Do you do to-do lists? I do. They help keep me focused and organized. And boy is it satisfying to check things off. But this time of year, I have another list, a summer What Not To-Do List for my garden. This keeps me from serious missteps which can harm plants or waste time and money.
First on my What Not To-Do List is planting. It’s just too hot and dry for plants to establish well. Spring and fall are your best planting times. Be wise and wait. I know there are plant bargains to be had now. As a career tightwad I’m tempted, too. Don’t succumb.
Don’t: Dig or Divide
No digging and dividing either. Most plants prefer to have this done in spring or fall so they can settle in and develop robust roots before extreme weather. So step away from that shovel. If you do plant or divide plants in summer you will need to water, water and water again, a significant time drain. And still, your plants will be stressed. Very stressed.
Third on my What Not To-Do List is pruning. Trees hate to be pruned in summer. They weep copious sap and those wounds attract the abundant insects and diseases afoot now. Summer pruning courts disaster. Instead, prune trees in the dormant season – January to mid-March – when they are less vulnerable.
Q: What can I use as a summer-blooming shrub, especially if this part of the garden is sunny and somewhat dry? I also sometimes have deer problems.
A: I think St. Johnsworts (Hypericum) are underused, and several species are native here in Maryland, though those might be harder to source. Some of the commonly-grown forms are non-native hybrids, though well-behaved ecologically. (The only locally invasive species, Hypericum perforatum, is fortunately not likely to be sold at a nursery.)
St. Johnsworts bloom anywhere between June and September, prefer direct sun, generally tolerate drought well, and are distasteful to deer. Blooms are nearly always an intense yellow, and some species or cultivars have colorful summer or autumn foliage. A few cultivars have berry-like seeds that ripen by fall and make good bouquet accents. I love the bark on native Hypericum densiflorum – peeling with a smooth underlayer that’s a rich, warm-toned cinnamon-brown that’s especially showy during dormancy.
You’ll find St. Johnsworts sold as both perennials and shrubs, because some species stay low, sprawl like a groundcover, and have stems that aren’t very woody, occasionally dying back in winter as other perennials do. Other species have woody stems and grow to about three or four feet tall and wide. Flowers are loaded with pollen, but no nectar, so butterflies will probably detour while bees and flower flies (predators we like to keep in the garden) will visit. Don’t deadhead developing seed capsules if you want to support Gray Hairstreak butterfly caterpillars, which can use Hypericum as a host plant (among a huge variety of other plants).
That used to be a summer joke, right? I haven’t heard it in a while. We all know it’s way too hot out there. This time of year, with the heat and humidity and bugs and weeds, it’s a challenge even to step into the garden and do what needs to be done. But if we ignore our garden tasks they just get more overwhelming. I’m overwhelmed myself, but let me try to give you a few hints on making summer in the vegetable garden more bearable.
The end of the spring lettuce and spinach harvest doesn’t mean we have to wait until fall to enjoy home-grown leafy greens. In addition to the kales and collards we know and love there is a world of heat tolerant leafy green crops that grow well in Maryland. These plants tend to grow rapidly and quickly fill their allotted space. They can all be eaten fresh or cooked and can help you introduce new textures, flavors, and culinary accents to your kitchen table.
Find local and online seed sources for these crops and follow planting instructions on seed packets and on seed company websites. Most of the leafy greens below can be treated as cut-and-come-again crops: they put on new growth below each harvesting cut.
Leafy green vegetables are some of the easiest and most nutritious crops our garden can produce. Of course, with any new crop it may take several years of growing and experimenting to decide if it will work for you and the people who eat from your garden. Continue reading →
Along with the start of summer time comes a common lawn disease for Maryland homeowners’ lawns called brown patch. The disease is caused by several fungal species of Rhizoctonia. Rainy summers are worse, but even drier summers have brown patch disease pressure from moisture that develops from evening dew. Although tall fescue is the recommended turf variety for Maryland lawns, most cultivars are still very susceptible to this problem disease.