9/30/16: In the garden this week (and Maine)


A random patch of plants growing beside our small rented cabin on Swan Lake in mid-coast Maine. Almost every plant you see is native.

We’re just back from 2+ weeks in our beloved Maine. When our children were growing up, we vacationed there every year, staying in a small cabin on a pond, and it’s where I learned how a forest is put together. Here in New Jersey, most natural watercourses have been covered or dammed, ponds are covered with green algae caused by lawn fertilizer runoff, and the vast majority of plants are either nonnative or positively invasive, both in backyards and in natural areas. In Maine, there’s much more nature remaining, and being there is a wonderful vacation for the senses as well as for the body and mind. There are some more photos at the end of this post.

End of diatribe. What does this have to do with you and your garden? You can create a little oasis of nature in your own backyard, and if more and more people do that (and more and more are), our overall environment will improve.

It looks like the drought has broken to some extent in our area–my rain gauge was full when we returned, indicating well over an inch of rain over the two weeks, and the NOAA monthly and seasonal forecast calls for normal rainfall amounts in the Northeast. So watering is probably unnecessary right now, unless you’ve seeded a new lawn (see below). But here are some things you could be doing in your garden right now:

continue to practice good horticulture with warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers. This is particularly important as the season winds down. 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).

— as tomatoes ripen their fruit, cut back on watering to avoid split fruits: provide no more than an inch of water per week. (If it rains, don’t water.) Keep removing suckers. 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. You’ll be able to plant right through the mulch and thatch next spring. You can scatter seeds there as you collect them.

collect seeds. Coreopsis seed ripens nearly every day. Seed of purple lovegrass and of little bluestem is ripe, as are seeds of nodding joe pye weed, penstemon, prairie onion, and monarda. Rudbeckia seeds are ripe when the birds start to eat them, which usually happens quite late in the season.

— 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. As the weather cools down, it’s time to reseed bare areas. Be sure to keep those patches well watered until the grass is up. But 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. Established 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!

— plan for next season: Do it now, while the garden is still growing. Notice things that did great and things that didn’t, make lists of areas you want to improve, areas of lawn you could get rid of, places that are getting sunnier or shadier and need new plantings to suit.

Leave the Leaves this year: use your leaves as lawn fertilizer, as mulch, and as the basis for a compost pile. Read more here.

And now for more Maine. I wish I were still there.


We happened on this grouping of plants growing in a rock bald on top of a mountain. I couldn’t have designed a better arrangement. True inspiration from nature.


Another view from the cabin: the sunset reflected over Swan Lake (you’re actually looking southeast).



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