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Mickey Rathbun: Busy time in the garden

  • Woman is planting marigolds (Tagetes) seedlings in the flower garden, horticulture and the flower planting concept Jurgute—Getty Images/iStockphoto


Thursday, June 07, 2018

With the unusually cold spring we’ve had, I’m having a hard time realizing that summer is upon us. Everything is growing so fast — especially weeds, it seems — you can practically see it happening. That means our gardens need lots of tending.

Some days I think: where do I even begin? Here are some tasks to tackle in the next few weeks:

Invest in a compost delivery and top dress established plants. When planting or dividing, add it liberally to the holes you dig. Your garden will thank you.

Spring-blooming shrubs should be pruned after they’re finished flowering and before they set next spring’s buds. In our area, that means by the first week of July. This includes lilacs, weigela, deutzia and certain viburnums, including the divinely fragrant Korean spice viburnum. Prune out dead or diseased branches, crossing branches and trim for overall shape and size.

Eradicate poison ivy and other pesky weeds when they’re still small. It’s almost too late to go to battle with poison ivy; it seems to have arrived full grown overnight. But if you put on your sturdiest garden gloves, long sleeves and pants and pull it out now, you’ll get a good head start on it. That goes for briars like wild blackberry that have a tendency to smother other shrubs in the landscape. After you work with poison ivy, wash thoroughly with Tech-Nu, or another similar product that neutralizes poison ivy’s toxic oil.

It’s not too early to start deadheading spring-blooming perennials such as Geum and Dicentra formosa. Sheer back perennial geraniums after they’ve bloomed. They’ll look shorn at first but will generate healthy foliage soon and sometimes produce new bloom.

Divide spring flowering perennials after they’ve bloomed.

To be thorough, water the plant well first so it’s hydrated for the upcoming disturbance. Then dig up the entire plant and pull and/or cut apart divisions. If you’re doing it the quick and dirty way, leave the entire plant in the ground and carve out divisions with a sharp trowel.

Fill in the hole with compost and soil. Keep the divisions moist and shaded if you can’t replant them right away.

Add some compost to the new planting holes before replanting. If possible, do this on a cloudy day. Bright sun is a stressor.

I have sometimes resorted to shading new divisions with umbrellas, which works well if it’s not too windy.

If you’re careful, you can divide most perennials pretty much anytime, avoiding the period when they’re in early or full blossom. A few things, like peonies, are tricky. They do not like being disturbed. They have a deep tap root, so if you dig them, wait until fall and then be very careful to dig deeply without severing the root.

Set out hummingbird feeders. Clean them regularly and keep them filled. Make sure bird baths are full. This is especially important if we have a dry spell and birds don’t have access to puddles and other places where they can drink and bathe.

Clean the birdbaths often and refill to disrupt mosquito breeding.

Speaking of water, make sure you keep planters well-watered. They dry out quickly. And keep a close eye on newly planted shrubs and perennials, which need a steady supply of water to become well established. Water deeply and less often. A daily spritz will not reach the roots.

One thing you might not have to do just yet is to get rid of foliage from spring bulbs. The bulbs need the leaves to photosynthesize and provide nourishment for next year’s flowers. Wait until the leaves are dead before cutting them. Don’t tie them up. This will look messy for a while, but be patient.

Stay on top of your weeding and you’ll have a lot less work later in the summer. Use mulch to cover bare spots that weeds thrive in. Consider groundcovers such as Lamium maculatum (dead nettle) to fill in the gaps. It does well in dry shade once established. Depending on the site, lamium needs to be kept in check, but it’s easy enough to do that, and it’s a whole lot prettier than bare dirt and random weeds!

25th  Anniversary Forbes Library Garden Tour

This Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., consider spending a few hours enjoying the seven gardens on the Forbes Library Northampton Garden Tour.

The event raises funds for the Friends of Forbes Library, Inc. to help finance programs and materials for the library. The tour also aims to inspire and educate garden lovers with the chance to visit a variety of appealing landscape styles and collections of garden plantings.

 This year’s gardens are located along a scenic 10-mile route, accessible by car and offering a pleasant bicycle ride. Driving directions are included with the tickets to this self-guided tour.

At each garden there will be handouts with descriptions of the plantings and volunteer garden guides on hand to answer questions.

Tour tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance at Forbes Library, State Street Fruit Store andCooper’s Corner in Northampton, Hadley Garden Center in Hadley, North Country Landscapes and Garden Center in Westhampton and Bay State Perennial Farm in Whately.

On the day of the tour, tickets are $20 and are available only at the library. For details:  www.forbeslibrary.org. For more information, contact: Lyn Heady at 584-7041

Garden field study

On June 19, Berkshire Botanical Garden is sponsoring a tour of two fabulous gardens in Washington, Connecticut: the beautiful, panoramic Highmeadows Garden, the private estate of Linda Allard, and Hollister House, an American interpretation of such classic English gardens as Sissinghurst, Great Dixter and Hidcote.

Linda Allard will provide a tour of her gardens at Highmeadows. A tour of Hollister House will be led by head gardener Krista Adams. 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Cost: members: $50/non-members: $65. Pre-registration required.

Participants should bring a lunch and dress for the weather. Transportation to and from BBG in Stockbridge included in the price and time.

City Spaces, Country Places Garden Tour

The 22nd annual Worcester area garden tour will take place on June 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This self-guided tour gives access to five distinctive private gardens in a variety of sites. Advance Sales: member $20/ non-member $25. Day of tour: member $30/ non-member $35. Tickets purchased by 9 a.m. June 18 will be mailed. Tickets purchased after that must be picked up at Tower Hill Botanic Gardens in Boylston. Directions to the gardens are included in the ticket.

Smell the roses

While you’re out Worcester way, stop by Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston and enjoy the New England Rose Society’s annual show. It takes place June 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There’s a rose sale all day and a rose planting and Q&A with Dave Cannistraro from 11 a.m. to noon. It is free with admission to Tower Hill.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at mickey.rathbun@gmail.com.