8/19/16: In the garden this week

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Verbena stricta has been blooming since late June and shows no sign of letting up. At its feet is purple lovegrass and daisy fleabane. This is a new garden created by mulching part of the front lawn last fall. Both species of grasses you see here–purple lovegrass and little bluestem–were transplanted in very early spring and are blooming nicely.

I’ve been away for a few days, but the garden looks dry and there was no water in my rain gauge, so it looks like the scattered thunderstorms we were hearing about missed this area. But at least the heat has moderated a bit. So get out there and consider these seasonal garden chores:

water new plantings:  in 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. 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 or next spring, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch.

collect seeds. 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. Some seed of purple lovegrass is beginning to ripen, as are seeds of nodding prairie onion and monarda..

— it’s a good time to prune woody plants, but don’t  put it off much longer. Once 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 second crop of everbearing raspberries is ripening—yum! The most plentiful crop in my garden is aronia, and I made 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! Don’t you feel like we’re starting to transition to fall?

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As sweet joe pye weed finishes blooming, great blue lobelia takes over and asters are still to come in this shade garden.

 

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8/12/16: In the garden this week

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The perennial garden is a riot of color in mid-August. Yellow Rudbeckias vies for attention with pink Hibiscus and purple Agastache, while native grasses and asters provide a calming backdrop. Most asters won’t start blooming for at least another couple of weeks.

I heard on NPR this morning that El Nino is ending in the Pacific; so, it seems, are our two years of moderate temperatures and drought. Notice how the weather has changed in the past couple of weeks? (I particularly notice it because I often have to work outdoors, and the heat and humidity have been punishing.) And there’s little relief in sight.

If you can manage to go outdoors, there’s plenty to do, in addition to admiring the beautiful summer flowers:

water new plantings: depending on location, you probably got more than an inch of rain last week—my garden got an inch just last night. So I will not be doing any waterint this week. However, in 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. 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. So does seed of daisy fleabane, a lovely native annual. It pops up in different parts of my garden each year. Some seed of purple lovegrass is beginning to ripen.

— it’s a good time to prune woody plants. Once 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 second crop of everbearing raspberries is ripening—yum! 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 think how much your plants are enjoying the rain!

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Garden phlox is in full bloom in my garden, as the first Boltonia flowers open.

 

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.

 

8/21/15: In the garden this week

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The first New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) opened about 10 days ago. Flowers are smaller and sparser than usual this year because of the dry weather (this garden is never watered). Compare this photo to the one at the bottom of the post.

Last night’s rain didn’t do much: my rain gauge registers not quite half an inch of precipitation. Several waves of storms moved through, so the amount of rain would vary greatly in different locations. I hope you got more than I did!

As you can see from the photo above, some fall flowers are later, smaller, and sparser than usual. The drought seems to be affecting the asters in particular; the Rudbeckias, Eupatoriums, Phlox, and, of course, the grasses, are all doing fine. And the early flowering perennials, like the milkweeds, are ripening their seeds right on schedule: this time of year I try to collect seeds every day. Fruit crops—dogwood shrubs, elderberries, viburnum berries, and plums–were all normal despite the drought. This week the native plums ripened. I got a few; the rest disappeared immediately. They’re tart and delicious.

We seem to be in for a week or so of more moderate temperatures than we’ve experienced recently, so it will be a good time to work in the vegetable garden. Here are some gardening tasks you might consider 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, particularly when the weather is as hot as it was this past week. 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 pests 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. At this time of year particularly signs of various fungal diseases appear. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.

Plant the fall vegetable garden: second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach can seeded directly in the garden in August. But be sure to keep them well watered, especially as they begin to germinate. It’s about 8 weeks until our average first frost date!

— 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 early 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.

And if you don’t feel like doing anything but planning for next year’s garden, take a look at my most recent column in the North Jersey newspapers.

Enjoy the garden this week!

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The same aster two years ago, in a year with more normal rainfall.

8/14/15: In the garden this week

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My favorite Rudbeckia, R. triloba, is almost unbelievably floriferous. It won’t let up until frost.

The weather is about to turn hot: starting tomorrow, we’re due for almost a week of 90-degree days. By all indications, the relatively cool weather we’ve enjoyed for the past two years, with pleasant summers and cold, snowy winters, is ending. A strong El Nino in the Pacific means heavy rain for the western United States; for us, it means above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation over the next few months.

If you followed my advice and planted a fall vegetable garden, be sure to water carefully. Germinating seeds are particularly vulnerable to heat and lack of water. This is one circumstance in which is makes sense to water frequently and somewhat shallowly: while seeds are germinating, they need to stay moist.

I’ve started collecting seeds of summer perennials. Early bloomers like milkweeds, monarda, and coreopsis are ripening their seeds now. In addition to collecting seeds and admiring the continual floral display, here are a few other chores you might consider:

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.

Plant the fall vegetable garden: second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach can seeded directly in the garden in August. But be sure to keep them well watered, especially as they begin to germinate.

— 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 early 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.

Stay cool and enjoy the garden this week!

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American plum trees (Prunus americana) are ripening their fruit. This picture was taken 5 days ago; today the plums are a rosy orange color. They’ll be ripe in a day or so, and there are so many this year that we may actually get some.

4/10/15: In the garden this week

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Bloodroot (Sanguineum canadensis) in bloom in my garden in mid-April during a more favorable spring. Only about 6 inches tall, bloodroot is an important source of nectar for insects in early spring.

Do you remember when daffodils and forsythia used to bloom in mid-April and crab apples and lilacs bloomed reliably for Mother’s Day in mid-May? Perhaps I’m just showing my age, because when I was growing up, those were normal blooming times, whereas these days normal is about three weeks earlier. So you could think of this year as a normal, pre-climate change spring. Or you could just say, “I want it to be spring already!” like everyone else.

Today is dark and dreary, but less cold than it’s been, but the weekend is predicted to be warm and sunny. And once the weather warms up, the plants will react fast. So get out there this weekend and prepare your garden for spring:

direct sow seeds of early greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and mesclun mix, plus peas and radishes. They’ll germinate and grow slowly at first, but with any luck you’ll have fresh salad greens in about 6 weeks. Sow a new crop every two weeks to ensure a continuous supply of spring greens until the weather heats up.

— buy seeds of other vegetables and start them indoors according to this schedule so the seedlings will be ready for spring planting. If you started cold-season crops indoors, set them out in the garden now. Wait until late May to set out tender crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplant.

clean up your perennial beds. Grab a handful of stalks hear the ground and gently bend them to break them off. Rake the detritus away and either compost it on site or, if you don’t have room for it, take it to your town’s compost center.

evaluate the winter’s damage on your property. Don’t remove dead wood or broken branches unless they pose hazards to people or property, because they might be supplying food or shelter to winter-weary creatures, but see what needs doing. Do any areas need new mulch? Will your evergreens need spring pruning to remove winter damage?

— 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 now to kill the grass. You’ll be able to plant in late April or May.

monitor your garden for bird activity. Spring migrants are arriving and winter residents are very active at foraging and nest building. If you’re not seeing this, maybe your garden lacks winter food. There should still be perennial seeds, berries of less desirable plants, and leaf litter and dead wood for the birds to search for insects. If you’re not seeing birds, consider what you can do this season to attract them: for example, plant native perennials, stop pruning dead wood quite so aggressively, stop using pesticides.

order your perennials and woody plants now to get the best selection. (Most local nurseries sell only a very few native species, so I rely on mail order and on specialty nurseries that are up to four hours away.) If you wait until it’s time to plant, nurseries will be sold out of many species.

— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: wait until Memorial Day to fertilize. If you reseed bare areas, be sure to water often. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials.

— last but not least, water last year’s plantings as needed. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all woody plants installed last season. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted in the fall need supplemental watering during dry spells throughout this entire growing season. 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.

Enjoy the weekend! It really is spring!

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The gorgeous flowers of serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) will bloom in late April this year, about three weeks later than usual.

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.