Finally, rain this week: well over two inches of it. The plants responded by suddenly putting on their summer colors (see the photos below). I responded with a burst of renewed activity, returning to the moving and dividing of perennials that had ceased while the weather was so hot and dry. It’s been delightful.
The calendar says late spring, but to me, once the penstemon blooms, it’s summer. Spring blooming plants are finishing up, and many summer bloomers, particularly the milkweeds, are showing buds. The foliage of the perennials is particularly beautiful this time of year: everything looks fresh and green, and you can focus on the leaf shapes and textures rather than on the flowers.
Here are some other things you might attend to while you’re out there admiring your garden this weekend:
— water new plantings: we got over two inches 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.
— finish harvesting early greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and mesclun mix, plus peas and radishes. As greens bolt, or go to seed, pull the plants and plant something else. A row of beans, perhaps?
— warm-season crops should be out in the garden. These include tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.
— water new plantings: Water the plot thoroughly before planting, and give all newly installed plants a good soaking as soon as you put them in the ground to settle them in and eliminate air pockets in the soil.
— now that all perennials have emerged, move and divide plants as necessary. This is the best time to divide perennials: root systems are small and easy to handle, and plants recover fastest this time of year. But be sure to water the plot before doing any planting. The soil is very dry.
— 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. Then plant right through the dying grass and mulch.
— 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. 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 weekend!
I’m spending a lot of time right now finding native plants for clients. Because of the late spring, most nurseries will receive all their spring plant shipments this week and next week, so this is the time to get out there and ask local nurseries for native plants (you’re shopping for mom anyway, right? Go to the website of the Native Plant Society of NJ for cards you can print, fill out, and give to nursery owners to request specific native plants. If we don’t ask, they won’t know we want them! I’m happy to say that more and more local nurseries are stocking more and more natives, but there’s still plenty of barberry and purple loosestrife out there as well, so be careful when you buy.
The spring is advancing fast. Serviceberry is finished blooming; flowering dogwood, lilacs, and crab apples (Mother’s Day plants) are just about at their peaks; ferns are unfolding, and many local flowering natives, like jack in the pulpit, spring beauty, trout lily, and Solomon’s seal, are in full bloom. This would be a beautiful weekend to explore a local natural area like the Thielke Arboretum in Glen Rock. Take a walk in the woods, admire the native wildflowers, and notice the progress we’ve made in removing the garlic mustard over the past couple of years. (And if you see garlic mustard, pull it now. For the most part, it hasn’t set seed yet.
And after you buy Mom a plant and take her for a nice walk in the woods, help her attend to her garden:
— the soil is very dry, so water new plantings: Water the plot thoroughly before planting, and give all newly installed plants a good soaking as soon as you put them in the ground to settle them in and eliminate air pockets in the soil. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain (like this week and last week), 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.
— harvest early greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and mesclun mix, plus peas and radishes.
— If you started cold-season crops indoors, set them out in the garden now. Wait until late May to set out tender crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplant. the nights are still quite cool.
— now that most perennials have emerged, move and divide plants as necessary. This is the best time to divide perennials: root systems are small and easy to handle, and plants recover fastest this time of year. But be sure to water the plot before doing any planting. The soil is very dry.
— evaluate the winter’s damage on your property. Don’t remove dead wood or broken branches unless they pose hazards to people or property, because they might be supplying food or shelter to winter-weary creatures, but see what needs doing. Do any areas need new mulch? Do your evergreens need spring pruning to remove winter damage? Do it as soon as new growth appears.
— 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 now to kill the grass. Then plant right through the dying grass and mulch.
— monitor your garden for bird activity. Birds are very active at foraging and nest building. If you’re not seeing this, maybe your garden lacks food. There should still be perennial seeds, berries of less desirable plants, and leaf litter and dead wood for the birds to search for insects. If you’re not seeing birds, consider what you can do this season to attract them: for example, plant native perennials, stop pruning dead wood quite so aggressively, stop using pesticides.
— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: wait until Memorial Day to fertilize. If you reseed bare areas, be sure to water often. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Lawns do not need water now (or ever), but if you do water, do it less frequently and more deeply to encourage deep root growth.
Enjoy the beautiful Mother’s Day weather!
I’m going to cheat a bit here and refer you back to last week’s post for specifics on seasonal garden chores. It’s still a good time to prune woody plants if you don’t want to wait until next winter; you still need to keep weeding; and now that tomatoes are ripening their fruit, you certainly want to cut back on watering so the fruits don’t crack. Again, most areas around here (Bergen County, NJ) had an inch of rain this week, so there’s no need to water at all.
What’s really going on in my garden is flowers and native grasses.
In this picture you see orange butterflyweed, still going strong; Rudbeckia subtomentosa, just reaching full bloom; anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), licorice-scented lavender flowers at bottom left; bright purple ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata); and, on the right, little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium), which is just stalking out now.
From dawn to dusk, the garden is so full of pollinators that it would take a motion picture to really show it. Notice the bee working its way around the central disk of the Rudbeckia flower. One row of tiny true flowers blooms at a time, as you can see clearly in the last picture in this post, and this bee knows that and it taking full advantage. Isn’t the color of the ironweed lovely?
In the midst of summer we see hints of fall. This cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum) is ripening its fruit in the summer sun. This plant produces one of the prettiest fruits I’ve ever seen, and it remains on the plant for most of the winter–the birds only eat it as a last resort. Most viburnum berries are devoured as soon as they ripen.
Speaking of ripe fruits, grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), and elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) are all ripening their fruits now. I hope I can get enough chokeberries and elderberries to make a little jam before the birds get it all.
This spring, I did a lot of renovation in my perennial beds. Two very tall and enthusiastic plants, Rudbeckia subtomentosa and Monarda fistulosa, had spread into the fronts of the beds, shading out smaller plants. I dug out and gave away what amounted to hundreds of plants and replanted the fronts of the beds with a variety of lower-growing grasses and perennials. In this post, I’ll show you some of the new plants; most are now in bloom.
The photo above shows a spot that was completely replanted this spring, except for the existing little bluestem grasses that frame it on either side. There are sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa [yellow, left]), orange butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum [white, left]), dotted mint (Monarda punctata [white, right]), and lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata [yellow, right]), and other things that haven’t bloomed yet. Look carefully on the right and you’ll see nodding pink onion (Allium cernuum) full of buds. I’m very pleased with this arrangement of new and established plants.
Here’s a better view of the dotted mint in a different perennial bed. Behind it you’ll see another new addition, a hoary vervain (Verbena stricta) that’s now showing buds. It will replace the blue/purple of the monarda, which is almost finished blooming.
And in yet another bed, here’s lovely light purple wild petunia (Ruellia humilis), another low-growing lover of dry soil. This is a plant that you have to hide from the rabbits. Some years they find almost all of it; other years, like this one, it blooms for months.
Why is this year different from other years? Look for an upcoming post about short-term changes in the native plant garden.