6/9/17: In the garden this week


You’ve seen this perennial border before, in its High Summer mode, dominated by yellows and purples. Now, in early summer, white prevails as junegrass (Koeleria macracantha) begins to bloom at Penstemon digitalis reaches its peak. Columbine straddles late spring and early summer.

Because of the cool, wet spring, the garden is gorgeous. But because of the mild winter, it’s overrun with chipmunks and woodchucks and deer. The chipmunks seem to be using my herb pots as a larder; they dig in the soil every night. I’ve never found them to be a problem before. Someone is eating tarragon, and oregano, herbs that have always been immune before. And I doubt very much if either asters or boltonia will bloom this year. Critters are repeatedly eating them right down to the ground. It’s happened before, and the plants will survive, but it’s distressing all the same.

As serviceberries ripen (Amerlanchier), the bird activity in the garden reaches a frenzy. The berries in each cluster ripen one by one, and each morning the ripest are gone. If you grow this wonderful native shrub or tree (and you certainly should), try to taste at least a few berries yourself.


Guess which serviceberry will be gone tomorrow morning?

Here are some tasks you might address in the garden this week:

water new plantings: Despite the rainy spring, we received less than half an inch in the past week, and the weather is about to turn HOT. If you’re still planting, water well after planting to settle the new plants in the ground, and hand water as needed. It’s hard for plants to establish in hot weather. Also, this week you should water all plants installed this spring or last fall. Be sure to check your town’s watering regulations—many local areas have recently adopted more stringent rules.

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. I will be watering this weekend.


The ash trees we planted last year have grown a lot! I will continue to water them during dry weeks this season, and they were treated to prevent emerald ash borer infestations last month.

— all vegetables, including tender crops like tomatoes and peppers and corn, should be planted out by now, and with the coming hot weather, 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.

—  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 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!


Compare this border today with the way it looked in April when I did my annual spring cleaning. Looks pretty different now and will look even more different in July.



The garden in June

So many plants come into bloom in early June that it’s hard to keep track; here are a few of my favorites, all shot in the past couple of days.

First, a closeup of grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa) in bloom. The flower clusters look to me like tiny bridal bouquets, and I think this is the loveliest dogwood of them all. It’s also one of those plants that’s ridiculously easy to grow, as long as you have half a day of sun:

Flower cluster of grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa), the loveliest dogwood of all.

Next, elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). These large shrubs used to be everywhere in northern New Jersey, especially in wet places (although they do fine in my dry soil). They are happiest in full sun. Now the only nearby place I know of where they grow wild is the Thielke Arboretum here in Glen Rock. I took this picture in my backyard today:

Elderberry (Sambusus canadensis) coming into bloom.

The fluffy white flower heads of junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) are also just opening. I planted this grass for the first time last season, and it is blooming abundantly this year, along with the penstemon:

Flower heads of junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) just opening.

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) finished blooming last week, and now the seed capsules have turned lovely shades of beige, pink, and russet. The best part is that the color will remain through the entire season:


And finally, a bit of serendipity–a colorful grouping of bright-red firepink (Silene virginica), harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), and penstemon blooming in a sunny border in my front yard: