June To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Summer must have started because Memorial Day has come and gone. As I write this it is cold and wet and generally unpleasant. Worst of all, it is totally not conducive to gardening. How rude.

Meanwhile the Accidental Cottage Garden (ACG) is trying its best to ignore the unpleasantness. Current cohabitating contributors to the conspicuously colorful collection of organisms with cellulose cell walls include lance-leaf coreopsis (C. lanceolata), orange daylilies (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus), black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta), English daisies (Bellis perennis), Stoke’s aster (Stoksia laevis), wand flower (Guara lindheimeri), gallardia (G. pulchella), Asiatic lily (Lilium x ‘Corsica’), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), and prairie cone flower/Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera). The Siberian wall flower (Cheiranthus allioni) and sweet William (Dianthus barbatus ‘Sweet Black Cherry’) are carry-overs from last month. A decidedly delightful display, if I do say so myself.

The weather continues to be perplexing. At least we can garden without breaking a sweat. Thought for the month: If a beverage containing alcohol is a potent potable, is a non-alcoholic beverage impotent? LET’S GARDEN!!!

LAWN CARE: Because I realize there are some of you out there who are too busy/new to the piedmont of NC/not paying attention/just plain horticulturally uneducated, I am urging you to fertilize your warm season grasses (Bermuda, zoysia) now, as in right now. April or May would have been just fine, but now it is mandatory. You’ll know how much and what formulation because you got a FREE SOIL TEST earlier (No. Probably not as you haven’t fertilized yet. All excuses from above I suppose.) Soil tests are free from April through November. Contact the NC Cooperative Extension office (919 560-0525) to get a free test kit with instructions. If you insist on winging it, 1 pound of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet of turf is a safe application rate.

June is THE month to fertilize centipede grass. The 1 pound per 1000 sq.ft. rate is applicable to centipede, also.

Summer is a good time to core aerate any lawn. Aeration facilitates air, water and nutrient movement through the soil and to the roots zone.

Always wanted a zoysia grass lawn? June is a really good month to start one. You will need to use sod or plugs as zoysia seed is not available.

FERTILIZING: Dogwoods (Cornus sps.) can be fertilized now. Again, a FREE SOIL TEST and its resulting recommendations would be helpful here. I am unable to offer suggestions here. Too many variables. Throw a handful of 10-10-10 or equivalent at the plants in the veggie garden. It’ll assist the quantity and quality of your anticipated harvest.

PLANTING: All of y’all who have been waiting for warm weather to plant your vegetable garden better hustle up now. It’s apparently as warm as it’s going to get for a bit and if you want tomatoes before Labor Day… It is necessary at this point to install plants rather than seeds for most vegetables other than beans and maybe pumpkins.

For those of you who plan ahead, it’s time to start seeds for your fall/winter garden. Cruciferous veggies (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower. kale, collards) can be started now to be transplanted in mid-July.

PRUNING: Coniferous (produce seeds in cones) evergreens such as pine, juniper, chamaecyparis, cryptomeria can be lightly pruned now. Be aware, they generally do not produce new leaves beneath a pruning cut.

Hedges and any severely overgrown plants can be radically cut back. The book says never more than 1/3 of the top, but anecdotally I can tell you that many broadleaf evergreens and deciduous shrubs can be reduced to 18 inches or so and recover nicely. (The author nor the publication nor the Master Gardener program nor NCSU Cooperative Extension nor the university assume any liability for plants that do not recover.)

Continue to pinch back garden mums (Chrysanthemum maximum) until mid-July if it is fall blooms you desire. If you don’t care when they bloom, well good for you, you rebel.

Big leaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla) can be pruned as soon as the blooms fade.

Azaleas, including Encore cultivars, can be pruned anytime from bloom fade through the 4 th of July. Dieback can occur in ericaceous (acid loving) plants in early summer. Rhododendrons, including azaleas, pieris and others can be infected by a Phomopsis fungus. Prune the infected branches well below the infection and sterilize your pruning tools between cuts with a 10% bleach solution or 70% alcohol. (Good gracious, NO! Not 140 proof vodka.) Destroy all clippings.

SPRAYING: BOLO (be on the lookout) for the following dastardly destructive six and eight legged pests: lace bugs (azaleas, pyracantha), leaf miners (boxwoods), spider mites (needle leaf evergreens), bag worms (mostly, but not exclusively, on needle leaf evergreens) and aphids on anything they can get their pointy little mouth parts into.

There are numerous pest control products available for control. Try an organic product first. The planet is counting on you.

June is prime Japanese beetle time. (Contrary to popular myth, they do not sing “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in Japanese while devouring your roses and crape myrtles.) Treat them with appropriate pesticide or pick ‘em off and drown ’em. Smush ‘em if it gives you satisfaction. (Personally, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”.)

Be aware of tomato early blight. It shows up as brown spots on the lower leaves followed by a yellowing around the spots. Eventually the whole leaf will usually turn yellow and fall off. There are several products available to treat early blight. Some of them even have zero days until harvest rating.

Vegetable gardens are susceptible to a myriad of pests. Lots of insects (and other genera) like the fruits of your labor as much as you do (and they outnumber us). There are multiple species of worms seeking sustenance from your cruciferous veggies. Then there are the cucurbit lovers like cucumber beetles on (believe it or not) cucumbers and other cucurbits, squash borers on most squash varieties and melons. You might find flea beetles (They don’t sing either.) on any bean species plus tomatoes and eggplant. And let us not forget the ubiquitous aphids.

Continue spray programs for roses, fruit trees and bunch grapes.

Use pesticides only when necessary. ALWAYS read the label and follow the instructions. Try organic first.

A word about watering. Sometime this summer you will find it necessary to supplement Mother Nature’s somewhat capricious watering schedule. Plants, including lawn grasses, need about one inch of water per week to sustain growth. It is best applied in the early morning to minimize evaporative loss. Evening watering is acceptable if the leaf surfaces will be dry before nightfall. Damp leaves promote disease.

Alas, strawberry season is over. Therefore, it is appropriate to renovate the beds in preparation for September planting.

Once you have exhausted the days’ to do list (and most likely yourself) one should take time to kick back and enjoy the garden. Outdoor living spaces were made for June evenings. Food, family, friends (and a cool beverage). That’s what it’s all about. As T.S. Eliot wrote, “There is no life that is not in community.”

Find your community and welcome to summer.

All photos: Gary Crispell

May To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

“It’s May! It’s May, the merry month of May.” But this is North Carolina, not Camelot and the rain doesn’t just fall overnight, but rather over the weekend…all the weekends, 14 out of 17 so far in 2023.
Surely it will be different in May. Maybe all the kids who have been stuck in school all week while the sun shines, anticipating all their myriad weekend outdoor activities will actually get to do them this month. Their parents certainly hope so.
The Accidental Cottage Garden (ACG) is really waking up. Besides the Siberian wall flower (Cheiranthus allioni) mentioned last month she now sports Bath’s pink dianthus (Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Bath’s Pink) in profusion, English daisies (Bellis perennis) and a couple of bearded iris cultivars (Iris germanica). The peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) have come and gone, but the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) has been blooming for three weeks.
The 200k + wildflower seeds that were sewn in March have nearly all germinated. (You know I went out and counted them.) There will be a veritable meadow in a cigar box when they start blooming. Also, at least half of the 100 sunflower seeds have survived the ravages of squirrels, field mice and birds. This year promises to be another exciting season in the garden waiting to see what will bloom next.

There is a plethora of things to do in and around the garden this month. Here’s a guide to keep you from being overwhelmed.

LAWN CARE: As April was mostly Mayish it turned out to be good advice last month when I indicated that you could fertilize warm season grasses (Bermuda and zoysia) last month. If you missed that, May is not too late.
This month you can now feed centipede its once a year chemical meal.
You can also fertilize cool season grasses (fescue, bluegrass & perennial rye) now, but be judicious with the quantity and use a balanced (10-10-10 or equivalent) product.
Mow cool season grasses at 3”- 4” and warm season grasses at 1 ½”- 2”.

FERTILIZING: Crops that produce over a long period of time (think tomatoes, squash, beans, etc.) will reward you with higher yields if you feed them about now (or next week).
Summer blooming flowers, but not wildflowers, would also be pleased with a bit of extra sustenance this month. Wildflowers prefer to fend for themselves. They aren’t called “wild” for nothing.
Non-native rhododendrons and azaleas can be treated to a meal of acid producing fertilizer provided your FREE SOIL TEST indicated a high pH (>6).

PLANTING: Oh, boy!! It’s May. We can plant from dawn ‘til dusk (if someone will come by and help us get back up at the end of the day and/or make a PT appointment for us).
Beans such as green, snap, pole, bush, lima/butter (no DNA difference, y’all), melons, like cantaloupe, watermelon, honey dew, etc., cucumbers, corn, southern peas, squash of all sorts, pumpkins, eggplant, okra (toward the end of the month), all of the myriad varieties of peppers and, of course, tomatoes can all be planted with abandon.
Gladioli bulbs, begonias, geraniums and anything else you didn’t optimistically plant last month when it was 85 degrees outside and you were sure summer had arrived can be stuck in the ground now.

PRUNING: Spring flowering shrubs (forsythia, camellias, azaleas, etc.) can be safely pruned after the blooms fade. It is generally safe to prune azaleas up to the Fourth of July without jeopardizing next year’s flower production.
Properly sized at planting Encore azaleas should require very little in the way of pruning. However, if a stray branch or two should insult your sense of aesthetics, you should prune the offenders in the spring immediately after the spring bloom period.
Pinch back garden mums until mid-July for fall floral displays.
Hand prune leaf galls from azaleas and camellias. They ain’t purty, but neither are they particularly harmful.
Let’s talk about spring bulbs for a minute. I know what your grandmother did and her grandmother and lord knows how many grandmothers before that, but please do not cut the foliage off as soon as the flowers fade. I know you have heard of photosynthesis (You’re smart enough to be reading this.), so here’s the deal. The leaves produce sugar via photosynthesis (The editor won’t let me explain all that process in this post. Read the book.) and send it down to the bulb where it is stored in starch form to be used next spring to make pretty flowers again. Cut off the foliage prematurely and sacrifice the health of the bulbs. Eventually, no blooms. Are we good here?

SPRAYING: AN UNPAID PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: When thinking about spraying for most insects, check the suspect plants to see if there really are insects and if the damage is enough to affect the health (or aesthetic) of the plant. If not, hold off with the pesticide treatment. Preventative treatment should be left to those producing commercially.
That said, spray the following species for borers (which you most likely will not see even if you look): azaleas, blueberries (Remember somebody’s gonna eat ‘em eventually.), iris and start spraying squash continuing until mid-June.
Scout coniferous evergreens for bag worms and spider mites. Bag worms should be out of the bag, so to speak, for a couple of weeks this month which makes them infinitely more vulnerable to chemical control.
Other six and eight legged critters on the loose beginning this month include azalea lace bugs (who have only been inactive when the leaf surface temperature was under about 40 degrees F), boxwood leaf miners (They will appear as fly-like adults this month and like bag worms are easier to treat than when they are mining. You can see their little lamps inside the leaf, but you can’t get to them.), euonymus and tea scales on euonymus (Where’d you think?) and camellias (where tea comes from—C. sinensis), spider mites especially on coniferous evergreens, and aphids on any plant ever catalogued by a horticulturist anywhere, and finally, white flies.
Monitor tomatoes for early and /or late blight. Spray an appropriate fungicide (early for early and later for late—surprisingly enough).

It’s May Y’all. Do we really need an excuse to be outside? Seriously? Just grab a beverage and sit on the deck, porch, patio, front lawn it matters not and watch stuff grow. It’s growing that fast right now. Enjoy May. Next month it’ll be too something (hot, humid, buggy, whatever) for some folks.
Happy Cinco de Mayo and Memorial Day! (Thank a vet.)

Hi, it’s your friendly Editor here with a link to more details about Photosynthesis! It’s not a book but it’ll get you started.

Free Soil Tests: it’s that time of year. Here’s how to test your soil.

Shortlink: https://wp.me/p2nIr1-3nk