Here are some new pictures you might enjoy:
During the past few years of drought, I had forgotten what a gardening season with normal rainfall looks like. I had forgotten how the plants grow so exuberantly that I have to keep cutting them back along paths, in front of patio chairs, near the air conditioner, how quickly tomato plants grow (more on that below). And what it’s like not to have to exhort clients to keep newly-installed plants well watered until they’re established. It’s a pleasant change.
As I write this, the predicted rain has just started. Can I confess that given a choice between a dry weekend and a good soaking rain, I’d vote for the rain in most cases? But the thing about gardening is that we don’t get a choice.
Here are some things you might consider in your garden this week (after the rain stops, of course):
— water new plantings: We received about 1 1/2 inches of rain in the past week, so no watering should be necessary this week. However, you should always water well after planting to settle the new plants in the ground. In dry weeks (those 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 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. Most 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 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.
— 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.
And don’t forget to count the fireflies! The more you see, the healthier and more sustainable your garden is.
Little bluestem (Schizachrium scoparium) is in full bloom right now; soon the stalks will turn red-gold and will be covered with fluffy seeds that glow in the sun. This most widespread of prairie grasses grows an agreeable 3′ tall and is unfazed by drought and heat–in fact, it thrives on them. And it’s quite beautiful.
We are having our first dry spell this season. The ground is very dry, so be sure to water any plants you installed this year (and large shrubs and trees installed as much as two or three years ago). And, of course, keep your vegetable garden well watered. I do hope it rains tomorrow as promised.
– If it doesn’t rain tomorrow, 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.
– do not prune woody plants. Many trees and shrubs have begun 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.
– tomato vines are still ripening fruit, so give them no more than 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. Leave seedheads in place–birds will eat the seeds you don’t collect.
– if you fertilize your lawn, this is the optimum time to apply a slow-release organic fertilizer. Fertilizing is quite unnecessary, but for those who choose to do it, this is the one recommended feeding. Lawns do not need watering, even in a dry period: the more you water, the more you have to mow! Use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the grass.
– start your autumn leaf collection: because of the drought, shrubs and trees are dropping lots of leave, so collect than and save your autumn leaves for compost. Decide where you will keep them.
– consider fall planting. Many perennials and woody plants can be safely installed in fall. Wait for the weather to cool down a bit. September is a good time to plant for perennials, while woody plants can be planted until the ground freezes.
And finally, collect seeds of native perennials to scatter and share with fellow gardeners. Orange butterflyweed is opening its seedpods and showing the fascinating geometric patterns inside. I try to gather the seeds before they flat away.