CICADAS….Well, we all made it through. The decibel level of their mating calls seemed much louder to me this time. Did any of you notice this, or is it just my imagination? The Oaks seemed to be the first to reveal the damage, with broken branch tips throughout the crown. The Maples seem to have been a favorite as well. Many of these damaged tips have come down in our recent storms, and pretty soon, all evidence will be gone. When completing an installation during the height of their activity, they immediately gravitated to the Amelanchier / Serviceberry, and barely paid any attention to anything else we put in the ground. Did any of you notice this as well?
HEAT…The heat has been rather intense lately, and I’m sure your plants have felt the strain. Fortunately, we have received a bit of rain, especially at night, which has been a huge help. Check the soil on a regular basis. If the soil 2-4” down is cool and damp, then you are in great shape. If it’s sopping wet, a ball will barely hold its shape without oozing out, then try to let that area dry out a bit. If the soil is dry and granular, definitely give this area some extra water. If this is July, I wonder what August has in store. Brace yourselves.
GARDENS ARE ALWAYS CHANGING…That’s the nature of the beast. We just need to grow and change along with them. Sometimes a plant will die due to the changing conditions in the garden – dry to wet, sun to shade. Sometimes a plant will become completely engulfed by another, and all too soon, disappear. Sometimes a plant will simply die for no apparent reason. As a client once proclaimed after a storm had damaged a significant section of his garden, “I take these changes as an opportunity to try something different.”.
WATERING…Do you ever see those landscapers with the water tank on their trucks? I can’t tell you how often I see these folks spraying the foliage. They water the soil first (GOOD), but then they spend quite a bit of time spraying the foliage, hoping it will cause the drying out leaves to perk right back up. If it is cloudy and cool, then spraying the foliage is fine, but if it is sunny or in the heat of the day, it will likely cause the foliage to burn. If the water hits the flowers, it could hasten the wilting of the blooms. This is why we recommend watering either very early in the morning, or late in the day/ early evening. We also recommend this time so that the water has a chance to seep into the soil rather than immediately evaporate into the air. Unfortunately, the commercial watering trucks don’t have that luxury, and will frequently be forced to water during the hottest portion of the day. Make sure your professionals know that it’s best to water only the soil.
“Once my plants are established, then I no longer need to water.” How many of us have heard this before? For plants with substantial root systems such as trees and some shrubs, this may be true. For plants located in the absolute perfect conditions for that particular plant, this may be true. But for all others, supplementing with irrigation will be a huge benefit. How will I know if my plant is in the ideal location? You could try eliminating all artificial irrigation to see if it survives, but for many of us, this is more risk than we are willing to take. I am much better about irrigating my garden within my deer fence than I am about the plants outside. And it shows. The plants outside are a bit stunted, and a number of my perennials seem to be dwindling a bit. For instance, my Brunnera’Jack Frost’ inside the garden is huge and multiplying, while those outside seem to be dying off.
When the temperatures sore into the 90’s, do try to give a bit more water to your plants. If you can water 3x/ week, that will be ideal. Even if you can only supplement 1x/week, your plants will appreciate the extra help. Remember that a thorough soaking early in the morning before 10a or late in the day after 5p is best, so that the water has time to penetrate deep into the soil before the sun beats down again.
THISTLE…has a tap root that seems to go on forever. When pulled, you rarely get the whole plant. There is a product on the market that targets Thistle called Lontrell, available at SiteOne Landscapes, and at other locations. Spray on the foliage. It will be absorbed through the vascular system into the roots, and kill the plant. The good news is that it does NOT seem to bother other trees and shrubs. It will damage some perennials, so do use caution when applying.
JAPANESE BEETLES…need I say more. Typically, I recommend to my clients to treat their property with grub control in the spring. This will kill the grubs (Japanese beetle larvae) that turn into the beetles that devour our vegetation. I cheat, and have a lawn company treat my lawn areas every year with a grub control. Not only will this kill the grubs, but it will also reduce your mole population since they are attracted to the grubs. If you treat your property, that’s wonderful, but if your neighbor does not, then you may still have a problem.
Unfortunately, it’s too late for that now. The beetles are here. So now, what can we do.
DO NOT purchase a Japanese Beetle Trap. They simply attract everyone’s beetles to your house.
Option 1 – Go out early in the morning with a jar of soapy water. Pluck off the beetles, and drown them in your jar. When your jar is full, and the beetles are dead, just dump into the back of the garden and start over again. Leave the jar outside so that it’s always handy.
Option 2 – Dust the foliage with Sevin Dust, available at most garden centers such as Home Depot, Lowes, Valley View Farm. One friend puts some dust in an old stocking and swings it around the foliage to be treated. Try to avoid getting the dust on your skin, in your eyes or breathing. Try to avoid getting the dust on flowers since it will kill many of our beneficial pollinators. Hibiscus syriacus / Rose-of-Sharon is one of their favorites. It’s not in bloom yet, so now would be a good time to dust.
Option 3 – Treating the soil with Nematodes in the Spring. Nematodes are living organisms that will kill the grubs. Go to www.gardensalive.com for reliable information.
PRUNE SPRING FLOWERING SHRUBS…. It’s not too late to prune spring flowering shrubs such as Azalea, Pieris, Rhododendron, Spirea and Viburnum. After the flowers have dropped off, you can safely prune, and the plant will have plenty of time for the buds to set for next year. This is also a good time to prune the Oakleaf Hydrangea, but you need to be willing to chop off some of those beautiful flowers.
DEAD HEADING PERENNIALS DOES HELP….Most perennials only bloom once a year. After the blooms are finished, it does help to cut the flower stem down to the height of the attractive foliage. This prevents unnecessary energy flowing to the development of seed, and instead flows into the development of the root system. If you want to propagate your plants from seed, then leave at least a few flowers for this purpose.
COLLECTING SEED TO GROW YOUR OWN….I have trouble keeping a few of my perennials going, such as ‘Nora Barlow’ Columbine / Aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow’, and of course Foxglove / Digitalis which is a biennial. For these, I collect the seeds before their capsules burst, and I plant them quite shallow in a designated part of my garden. It’s in the back and out of sight. I know where to look for the progeny of my effort, and I’m careful not to be too hasty about weeding. The germination has worked well. I’ve been a bit lazy about transplanting the young plants to more ideal locations later, but at least I have the option to do so.
WHEN TO LEAVE THE PERENNIALS ALONE….Many birds love the seeds produced by our plants, and sometimes the dried seed heads are very attractive in the winter. A prime example is Black-Eyed Susan / Rudbeckia fulgida. After the flowers are finished, you are left with the round, black center which persists all winter long, and is quite attractive against the snow. This is a personal decision that sometimes means the choice between an aesthetic you prefer, and doing what may be more advantageous to the ecosystem you are nurturing. Through trial and error, you will figure out what works best for you.
RENEW UNSIGHTLY FOLIAGE…Foliage of our PERENNIALS can discolor during the growing season either from too much sun (Sun Scorch) or too much humidity (Powdery Mildew). There are other afflictions as well, but the key is whether the appearance of the foliage bothers you. If so, cut down the plant to the height of fresh new foliage or to a height of 2-3 inches if all of the foliage is bad. Usually, the plant will generate new, healthy, disease free foliage this season. In the rare case that foliage does not reappear, don’t panic. There is a very good chance that the plant will still appear again next year.
The DROUGHT… will probably arrive in July / August, and we will all need to watch our water consumption. I know most of us have learned to avoid watering in the evening to avoid mold and mildew developing on the foliage, but when we experience extreme heat, sometimes an evening watering is actually the best way to go. At least the water will have a chance to soak into the soil without immediate evaporation by the sun, and the foliage will dry before it gets hot. I frequently water between 6p-10p. If you have a timer, you can water at 3 or 4am. Remember, a thorough soaking for 15 – 30 minutes 2 times per week is much better than a brief spritz daily.
I know this can sound daunting, but don’t be discouraged. Most of us never take care of everything. Just do what you can. It will be better than nothing. The most important thing is to take the time to enjoy the wonderful spaces you have created.
HAVE A NICE SUMMER, AND ENJOY YOUR GARDENS.