6/16/17: In the garden this week


Penstemon digitalis (the white flowers) is an early-summer stalwart of the prairie garden. It self-seeds all the time, and some of the seedlings have dark-red stems or leaves or flowers with lavender throats. But note the purple-flowered plant in the foreground. This is one to divide and carefully maintain!

We had our first bout of really hot weather this week, following a prolonged dry spell, and parts of my garden, particularly beds that have lost their shade covering due to fallen trees, needed emergency watering. It’s important to remain vigilant, especially during hot, dry weather.

Established prairie plants had no trouble during the heat wave and should not need any supplemental water unless the drought is very prolonged. As you can see in the photo above, many are about to bloom: orange butterfly weed, swamp milkweed, Culver’s root, mountain mint, and Monarda are all showing swelling buds. In the sunniest parts of the garden, they’re already in bloom. Sundrops are in full bloom, and coreopsis would be, except this year the rabbits and woodchucks and deer have eaten every plant down to the ground. Coreopsis, asters, and boltonia will most likely not manage to bloom this year because of the repeated chewing. But after one really cold winter, they will be back in full force. I hope we’ll get a cold winter sometime soon.

Here are some garden chores you might be doing this week:

water new plantings: We’ve received no rain this week, and today’s light sprinkles don’t amount to much. Always water well after planting to settle the new plants in the ground, and water all plants installed this spring or last fall. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? You can make a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old plastic container or tin can placed among the plants. I total the weekly rainfall and decide whether to water my new trees or my clients’ new plantings each week.

—- Addendum 6/17: over an inch of rain fell last night and this afternoon. No watering needed for now!—-

— all vegetables, including tender crops like tomatoes and peppers and corn, should be planted out by now, and it will soon be time to remove early greens like lettuce and spinach. Water deeply during dry periods, particularly when the weather is hot, and watch carefully for pests and diseases. Removed diseased plants promptly to prevent spread.

— be sure to properly tie, stake and prune your tomato plants. Tomato cages are pretty useless: the plants outgrow them before they start to bear fruit. And unless tomato plants are properly pruned, by pinching out the suckers, they will be so bushy that they’ll be especially susceptible to fungus infections like verticilium wilt.

—  It’s a bit late to clean up the perennial garden or to divide and replant. Once the weather turns hot, plants put their energy into top growth and blooming. I would no longer move or divide plants, but if you continue to plant, water very thoroughly and keep an eye on those new plants. They will need extra water.

it’s too late to fertilize your lawn or to reseed bare patches, no matter what your lawn-care service tells you. Here’s a suggestion: don’t feed at all this year. The lawn will look just fine. Or wait until around Labor Day and use one application of a slow-release organic fertilizer. Avoid pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Pesticides kill butterfly and firefly larvae and native ground-dwelling bees as well as “bad” insects. And garden chemicals are not so great for kids or pets either; common herbicides, in addition to killing butterfly host plants like violets, are carcinogens. Best to avoid them.

— Support a local farmer by joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) this season. CSAs allow you to support small-scale, sustainable agriculture and help limit the environmental effects of factory farming. You’ll also find that the produce tastes much, much better than what you buy in the supermarket. For the past 5 years or more, we have joined Hesperides Organica, a family-run farm located in Hawthorne, NY. They deliver weekly to various locations in Bergen County.

Enjoy the garden this week!


Orange butterflyweed in full sun is already in bloom. The small blue flowers are Campanula rotundifolia. As the milkweed plants crowded them out, the Campanula responded by increasing in height. Usually they’re less than a foot tall.


Spigelia marilandica, Indian pink, was an impulse buy and an experiment last year, but it did great. Probably the mild winter had some good effects. The scarlet buds are about to open and reveal their bright yellow throats.



And in a sunny part of the garden . . .


bright-colored native perennials are finally putting on a show. All the plants in this perennial bed are relatively short (3′ or less). The brilliant red is Silene virginica, or fire pink, although it’s definitely red, very bright red. This plant likes dry, sandy or rocky soil and full sun. It grows less than 2′ high and is a very short-lived perennial, although it self-seeds easily. I planted it quite a few years ago, and new plants keep popping up.

The brilliant pink is western spiderwort, Tradescantia occidentalis, although it occurs naturally here in the East. Like all spiderworts, this is an easy plant to grow in sun or part shade, although the rabbits do love to eat it, so sometimes I have trouble establishing new plants. It’s very easy to divide. It disappears in early summer, so be sure to plant summer or fall bloomers or grasses in the same spot.

The tiny blue flowers are Campanula rotundifolia, harebell. These plants are less than 1′ high. They bloom for most of the summer, take a short rest, and bloom again in the fall. The foliage is threadlike; often the flowers look like they’re floating on air.

Also planted in this same area are lanceleaf coreopsis, orange butterflyweed, and several grasses, including purple lovegrass (my favorite). Come back for more pictures later in the season.

Fourth of July round-up

Happy Fourth! Here are a few pictures of my perennial and vegetable gardens taken in the last few days.


The vegetable garden is doing nicely, although the abundant rain has resulted in an abundant crop of weeds. If you look really closely, you can see some small green tomatoes. And check out those big squash blossoms! I picked a small yellow zucchini yesterday and have been picking beans steadily. I pulled out the pea vines this week and am gradually pulling up the lettuce. I will plant more beans in the empty spaces.


This is part of a mixed border in the front yard. It’s designed to provide maximum color. There’s nothing like the orange of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). The yellow sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) and blue harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) are a lovely contrast. The harebells will bloom all summer, and critters don’t eat any of these plants. (The tan stripe in front is the result of a mowing about three days before the picture was taken. The grass had been pretty tall.)


Bergamot or beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) is at the height of its show, and the display will continue for another couple of weeks.

I hope your life is as colorful as mine on this special day.