June Stepping Stones to Success in the Garden
The sultry days of summer have begun. The pace of life slips down a notch. Languor replaces vigour. The heat of the sun feels good (for awhile). June is a month for brewing: ice tea for the gardener (or perhaps another brew of choice), and compost tea for the garden and container plants. You’ve created a pretty setting for the evening cookout. When more southern climes stifle in humidity, linger and enjoy the Panhandle’s cooler, drier evenings.
School’s out and its vacation time, so let’s take a vacation. After spring’s furious activity, June is the month we slip into maintenance mode, and if you’ve been following the seven basic gardening principles, your stepping stones to success, it’s the month we slip into the hammock as well. We’ve worked hard in our gardens the past 3½ months, so we’ll take a break from developing new beds and plantings during June.
The may garden looked splendid in May; the garden in June is spectacular! So much is in bloom in the garden, especially native plants and traditional garden favorites. Xeric gardens have strong bloom presence all throught the summer. Many of the cacti, salvia's, penstemons, gaillardias, ratibidas, yuccas and more are in flower. Roses, hollyhocks, daisies, lilies and flowers of the water garden are the traditional stars of June. It's a great time to have a garden.
Hail weather note: Although hail can occur in any month when the conditions are right, hail occurs most often during the growing months. The most probable time for hail to fall in the Texas Panhandle is mid-April through mid-July, with peak hail occurrences happening at the end of May to early June (Weather in Texas: the Essential Handbook, by George Bomar), Panhandle gardens can be battered by serious hail during May and June when the weather is transitioning from spring to summer. After plants take their beating, prune back the damaged leaves, stems and branches, as needed. Depending on the plant and season, the garden may loose that season's flower display. In most cases, new growth will emerge quickly. Boost plants with compost tea, liquid humate or other organic foliar spray for disaster relief. Plants need special emergency care to quickly spring back and look their best during the remainder of the growing season.
There are few vegetables to harvest in this interim month between cool and warm season crops. The summer solstice occurs this month and we'll notice or not notice) a very slow progression to shorter days. But it will take a few months for the weather to catch up and cool down. For now, the weather is about sun, and heat, and I hope, occasional rain. Relax and smell the roses.
Stepping Stones is arranged in most cases on a week to week basis within the months with gardening tasks described by order of the Seven Principles of Gardening, as needed, namely:
1. Plan and Design
2. Analyze and Improve the Soil
3. Create Practical Turf Areas
4, Choose Appropriate Plants
5. Efficient Use of Water
6. Use Organic or Inorganic Mulch
7. Practice Appropriate Maintenance
Following the weeks' tasks, I've included suggestions under the headings "Keep it Up", "Extras", "Be a Plant Explorer" and "Oops! and/or Don't" -- extra tips I practice and have found to be important or interesting. If you've been gardening for several years, there will be fewer tasks each week for each principle. Included in the sidebar at the right are QuickSteps -- a summary or outline of tasks to do each month. Feel free to copy and print out to refer to during the month.
Don't worry if you can't get to the task in the first week suggested. These times are when I've noticed the earliest most likely success achievable. Naturally, each and every year will be different. Some years will be warmer, some cooler. Adjust and stay tuned to the weather.
Week One and Two
Mulch mow the lawn when the grass blades reach the upper height for your turf type. For buffalo grass, do not mow more than once a month, and that often only for show lawns.
May, June and July are prime months for establishing or re-seeding warm season grass turf areas.
If you must do some planting, you might still enjoy success, depending on summers severity. Buy your plants in gallon containers or larger. The little 2-inch container plants may not survive when planted in the heart of summer’s heat. When purchasing plants in the larger container, purchase a larger root ball. Be sure to check the root ball to insure it’s not root bound.
The type of plant purchased during the summer makes a difference too. Drought tolerant, heat-loving plants do well planted during average hot summer months, even when purchased in the smaller containers. Medium and high water-use plants need to be purchased in larger containers.Purchasing a larger root ball offers better survival chances. Sub tropical and tropical plants will also survive nicely (but these are usually sold in larger containers). Fortuitous timing plays an important hand. I’ve noticed increased success with plantings in amended beds when it rains ½ inch to an inch shortly following planting, anytime during the growing season, including mid-July and August. A cool spell helps too. Planting results during extreme summers similar to 2011 and 2012 have not been successful, for the majority.
One mid-summer planting tip I learned to increase survival rates with new plantings involves roots and container mixes. If the newly purchased plant is sold in a peat mix, wash the peat out of the roots before planting. Wash out the peat in shade and during a cooler part of the day and plant immediately. Be careful not to damage roots. Once peat dries out, it is difficult to re-wet, even when planted. After the new transplant is in the ground with the peat mix around it, and it dries out, even though you think you’ve saturated the root zone, it may not be. Peat is not easily re-wetted.
Keep mulch thickness replenished. Having encouraged one to keep a good mulch layer, does this mean it’s something that should do every month? It depends on the type of mulch being used. Fine shredded organic mulch will decompose much faster than thick bark mulch. I’ve used composted cottonseed hulls, and like it’s rich, dark color, but it decomposes faster than my pocketbook and available time permit replenishment. Choose the best mulch that fits your time and budget.
Check containers for mulch layers too. Coir fiber makes an attractive and beneficial container mulch that re-wets easily. Coir fiber is available in compressed bricks at nurseries and mail order garden suppliers.
Efficient Use of Water
With the landscape hydro-zoned, different areas are on different watering cycles. New planted beds require more monitoring than the established areas of the garden. Vegetable beds need more attention both in water, nutrients and weeding.
Perform summer maintenance on the drip and other irrigation system. Flush out lines and clean the filters, back flow preventers and emitters. Look for wilted or stunted plants. Insure coverage is adequate and adjust the lines as needed.
Review the tips on conserving water in the landscape. In some years, rain in June will be plentiful, in other years we might face a drought.
Seed Collecting. Take time to collect seeds for next year, or for sharing with friends and at seed exchanges. Poppies, larkspur, California poppies, cool season vegetables you let go to seed are some typical plant I've collected from in early summer. Ornamental kale and cabbage seeds can be collected for reseeding in July.
In early morning light and when the sun lowers on the horizon, walk through the garden and observe. Are any plants struggling or infested? Practice the principles of integrated pest management and apply the least harmful solution first. Be sure to note any problems in your garden journal.
While making daily rounds, look over individual beds with an eye to improving the composition. June is an important month for this summing up while the plants are up and blooming. We’ll be able to rectify some deficiencies or errors in the fall. Take notes. Take pictures. Our mind soon forgets all the changes we’d like to make. Some gardeners may find it helpful to start a second notebook for “changes I would like to make in my garden”.
If your garlic plants have sent up shoots with a bulb at the top, cut this off. The shoots may be used as one would a scallion, or the whole shoot in a flower arrangement. Cutting off the shoot and bulbil, from which seeds develop, will produce a larger clove. Wait until the tops of the plant have died and turned brown to harvest them. Withold irrigation for a few days, then dig them up. Gently knock off any dirt and store.
Likewise, onions should be ready to harvest towards the end of June. Snip any shoots with a bulbil. Wait until the tops of the plant have died and turned brown to harvest them. Withold irrigation for a few days, then dig them up. Gently knock off any dirt and store. I've stored onions successfully into the next spring for kitchen use when I have a large harvest.
Continue to weed, turn the compost pile.
Be a Plant Explorer
Like roses? A visit to the Tyler Rose Garden in June is a real treat. The Tyler Rose Garden is one of 24 AARS trial sites and features more than 600 varieties and over 32,000 bushes. (Photo of the rose garden in June at left.)
For the best flower blooms for your buck, visit the Denver Botanic Gardens in June (or any time mid-April through September). Explore the 23 acres of fragrance and foliage at 1005 York Street, almost downtown Denver, containing over twenty theme gardens and a tropical conservatory. The Denver Botanic Gardens is among the top 5 botanic gardens in the United States, and is within a day’s drive of Amarillo. Additional sites of the Denver Botanic Gardens are at Chatfield, a 750-acre wildlife and native plant refuge in Littleton, and Mt. Goliath, a high altitude trail and alpine rock garden on the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway. You'll be in gardener’s heaven (if you’re a member of The American Horticultural Society, bring your membership card and get in free – I did). The research-minded can enjoy the Helen Fowler Library at Denver Botanic Gardens that house one of the premier collections of plant-related resources in the United States. It contains more than 28,000 titles, including books for all ages, videos, software, magazines, nursery catalogs, slides, rare books, and the plant inventory of Denver Botanic Gardens. Wear a hat, bring a camera and plan to spend the day; refreshments may be purchased at their outdoor café. (Photo of the daylily display at DBG at right.)
Weeks Three and Four
Amend the Soil
It is not recommended to fertilize the lawn or other beds during June, July or August. However, give them a boost with an organic amendment or foliar spray of fish emulsion, liquid humate, compost tea, aerobically activated compost tea, and or horticultural molasses, etc or by adding composted cottonseed hulls, alfalfa pellets or meal, worm castings, and cottonseed meal. Brew compost tea for container plants.
Continue to maintain the landscape as you’ve done the first two weeks.
Seems like an odd time to think about bulbs with the tulip foliage just dying back, but June and July is the time to plant the fall blooming bulbs you ordered in April or May. Crocus (some species, refer to April or May maintenance), Colchicums, Lycoris and Zephyranthes are the most likely fall bloomers. As soon as the new catalogs arrive featuring fall planted bulbs, order them for best selection. For a reminder on what tulips do best in the Texas Panhandle, click here for hybridized garden tulips and here for species or wild tulips.
Dig up and divide irises or buy more at the annual iris sale at the Amarillo Botanic Gardens. Iris’ can be dug and divided through September.
By the end of June, some of the spring blooming plants have finished their season, or have become overgrown and ungainly. Spring-to-fall blooming plants need some maintenance -- it’s time for a little garden trimming and cleanup. Engelman’s daisy and chocolate flower can be sheared back; they’ll quickly re-grow and re-bloom throughout the summer without sprawling. There may be many others in the garden whose appearance will be improved by cutting back. Thin out seedlings if they’ve grown in too dense. Allow individual plants enough space for their mature growth. Some medium and higher maintenance plants will need to be dead-headed to encourage continued blooming during the summer.
Not really sure about maintenance of individual plants? Two books I have found to be of great help are Plants for Natural Gardens by Judith Phillips for low water-use plants and natives, and The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, by Tracy DiSabato-Aust, for the more traditional medium and high water-use plants. Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s book is about the best on the market and discusses the maintenance of over 150 traditional perennials we can grow, clueing gardeners in on when, how to and if cutting back and pruning will benefit the garden.
Deadhead and feed roses.
Clean up after any weather related disasters such as hail, strong wind or tornado damage. Any of these can visit our area starting in April through September. Prune out damaged stems and branches and add them to the compost pile before disease and pathogens take advantage. Replant where necessary.
Many herbs are ideally suited to our climate and are mature enough now for harvesting. Cut off no more than 1/3rd of the foliage for drying and storing. Re-cut and dry as the herb continues to grow.
Shear back chrysanthemums and asters by the end of June. This will increase the bushiness of the plant and promote increased blooms. This also prevents too early bud formation. I’m set in my ways and just think chrysanthemums shouldn’t bloom until September.
- Install landscape lighting.
- Host a Midsummer’s Night Eve Party. By this time, your garden is glorious! Show it off to your neighbors, family, work associates and friends. Your evening in the garden can take any form you wish, wine and cheese, tea and desserts, or backyard supper. Keep it simple and repeat as desired.
- Buy a gardening book for study on an area of interest you'd like to be more proficient in.
Keep it Up
- Continue mulch-mowing, weeding and watering.
- Add plant debris to the compost pile and turn it every two weeks. Moisten the compost pile if necessary.
- Continue to record climate garden information in your garden journal.
- If you’ve volunteered for a gardening project, don’t neglect it during the summer. If you haven’t, it’s not too late to start one. Find someone in need of a gardening angel.
Don’t and/or Oops!
Since you’ve gone to all the trouble of raising vegetables, once vegetable plants do start to produce, take a tip from the garden and relate it to the harvested vegetables. Warm season crops of tomatoes, peppers, melons and eggplant are damaged when placed in cold temperatures of the refrigerator. Keep them out to avoid the soft watery lesions of peppers and the soft watery tissues that develop in tomatoes. Produce is best eaten fresh: use them, or lose them.