Late June is a pivotal point in the garden in southwest Idaho. Most of the planting has been done, and the weather usually changes from cool with some rain to baking dry like someone has flipped a light switch. It is a time when the gardener can relax about some things, but it is time to evaluate and take action on some others. Here is a list of my top 10 things to make the rest of the gardening season go as well as possible:
1. Examine and prepare for insect invasions. Bugs really come out once the weather warms up. While I have already been dealing with ants and slugs, now aphids, grasshoppers, and cabbage moths will come out with gusto, ready to feed on all the lovely green foliage. Insecticidal soap is my special friend at this time of year, but it needs to be applied in the cooler morning temperatures. Bonide Eight has been what is needed to be applied in some cases of ants infestation and weird little beetles on tomatoes. I keep dusting many of the plants with diatomaceous earth between waterings, and this seems to particularly help with what wants to eat the potato plants. Of course, there are always the squash bugs to begin hunting. Maybe my grandson is old enough to train to hunt this year?
2. Check the water systems and plan your summer watering schedule. Some plants have wider root networks by now, but others might still be small enough to need extra attention when sudden hot spells hit. I water with sprinklers up until about July, because overhead watering is like spring rains and the sprinkler schedule is frequent enough to encourage the tender seedlings. However, for water management, mature plants that don’t like overhead watering, and weed control, I change to mostly drip irrigation for most of the vegetable garden for the remainder of the summer. It might be time to make sure you have all the soaker hoses, or your preferred type of drip lines. It is also a good time to make sure the lawn and flower bed sprinkler system is working adequately. For my yard, the sprinkler system is also the watering for my fruit trees. Learning to repair sprinkler issues has not been easy for me, but I am getting better at it a little at a time.
3. Harvest the cool weather crops. Most lettuces and spinach will be bolting quickly in the warm weather. If you want to enjoy them, pick them now. They will probably keep better in the refrigerator for a few days than they will in the scorching heat. My peas are beginning to fill out their pods about now, plus there might be a few more strawberries to pick.
4. Plant the last of your warm weather crops. Not only is there still time for some last minute planting of some things that thrive in warm, but the harvesting of the cool weather crops frees up some space for this. If you aren’t sure what will have enough time to mature before the average first frost date, check the maturity dates on the back of seed packets, but also don’t be afraid to experiment. Sometimes a certain year is just right for some things or you might have micro-environments that give you advantage.
5. Strategize about weeds. I don’t just say “weed,” because just pulling weeds might not be your best choice. This article about learning to know your weeds that I wrote for D&B Supply should help you think through your most efficient options. In it, I also refer to my backyard weed series.
6. Continue with a regular mulching program. I have always mulched, especially with grass clippings, but I was re-inspired by this little book about a “weedless garden” that I wrote a review on a couple weeks ago. I am now getting grass clippings from two neighbors and look forward to getting my own lawn mowed like it is being harvested.
7. Thin seedlings. The standard rule is that the plants need to be spaced enough that their leaves only barely touch when mature. Since I always lose some plants along the way, I tend to thin in stages, saving the best plants to fill in spaces in the rows or beds as need be due to insect damage or variable plant growth. This can only be done successfully up to a certain point of growth, but when all it requires is a quick dig and transplant on the spot, it can be very effective. If you have been thinning so that the plants are already spaced well, nearly the whole root mass can be contained and sometimes the plant doesn’t even know it has been moved!
8. Prune for efficient production and beauty. I have been learning about pruning tomatoes the last couple of years, and this year I have taken great satisfaction in occasionally going around and pinching off the suckers. It also might be time to prune back some spring flowering shrubs, like lilacs, as well as get to pruning that you are late on, like roses and grapes. I just pruned some of my roses that were having their vitality sucked out of them by growth from the root stock. I know these hybrid roses suffered some from letting so much energy go to this wild growth, but in some cases, late is better than never. It is also wise to research and see what is being risked by pruning at a non-optimal time. Dead heading might also fall in this category, both for increased flower production and managing the size and quantity of produce.
9. Begin guiding plants that are supposed to grow on a trellis or some other support. Some plants, like pole beans or heavenly blue morning glories, just need a little nudge in a better direction. Some, such as tomatoes or cucumbers, need support to make them stay put. Whichever it is, you will be much happier with the results if you begin attending to it when the plants are smaller.
10. Stop to smell and sometimes pick the flowers! There should be a lot of pretty blossoms showing up in the flower beds right now. Some of the warm weather annuals are beginning to really flourish, like hollyhocks and moss rose. Gazanias are showing their stuff. The Maltese cross is tall and proud. If you are lacking in the early summer bloom department, take note of what is colorful in other people’s yards. Then, next year, you can have more of a gala in your own yard.
There is always more than enough to do, but having a bit of a strategy can help you be more effective and have more enjoyment from your garden.