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THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of June 20, 2024

It seems this week has all the important gardening tasks scheduled for early morning.

Happy summer solstice! We get the most sunlight of the year today, and no surprise, the big challenge today will be the heat! I am writing this a few days ahead, but the weather forecast says mid-90s on Thursday. Even my most sun-loving plants will be stressed by the change in temperature. I plan to water all the containers thoroughly in the morning and ask my at-home helper to water them again at mid-day. If your containers are in full sun and you can’t do a second watering, you might want to move them to a shaded location after watering just for the hottest part of the day.

Annuals and newly planted perennials, trees, and shrubs should get a thorough watering in the morning as well. I don’t think they will need it again late in the day because ground soil will retain moisture better than my containers. Caution: Some plants appear to flag in the heat even when soil moisture is high. Check the moisture first before watering. If it is fine, they will rebound once evening comes.

It seems this week has all the important gardening tasks scheduled for early morning. Harvest herbs early in the day by cutting the outer leaves instead of pulling out the plant. Pick peas and other fruiting vegetables early as well. For one thing, it will be a nicer temperature for you. Also, the plant begins converting sugars to starches as the day goes on. Produce picked early in the day tastes better.

Peas taste better when picked early in the day before sugars convert to starches. Plus, they show up better in the early morning side light.

My bed of mixed greens has achieved mixed results. Many spicy greens have bolted. Thin your beds of mixed greens by pulling bolted herbs to give more space for lettuce heads or other greens. The plants that you pull can still provide small spicy leaves for salads.

Densely planted mixed greens have sent up flower heads (bolted) in the recent heat.

If just a few tips have started to form flowers, you can pinch off that center stem and more side shoots will develop. When I pull herbs or greens, I sow more lettuce seed to continue fresh greens for salad.

Still in the vegetable patch, I monitor young veggies daily for pest damage while watering. You are not off the hook if you don’t have veggies. Insect pests like warm temperatures too and will be emerging in the next month to feed on our gardens.

We haven’t seen the lacey skeletonization caused by those iridescent Japanese beetles yet, but we will in a week or so. Irregular holes in leaves come from small caterpillars of different moths and butterflies. Slugs chew from leaf edges to the center and leave a slimy trail. Assess the damage. I have seen larvae of asparagus beetle chewing the ferny foliage, but I hit them with some botanical insecticide and the plants seem fine at the moment. Sometimes a plant will grow through the pest damage, so the best action is no action.

Before reaching for a spray to stop the pest, make sure you know what has caused the damage. Search the plant near the damaged leaves and especially under leaves. Bring a sample of the damage and perhaps the suspected pest (in a sealed plastic bag) to your garden center or contact the Master Gardener hotline at (413) 298-5355. Most likely you will need to leave a message with details and a good time to return the call. Useful tips for reporting damage and getting help can be found at the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener’s website.

Gardens should burst with this heat and your careful watering. But healthy growth requires food. Now is a good time to side dress sweet corn with a high nitrogen fertilizer. Scratch the granular fertilizer into the soil surface around the plants, then water in thoroughly.

I know I should dead-head to keep perennials growing strong and keep annuals blooming (see last week’s column), but I also think the seed heads have an appeal. So, I will be lazy for a bit. The spent blooms and growing seed heads of cranesbill (Geranium maculatum) for example have given the plant its common name. It looks like the head of a crane. The dead heads are colorful and texturally interesting.

Spent flowers of cranesbill provide unique, almost comical, garden interest.

My Allium flowers are “gone,” but the leftover structure still provides garden interest. I will leave it until it dries completely then put the seed heads in the trash. It takes years for those seeds to develop into Allium bulbs worth replanting.

The seed heads of Allium also break up the usual garden forms. They look like something out of the mid-1960s. Did you know anyone with a ceiling lamp shaped like an allium seed head?

Also, the native white avens plants (Geum canadense) might seem invasive or weedy because of their efficient seed head—a burr of stiff hooks that catch on animals or clothing to expand the plant’s territory.

The avens seedheads catch some morning light along a path and at garden edges before catching the fur (or sock) of a passing animal.

Lastly, if your perennials, shrubs, or trees require too much maintenance, you might consider removing the problem plant and installing something that won’t outgrow the location or need more care (like sun or water) than you can provide. Remember plants will grow best in their ideal conditions. I have a giant rock with a mini rock-garden of “hens and chicks,” wild strawberry, and a spruce tree. They all made their way to the rock crevices without me. Similarly, sedum, thyme, or other shallow-rooted ground cover will grow in fast-draining sunny locations without much soil at all.

The Lazy Berkshire Gardener’s large rock has a distinct microclimate where specific plants will grow.

I call myself the Lazy Berkshire Gardener because I don’t want to work too hard in my gardens. I want to enjoy them. I find it easier to observe my landscape and let the compost happen, the water pool up, or daisies to self-sow. I look for ways to do the minimum task for the biggest impact. For example, mulching is better than spraying and much better than weeding all season. I look for beautiful, low-maintenance plants that thrive in or at least tolerate my garden conditions. Plus, I’m willing to live with the consequences if I miss something.

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The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.