7/29/16: In the garden this week

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You could go to the New York Botanical Garden to see the corpse flower in bloom, or you could admire gorgeous blooms in your own native plant garden. This is Hibiscus mosceutos, just beginning to bloom. The flowers are almost as large as dinner plates.

Today is the day the corpse flower is in full bloom, but in my garden something just as gorgeous but much more common is happening: Hibiscus moscheutos is beginning to bloom, and we’ll be enjoying it for a month or more. This is supposed to be a wetland plant, but I originally got the seeds from my next-door neighbor’s bone-dry garden, and it’s bloomed reliably for me ever since (and there are both seeds and seedlings to give away each year).

We finally got a bit of rain this week, but according to my rain gauge, the total from the two storms was well under an inch. I suspect the amount of rainfall varied a great deal locally, so your total may be different. This shows why it’s important to know how much rain you received in a dry period like the one we’re experiencing so you can care for your plants properly.

After a somewhat rainy weekend (yay!), temperatures are predicted to moderate next week. It’s been very hard to work outdoors in 90+ degree heat and humidity. I look forward to a productive week. And if you should feel ambitious, here are some things you might address in your garden this week:

water new plantings: depending on location, you probably got less than an inch of rain this week, so new plantings need supplemental watering. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all woody plants installed this spring or last fall. 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.

— As tomatoes ripen their fruit, cut back on watering to avoid split fruits: provide no more than an inch of water per week. Keep removing suckers all summer long. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.

extend a garden bed or start a new one (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. Coreopsis seed ripens nearly every day (although goldfinches are getting most of it). So does seed of daisy fleabane, a lovely native annual. It pops up in different parts of my garden each year. I’ve been collecting those and seeds of junegrass.

— it’s a good time to prune woody plants. Now that most 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.

— pick fruit! Elderberries and aronia berries are almost ripe, native plums are ripening; nonedible fruits such as grey dogwood berries are beginning to show color. The most plentiful crop in my garden is aronia, and I am planning a batch of aronia/plum jam.

— 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 hot now to reseed bare areas: wait until early fall. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to 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!

Have a great weekend! And enjoy my latest Backyard Environmentalist column, “The Indomitables,” a group of native plants that are particularly easy to grow.

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Rudbeckia triloba is beginning to open its flowers this week. This lovely and easy-to-grow plant remains about 3′ tall and doesn’t spread aggressively like taller Rudbeckias. The flowers are only about 1 1/2″ across, but they’re just plain adorable.

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