8/11/17: In the garden this week

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Some clients resist planting native grasses; resistance usually ends when they see the colors of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). Look carefully at the blues and purples in this plant, and remember that every plant is slightly different.

We are into what I think of as the summer doldrums, or maybe just a reli=atively q uiet period in the garden. Certainly the prairie perennials continue to bloom with all their might, and there are all the asters to look forward to, but in the ornamental garden there’s not much to do except to keep things tidy (that is, if you like your garden to be tidy).

Still, there’s always something to do in the garden, and here are some suggestions:

water new plantings: unless we get a decent amount of rain this weekend (and forecasts do predict rain), go ahead and water newly planted grasses, shrubs, and woody plants. We received just under an inch of rain so far this week. Remember that perennials and woody plants that you planted this spring or last fall need supplemental water during dry periods throughout this growing season. The rule of thumb is at least an inch of water per week for newly installed plants. In dry weeks throughout the growing season (weeks with less than an inch of rainfall), you need to 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.

— if you intend to plant a second crop of cool-weather vegetables, you should be buying and starting seed. Water the vegetable garden deeply during dry periods, particularly when the weather is hot, and watch carefully for pests and diseases. Removed diseased plants promptly to prevent spread. Continue to remove the flowers from basil plants as they form; you should already have cut down the plants once to make pesto.

— be sure to properly tie, stake, and prune your tomato plants. Most tomato cages are much too small: 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 verticillium wilt. You’ll find general guidelines for growing tomatoes here and specific watering instructions here.

—  It’s too late to plant. Wait until the weather turns cool in fall. During hot weather, plants put their energy into top growth and blooming rather than growing new roots. If you do continue to plant, water very thoroughly and keep an eye on those new plants. They will need extra water during dry periods, as explained above.

it’s a bad time to fertilize your lawn or to reseed bare patches, no matter what your lawn-care service tells you. Lawn grasses are adapted to much cooler summers than we experience. All they want to do during this time of year is go dormant, so they really can’t use any extra nutrients. 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.

— it’s time to prune woody plants. You want to prune when the plant is relatively quiescent—when it’s not using a great deal of energy growing, flowering, and fruiting that it has little to spare to healing a wound. This will happen between now and leaf drop in fall. Basically, when you see that the plant has finished fruiting and that it has formed next year’s buds, but the leaf color is not fading yet, you have a window of time for pruning. Of course, you should prune diseased or injured plants at any time as well as remove any safety hazards, such as overeager shrub that block sidewalks or diseased trees that might fall down.

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A branch of a large native hazelnut shrub (Corylus americana). It has finished setting fruit as well as forming next spring’s flower buds–the tiny things hanging down from the leaf nodes will become the male flowers. The plant is resting before its last remaining task of the year, leaf abscission, so this is a good time to prune.

do not deadhead your perennials. It will soon be time to collect seeds, which represent winter food for birds and other creatures and new plants for you. Store your seeds in a cold place (such as an unheated garage) for next year’s planting or simply scattered on the ground where you want them to grow. Do deadhead potentially  invasive plants like butterfly bush, however.

Enjoy the garden this week!

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Rudbeckia triloba is in bloom now and will put on a display through September and into October. This is a short-lived perennial that readily self-seeds, so new plant appear each year. It remains a manageable 3 feet tall and doesn’t spread aggressively. And the flowers are adorable!

 

 

7/14/17: In the garden this week

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A luxuriant summer border–a bit too luxuriant this year. With all the rain, I have to keep cutting plants back.

Despite all the rain and warm temperatures throughout this growing season, when I look back at photos of past years’ gardens it’s obvious that many things are blooming 10 days to two weeks later than usual. Normally Rudbeckia subtomentosa begins around July 4; right now the first flowers are  opening, as you see in the picture above.

Over 4 inches of rain this week, and still counting! (It’s raining hard as I write this.) If you have a rain garden, or a spot that might become one, it’s probably been dry for the past 3 years, but it’s most likely nice and wet now. I’m seeing more powdery mildew than in recent seasons, and if it keeps raining, ripening tomatoes may crack on the vine. But all the rain is really good for our poor forest and street trees, which have had a thirsty time recently.

When it stops raining, here are some things you might do in the garden this week:

water new plantings: NOT! Rainfall for the week is well over 4 inches, so nothing should need watering. BUT keep monitoring: perennials and woody plants that you planted this spring or last fall need supplemental water during dry periods. The rule of thumb is at least an inch of water per week for newly installed plants. In dry weeks throughout the growing season (weeks with less than an inch of rainfall), you need to 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.

— all vegetables, including tender crops like tomatoes and peppers and corn, should be planted out by now, and it’s 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. Remove the flowers from basil plants as they form, and cut down the plants to make pesto as soon as you have enough leaves for a batch.

— be sure to properly tie, stake, and prune your tomato plants. Most tomato cages are much too small: 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 verticillium wilt. You’ll find general guidelines for growing tomatoes here and specific watering instructions here.

—  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 during dry periods, as explained above.

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.

— it’s also a bad time to prune woody plants. The plants are using so much energy growing, flowering, and fruiting that they have little to spare to healing a wound. There will be short window of time later in the summer. Of course, continue to prune diseased or injured plants at any time and to remove any safety hazards, such as overeager shrub that block sidewalks or diseased trees that might fall down.

It’s supposed to stop raining sometime tomorrow! get out and enjoy the garden this week.

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Rudbeckia flowers are enchanting as they open.

6/16/17: In the garden this week

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

8/5/16: In the garden this week

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The native Hibiscus in my garden can be pink or this lovely white with red centers.

Didn’t we get some lovely rain this past weekend? But according to my rain gauge, not as much fell as you might think: only about 1 3/4 inches. Still, it was a welcome relief, as was this week’s relatively cool weather. It’s much pleasanter to work outdoors as a professional horticulturist when the temperature is 85 degrees, not 95 degrees.

I hope this week’s very pleasant weather beckoned you into your garden. Here are some seasonal tasks you might consider:

water new plantings: depending on location, you probably got more than an inch of rain last week, but all of it came very early in the week. Unless we get quite a bit of rain tomorrow, new plantings need 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 or 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. Sunday is my watering day, and I’m going to water my new trees and shrubs.

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. (If it rains, don’t water.) 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.

rain brings weeds! Keep up with your weeding so things don’t get out of control.

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.

— 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! Aronia berries are almost ripe, native plums are ripening; elderberries and nonedible fruits such as grey dogwood berries are almost gone–both are bird favorites. 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!

Enjoy the garden this week. And please take a look at this week’s Backyard Environmentalist column, about the effects of drought on our trees.

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Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is beautiful and extremely easy to grow in shade or part shade.

 

7/15/16: In the garden this week

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Verbena stricta is in full bloom as Rudbeckia subtomentosa begins its long period of enthusiastic flowering.

It’s hot out there. Those last two blessedly cool summers make me feel like we’ve never suffered through devastating heat and humidity before. And there’s been very little rain–less than half an inch this past week–although the prairie plants all look great (and without watering). Little bluestem is stalking out, some asters are showing buds, and the garden is preparing for the deluge of flowering that happens in August and September.

The only things I want to do in my garden these days are pick herbs, collect seeds, and sit on the patio drinking wine in the evening. But if you’re feeling more energetic, here are some tasks you might address:

water new plantings: we much less than an inch of rain this past 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. 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. 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. I’ve been collecting those and seeds of junegrass.

— 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 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!

Enjoy the garden this week!

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Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop) is a biennial; I have to work at keeping it going in my crowded perennial beds. It would be easier on open ground. How many species of perennials and grasses can you identify in this small section of “prairie”?

 

Books for gardeners: Part 2

This post lists the best reference books for gardeners. Yesterday’s post described books about the philosophy of ecological gardening.

I turn first to field guides for choosing plants and deciding what plants to put together in hedgerows and perennial borders. Pick your favorite series; I prefer Peterson, because I think it’s easier to identify plants in the field from drawings than from photos of specific individuals, and because nonnative plants are marked as alien. I use the guides to eastern butterflies, eastern wildflowers, shrubs and trees, and fungi almost daily. A particularly useful volume is the guide to eastern forests, which covers forest succession and types of forests. For grasses, Lauren Brown’s Grasses: An Identification Guide is extremely useful. And when I am helping local environmental groups identify the plants growing on their sites, I carry Weeds of the Northeast by Uva, Neal, and DiTomaso in addition to my field guides.

The indispensable guide to vegetable gardening is the aptly named Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, by Edward C. Smith. Whether you’re new to vegetable gardening and don’t know a brussels sprout from a raised bed or have been tilling and harvesting all your life, this book will give you great information. Smith concentrates on healthy soil and organic methods, the key to any kind of gardening.

For perennials gardens, a great general reference work is The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques, by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. It includes detailed growing techniques and an encyclopedia of plants (not concentrating on natives). For woody plants, the best reference work (also not concentrating on natives) is Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs. This book is huge and pricy, but I couldn’t do my work without it.

Finally, for pruning techniques, the textbook we used at NYBG is An Illustrated Guide to Pruning by Edward F. Gilman. It’s probably more detailed than most hobbyist gardeners need, but its instructions and illustrations are clear and easy to follow.

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Pruned hazelnut shrub, showing detail of stems cut with a handsaw, the cuts made close to the ground and at an angle. I pruned this large plant last winter and will need to prune it again this year.

8/22/14: In the garden this week

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Boltonia asteroides is in full bloom in my garden, and the first New England asters are opening: the garden is shifting into autumn mode. It’s time to stop pruning, to plant fall crops, and to start getting ready for winter:

– We received a scant inch of rain over the past 24 hours, after a bit of a dry spell, so if we don’t get significantly more rain, water newly installed perennials and woody plants and vegetables. The recommended amount is 1 inch per week during dry spells. Established plants should not need watering.

stop pruning woody plants. Many trees and shrubs are losing leaves, which means they’re beginning leaf abscission, the complicated process of shutting down for winter. This takes a lot of energy, so plants don’t have energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next pruning window will come when plants reach dormancy in late fall.

monitor the vegetable garden for pests and diseases and take action immediately. In particular, remove plants affected by borers and wilt, and hand-pick to keep pest populations low.

– tomato vines are still ripening fruit, so cut back to 1 inch of water per week. Remember to take rainfall amounts into account when determining how much to water. Water in the morning, and water deeply. Continue to stake and tie tomato plants and to remove suckers.

plant fall crops such as lettuce, spinach, and other salad greens.

perennials should need no care except pinching to promote bushy plants and keep plants short when necessary. Leave seedheads in place–birds will eat the seeds you don’t collect.

– if you fertilize your lawn (which is unnecessary), plan to apply a slow-release organic fertilizer around Labor Day. Lawns do not need watering: the more you water, the more you have to mow! Use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the grass.

plan for your autumn leaf collection: save your autumn leaves for compost. Decide now where you will keep them.

One of the most wonderful things about having a garden is observing the change of seasons in minute detail. What changes are you noticing in your garden?