7/28/17: In the garden this week

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This plant combinations says “the height of summer” in no uncertain terms. The Rudbeckia will be in bloom until September, but the Vernonia (ironweed) will only last a few weeks.

Who says there are only four seasons? To me, we are transitioning from early summer to what I think of as the height of summer: the brightest-colored flowers are blooming, native fruits are ripening fast, fall bloomers such as asters are showing buds, and some late-summer plants, such as great blue lobelia, are coming into bloom. And of course, tomatoes are beginning to ripen fast in the vegetable garden. Here are some not-too-strenuous garden chores for this hot weather (in addition to weeding, made necessary by a season of normal rainfall, in contrast to the past couple of years of drought.

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. 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.

— 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. In fact, if you intend to plant a second crop of cool-weather vegetables, you should be buying seed. 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. Continue to remove the flowers from basil plants as they form; you should already have cut down the plants 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 col in fall. Once the weather turns hot, 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 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 almost 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.

Enjoy the garden this week!

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The first blossoms of Hibiscus moscheutos, rose mallow, opened this week in my garden. This native hibiscus is a short-lived perennial that self seeds readily, produces flowers of different colors, and is very easy to grow.

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7/22/16: In the garden this week

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The perennial border is at its most exuberant right now, as orange butterflyweed finishes flowering while Rudbeckias and tall purple ironweed begin. Little bluestem is stalking out, some asters are showing buds, and Hibiscus moscheutos (large leaves in the center) will open its dinner-plate size blooms very soon.

My goodness it’s hot outside, hot and dry. I actually watered my perennial beds this week, something I rarely do more than once or twice a season. Pay careful attention to your plants, especially woody plants that are newly installed, very old, or planted on the wrong site. River birch, which, as its name suggests, likes a moist site, needs supplemental water in this kind of dry spell. So do understory trees planted in full sun and many evergreens.   They’ll suffer most from the drought.

If you have the energy to work outside in this heat, here are some things you moight do:

water new plantings: we got no 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. 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.

— 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!

Remember: a brown lawn is a victory for Nature! Enjoy the garden this week.

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Aronia berries are ripening fast. There are so many, I may get some for jam this year.

 

8/7/15: In the garden this week

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Summer exuberance: certainly you could design a more formal garden using native plants, but I like a more natural look (some would call it messy). This border includes perennial sunflowers (Helanthus mollis), Rudbeckia subtomentosa, Hibiscus moscheutos (large leaves, not quite in bloom yet), a volunteer aster that’s not in bloom yet, little bluestem grass, tall purple ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata), and orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa, second-year seedlings blooming late), among many other species.

The summer garden is at its height right now: the birds are finishing off the elderberries and grey dogwood fruits and starting to eat the ripe pokeweed berries. Yes, pokeweed is large and weedy, and poisonous, but I leave one or two plants in hidden corners of the garden. The birds adore it. Native plums are ripening, and the crop is large enough that we may get some this year. The squirrels made quick work of the hazelnuts: one day the shrubs were heavy with nuts, the next morning there were piles of shells on the ground.

And the flowers! The more I cut and bring inside, the more there seem to be. And many of these plants, especially the Rudbeckias, will continue to bloom until frost. The photo above shows just a few of the native perennials in bloom right now. The pollinator activity is enormous and unceasing: bees, wasps, and butterflies are around all day, and moths take over at night. The birds eat the insects, and they will soon be eating the seeds. Goldfinches have made their yearly appearance.

We’ve had very little rain in the last month: my garden received less than half an inch last week and this week, despite storm systems passing through. But the heat wave has moderated to some extent, and the plants are looking happier. If you’re growing tomatoes, they’re probably setting fruit again; they stop when the temperature rises much over 90 degrees.

Here are some things you might be doing in your garden this week:

water new plantings: newly installed plants and annuals, like vegetables, need watering. 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? An old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants makes a great rain gauge. 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. Pick frequently: smaller vegetables taste better.

— 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.

Plan the fall vegetable garden: second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach can seeded directly in the garden in August.

— 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. In the fall, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch. I mulched an area of lawn about a month ago and am scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

— this is a good time to prune woody plants. Once all growth, flowering, and fruiting are done, the plants are relatively, but not completely, 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 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.) 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 (watering every day is likely to cause fungal diseases). But remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow! If you follow my advice and hold off on watering entirely, your lawn is dormant now, but it will green up as soon as we get some rain.

Enjoy the garden this week!

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Aren’t these flowers adorable? This is Rudbeckia triloba, a wonderful plant, easy to grow and a great size for the middle of the border.

The garden right now

On this dreary, cloudy day, let’s look at some bright and cheerful flowers. Here are some pictures of the garden taken yesterday.

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Wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) grows about 12-18 inches tall and likes full sun and dry soil. I love it, but so do the rabbits, so I hide it among the sundrops, which are about the same height but bloom earlier in the season.

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Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) has been in bloom since late May, and most plants are almost finished, but . . .

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. . . some individual plants are still in full bloom. This plant both self-seeds freely and spreads by rhizomes, and it appears in a natural range of shades from pale lavender to bright pink.

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Rudbeckia (this one is R. subtomentosa) started blooming a bit late this year, but it will be in bloom through September. The purple is a cultivar of Phlox paniculata.

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Hoary vervain (Verbena stricta) is relatively new to my garden, but it will probably be promoted to “Indomitable” status.

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Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) has gorgeous rosy-purple flowers that butterflies adore, but the bloom is relatively short-lived (and the plants are 8 feet tall).

Where are the butterflies?

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This morning my husband took this picture of a tiger swallowtail nectaring on sweet joe pye weed (see the previous post for info about this lovely plant). I expect to see lots of tiger swallowtails in my garden; they especially love the bright-purple ironweed (Vernonia fascilutata), which is in bloom now. This year I’ve seen only very few–perhaps two or three the whole season.

The same goes for great spangled fritillaries, painted skippers, sulphurs, red admirals, hairstreaks–maybe one or two the whole season so far, whereas I usually see them throughout the season. Many years I see abundant red admirals nectaring on the blooming ninebark. Their larval food, nettles, grows in several waste places nearby. Not this year.

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In the spring, I expect to see clouds of Peck’s skippers and spring azures. Both breed in my garden, the skippers on the abundant grasses, and the blues on the flowering parts of many native shrubs. This year, again, there were just a few of each. Both these species go through two or three generations per season, however, and I’m now seeing many skippers, almost as many as usual, nectaring on the flowering perennials. Here’s a picture of a Peck’s skipper on a New England aster, taken last September.

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Now the populations seem to be recovering, after an almost butterflyless spring. So here’s what I think is happening: The very cold winter killed off many eggs and overwintering adults, and the late spring gave the few that remained an even later start. Now that the plants have bounced back, the butterfly populations are rebounding as well, so we are seeing almost normal numbers in the summer generations (many butterflies go through two or three generations per season). My guess is that this is happening to all our nonmigrating local butterflies.

So a lovely summer with lots of foliage and flowers is great for our resident butterflies. But it will not help the monarchs. Right now eggs should be hatching on the abundant milkweed in my garden. But I haven’t seen a single monarch–egg, larvae, pupae, or adult–this year.

7/25/14: In the garden this week

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Happy picking! 

The Asteraceae (Part 1)

 

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The Asteraceae, an enormous and very important plant family (in botanical nomenclature, the ending -eae denotes a family), include some of our most beautiful and iconic native plants, such as sunflowers, Rudbeckias, Echinaceas, and Asters, as well as some less familiar plants such as Liatris, ironweed, and joe-pye weed. Now that we’re close to the end of the season, I’ve been reviewing this year’s photos, and I’d like to focus on all the members of the family that grace my garden throughout the summer and fall.

Most members of this family, which includes over 23,000 species classified into over 1,600 genera, are herbaceous (i.e., not woody) perennials, but there are some shrubs and vines as well. Most live in drier regions of the temperate zones all over the world. Most have the familiar daisy-type flower, composed of a central disk consisting of many tiny true flowers, surrounded by colorful rays (the petals). Because of the flower structure, members of the family are often referred to as “composites,” and another name for the family itself is Compositae. They’re colorful and beautiful and extremely attractive to pollinating insects, as the photo at the beginning of this post shows, and they bloom primarily in summer and fall.

Economically, members of the family are extremely important–think about foods such as sunflower oil and seeds, lettuce, and artichokes; and ornamental flowers such as marigolds, dahlias, and chrysanthemums. They’re also major weed plants: think ragweed, dandelions, and thistles.

In my garden, as in yours, the Asteraceae display begins with the dandelions of very early spring. The first family member I look forward to, however, doesn’t bloom until around July 1: Echinacea purpurea, or purple coneflower.

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It displays all the features of the family: the true flowers are the tiny red-brown structures at the center. The colorful rays are for show–they help pollinating insects find the tiny, inconspicuous flowers.

Echinaceas are a truly wonderful native species, but they don’t do well in my garden. The soil is too dry, and there are too many rabbits (rabbits love this plant). Each year, one or two manage to bloom, usually because they’re tucked away in out-of-the way places.

The Rudbeckias are a different story, however. They bloom with all their might, starting in early July; now. in mid-September, they’re still at it. About the same time I see the first Rudbeckia subtomentosa (sweet black-eyed susan), several other composites are blooming my my garden–sweet joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum). New York ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata), and blazingstar (Liatris borealis).

The first Rudbeckia opens--summer is really here!

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Sweet joe-pye weed beginning to bloom.

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And then it’s early August, and time for the loveliest of all, brown-eyed susan (R. triloba).

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But the full glory of the Asteraceae isn’t revealed until fall. Come back tomorrow for the remainder of the season. And consider which of these, or the many other members of the family, you could add to your garden next year.