefer the moderate days and cool nights we enjoyed until very recently. I can only work outdoors very early in the morning and very late in the evening in this punishing heat and humidity, but luckily it’s too late in the season to plant!

The weather is supposed to break for at least a short time on Sunday. If you work up the energy to garden, here are some tasks you might consider:

water new plantings: we got an inch of rain this past week, so no watering is needed now, but keep watching. 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.

— you should be finished harvesting early crops such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, mesclun mix, peas, and radishes. Remove the plants and compost them (if they’re healthy) or discard (if they’re not). Plant something else instead. A row of beans, perhaps?

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. 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” 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.

collect seeds. This is a great low-energy task for hot weather. Columbine is almost finished ripening seed, and 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.

— it will soon be a good time to prune woody plants. Once all 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.

— 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!

Enjoy the garden this week!

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Wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) is blooming vigorously in my garden now. This plant never grows more than 18″ tall and thrives in dry, sandy soil and full sun. It would work well in a rock garden.

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