Invest Now For Later Bounty

Mark Cullen prunes a cedar hedge. If winter hardy plants have finished flowering, now is the perfect time to prune virtually all evergreens and shrubs.

by Mark and Ben Cullen

Summer arrived the other day.  Did you notice?  Your plants did.  The days shorten and generally temperatures rise, while less rain falls.

This is a cue to gardeners to turn attention to certain time-honoured tasks that maximize flowering and harvest potential. Here is our list for end-of-June gardening chores:

1. Stake and tie. Tomatoes, climbing roses, clematis, anything that grows up but needs support, needs it now. Mark uses a metal spiral stake to support his tomato plants as they do not require anything to make them grow upright. Just twist the main stem of the plant around the spiral. Prune out the suckers on tomatoes for best fruit production.

2. Prune.  The first flush of new growth on evergreens and shrubs has produced a lot of lanky looking plants.  They look a bit like us right now, in need of a haircut.  If your winter hardy plants have finished flowering this is the perfect time to prune a cedar hedge, lilac, forsythia, juniper, Japanese maple: virtually all evergreens and shrubs.

3. Fertilize.  Hungry plants tell us when they need nutrients with yellowing leaves or stunted growth.  Now is the best time of year to add a season-long fertilizer to the surface of the soil or spread a five-to-seven-centimeter layer of finished compost over the root zone.  Containerized plants need additional nutrients this time of year.  Look for a slow-release fertilizer product that delivers a mild solution to the root zone with every watering.

4. Japanese beetles.  The scourge of many gardens in July is the Japanese beetle.  One of our most asked questions early in summer is how to control them.  There is no easy way.  But the most effective method is to hang a pheromone trap, in a tree or on a fence.  Beetles are attracted to it and fall into the trap.  It is like Fatal Attraction, the movie, without the Hollywood hype.  Be sure to empty it out at least every couple of weeks to avoid a bad smell. 

5. Control insects and disease on fruit trees.  We use a combination of End All and garden sulphur for an environmentally responsible combo that slows most problems of this nature to an acceptable level.  Non-chemical pest and disease control is not a panacea.  Slightly blemished fruit is perfectly palatable and tasty. 

6. Deadhead spent flowers.  The flowers on your veronica may have come and gone but the potential to flower again is there if you deadhead them: remove the spent flower before it goes to seed.  The energy that the plant would use to produce seed is channelled into producing more flowers, later in the season.  This is the result of a desire on the part of the plant to reproduce.  Flowers were created by nature to attract pollinators which enable the plant to produce seed and make more plants.  It is a primal thing.  Many perennials and annuals produce flowers in response to deadheading this time of year, including Shasta daisy, columbine, foxglove, petunias, geraniums, and marigolds.

 7.  Sow and plant for kids.  Fast-growing bush beans, radishes, carrots, and beets are sown by seed now for a harvest in a few weeks.  A fast-growing flower or food-producing plant gives kids a lift, catches their attention and teaches them a thing or two about the natural world. 

This is also a good time of year to do less. 

Cut your lawn at least 7 to 10 cm high and less frequently as temperatures rise and rain falls less frequently.  Do not fertilize it during a drought or prolonged period of heat.

Water only the parts of your garden that demand it and water less frequently but deeply.  Watering once a week for a couple of hours is plenty for most flowering plants.  Allowing the soil to dry about 6 cm deep between applications encourages deeper roots and more drought-resistant plants.

A little effort now equals bounty later this summer.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.