7/17/15: In the garden this week


Everything’s finally turning yellow: Rudbeckia subtomentosa will dominate the sunny border from now through September. Compare this picture with the one taken on July 3.

It’s a funny summer season: some plants, like Rudbeckia, are blooming a bit late; others, like Boltonia, are early. Shade asters are showing buds–surely it’s almost a month too early for that to happen–but sun-loving asters are not.

In the shade garden, Eupatorium purpureum has reached the height of bloom, and the butterflies love it, as they do all plants in this large genus.


Eupatorium purpureum in part shade, surrounded by some plants that have finished blooming and some others that haven’t begun yet.

Besides relaxing in the shade, here are some tasks you might accomplish in the garden this week:

water new plantings: for the first time in quite a while, we had a dry week, so newly installed plants 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? 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.

— 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. Columbine is almost finished ripening seed, and coreopsis seed ripens nearly every day.

— 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 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. But remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow!

Enjoy the garden this week!


Toward the back left of the photo, you’ll see Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe,’ a handsome cultivar I put in late last summer. So far, I’m pleased with it, but I’m not sure yet that it attracts pollinators as well as the species. This grouping also includes culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum; white), a perennial sunflower (but I can’t remember which one), lavender hyssop (Agastache foenicuoum; light purple), and Rudbeckia (R. triloba and subtomentosa).




Look carefully at the center of the picture, and you’ll see an almost-sharp picture of a female goldfinch feeding on Rudbeckia seeds in my perennial border. This time of year, we can’t open our back door without disturbing a flock of these noisy little guys–sometimes more than a dozen at a time shoot out of the border and take flight across the backyard. They’re hard to photograph because they move so fast. But yesterday I finally captured this one.

Each year, from the time the first seeds ripen on plants in the Asteraceae–the enormous aster family, which includes all the Rudbeckias and sunflowers, in addition to the asters–we see and hear goldfinches all day, every day. Goldfinches are exclusively seed eaters, and they nest late so there will be lots of seeds available to feed their young. And this particular perennial border, full of sunflowers and Rudbeckia, is a cafeteria for goldfinches. We see and hear them from the beginning of August through early fall each year. When I planted the perennials, I expected to get pretty flowers, but I didn’t know I would get entertainment as well.