Checking the Right Boxes

Mark Cullen working in his garden

The long weekend of our national holiday, July first, has a habit of creeping up on us gardeners. No sooner do we get our gardens planted and we sit for a moment to enjoy the view when the heat of summer comes down upon us and we have a new list of things to do.
This is our lament and our joy: any time in the garden is a good time to find worthwhile things to do.
Here is our timely list of suggested things to do in your garden.
Water. Your newly planted garden demands water in the heat of July to a much greater degree than it does come August because it is developing new, young roots. As plant roots grow deeper, the need for water lessens. Allow the surface of the soil to become dry between water applications. Established plants, that have been in the ground for more than a year seldom need watering. We do not recommend watering the lawn at all through summer, let it go dormant when drought occurs and be sure to set the inground watering system to manual, using it only as needed.
Water features. Now is a great time to add a water feature to your garden. You can create an elaborate water pond, stream or fountain and treat the construction as a fun summer “vacation” project or just fill a large watertight container with a water lily and other water plants, maybe a goldfish or two to keep mosquitoes at bay. Be sure to add oxygenating plants like duck weed or water hyacinth to keep the water clear.
Deadhead. This is simple and can generally be performed with a drink of choice in one hand. Pinch out the finished flowers of annual plants that go to seed. Finished geranium, petunia, marigold, and zinnia flowers demand this attention now. When you pinch out the finished flower you are rewarded with more fresh flowers. Also remove spent blossoms from peonies, lilacs, and roses to encourage more flowers later. It is a profitable arrangement for the attentive gardener.
Prune. When you look at the plants in your garden today you will no doubt notice how they have grown over the spring months. This is the perfect time of year to tackle pruning jobs. Here is our summary of what/why:
Flowering Shrubs. Prune after blooming. Spring blooming shrubs like lilac and spirea are best pruned now. Cut new growth back to bring it under control, after all you must live with your plants and not allow them to take over the property. If the shrub is thick and mature, reach into the interior of the plant and remove up to one third of the growth into the wood with a pair of sharp hand pruners. This will encourage growth new growth on the old parts of the plant. Prune late flowering shrubs after they bloom.
Shade trees. Maples, birch, and other hardwood trees are best pruned right now, while they are in full leave. Pruning while dormant can cause excessive bleeding of sap which can cause problems down the road. Prune to thin a tree and/or to give it a desirable shape. A sharp pruning saw is in order.
Evergreens. Evergreen trees lend themselves to early summer pruning, again, focusing on the shape that you desire. This time of year, you can bring an unwieldy looking spruce or pine and the like under control. Cedar hedging, boxwood, and junipers are best pruned now as they will fill in nicely over the summer, reducing the “just barbered” look that all of us have the day of a haircut.
In the upcoming months permanent “woody” plants produce a less aggressive flush of growth that will give them a lovely, fresh, finished look.

Think of your garden activity this time of year as an investment of your time that will pay dividends later in the season: more flowers, fruit, and healthier plants.