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Let’s Get Gardening in June, Part Two

By Jennifer Fairfield, owner the Garden Mill

(Publisher’s note: Part one of this column published yesterday.)

Flowers for sale at the Chelsea Farmers Market.

In the flower garden:
Plant summer-blooming bulbs if you haven’t already. This includes dahlias, gladiolus, lilies, begonias and canna lilies.

Wait to trim back the foliage of your spring blooming bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips and alliums, until the foliage has died completely. Although you may be tempted to trim them sooner to tidy up, leaving the foliage will help the bulb use the sun’s energy to feed itself for next year’s blooms.

June is prime planting time for perennials and annuals, but be sure to water them in well when you plant them, and keep them well-watered throughout the season. Perennials will be spending the summer putting out lots of roots so that they can be well-established when winter hits. Those roots need good watering in order to grow well, and new roots aren’t as efficient at taking up water as established roots.

Annuals, on the other hand, will spend the season putting on a show – they know they won’t make it past this season, so they concentrate on putting out lots of flowers that then turn to seeds. Keep them deadheaded, and they will just keep on producing more flowers in an attempt to produce seeds. Just remember that all that flower production needs water.

Photo by Lisa Carolin. Some of the flowers you will find at the Saturday Chelsea Farmers Market.

Annuals also need to be fertilized regularly throughout the season. Producing flowers takes a lot of energy, which uses up a lot of nutrients. Perennials generally only need one application of fertilizer each spring, as they are starting to put out new growth. For both types, a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus fertilizer is best. Too much nitrogen can produce lots of foliage, but not a lot of flowers, and can cause some plants to get leggy and flop over.

The secret to keeping your container plantings blooming all summer long is to keep them fed and watered. As containers fill up with roots, they don’t hold water very well, so you need to be sure to keep them watered. And, since the plants are in a container, they can’t get their nutrients from the soil around them, unless you provide it. Just be careful not to over-water or over-fertilize, especially with chemical fertilizers.

Too much of a chemical fertilizer can “burn” your plants – a sure way to kill them – and too much water will drown them. If your containers are in a sunny spot, check them at least once per day, and water as needed. Shady spots may not need as much water, but don’t forget about them. And even if we do get some rain, keep an eye on your container plants, as they tend to dry out faster than in-ground plantings.

Trees and shrubs:
Prune back early-blooming shrubs such as forsythia and quince after they have finished blooming. This will encourage new growth and more flowers next spring. If you’re not sure about how or when to prune what shrubs, Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension offers good advice on their website. They have a similar page about pruning trees here.

Be sure to sharpen your pruners before getting to work. Dull pruners can cause a great deal of damage, and clean cuts heal faster.

Don’t “seal” pruning wounds when you prune trees. The old way of thinking was that you needed to, in order to keep diseases from setting in. New information has shown that it isn’t effective, and can actually cause more problems by keeping the area moist. These days, the only time sealing is recommended is if you prune an oak tree any time other than in the dead of winter. The reason for this is that the flowing sap of a freshly cut oak can attract insects that carry oak wilt disease, which is deadly to the tree.

You can pinch back evergreens once they have put out new growth. Pinching the new “candles” back by half will encourage them to bush out. But don’t cut into old wood, as most evergreens won’t produce new shoots from old growth. Not sure what or when to prune/shape your evergreens? The Virginia Cooperative Extension has an easy-to-follow publication on the topic.

Be sure your trees and shrubs have a good layer of mulch over their roots to keep them evenly moist, and to prevent weeds. Mulch should extend out to the tree’s dripline (the circumference of the tree’s canopy), but not be placed right up against the trunk. 

Water trees and shrubs if we aren’t getting sufficient rain (like now). Newly planted trees and shrubs should be carefully watered for the same reason newly planted flowers need to be – they aren’t as good at taking up water while the roots are getting established. But be careful about how you water any tree or shrub. Water infrequently, but deeply.

 You want to encourage the roots to grow deeply, which won’t happen with frequent, shallow watering. Additionally, shallow, frequent watering can cause your plants to suffocate and slowly die. An easy way to keep trees and shrubs watered is with watering bags – just fill them up and walk away: they will slowly empty their contents directly to the soil around you tree or shrub.

Photo by Tom Hodgson. Male hummingbird showing off his red throat.

For the Birds:
When you are out in your yard, keep an eye out for things like killdeer nests (they build their nests on the ground), and be careful to keep activity away from them as much as possible.

Also watch out for baby birds that have left the nest but not yet mastered flight. They probably don’t need your help, unless they are somewhere where they might be in danger, like in the road, but do watch for them as you go about your yard to be sure that you aren’t putting them in danger with things like power equipment.

If find a baby bird in your yard, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers good advice on what to do (or not).

I had lots of Baltimore orioles at my feeders for a while earlier this spring, but they haven’t been coming to the feeders lately. I am hearing them in my yard constantly though, so I know they’re still around. Most likely, they’re busy feeding insects to their young, so aren’t coming to nectar feeders so much. My feeders are still out though. The hummingbirds are happy to drink from them, and once the oriole babies are out of the nest, the parents may bring them to the feeders to help them fatten up for the trip south at the end of the season.

Clean out and refill hummingbird and oriole feeders regularly. Sugar-water left out in the hot sun can quickly spoil, and become bacteria-filled. If it’s really hot, empty, clean, and refill the feeders every two to three days. When it’s not as hot, be sure to clean them out at least weekly.

Remember to clean out and fill your bird baths regularly. Birdbaths provide your birds with a place to get a drink or a good bath, and provide you with lots of entertainment, as you watch them playing in the water. With the heat we have been experiencing, clean water is even more important for the birds, so be sure to empty, clean, and refill baths each day.

Have you been wondering about whether it’s safe to feed your wild birds? Cornell has some updated information on the Avian Flu outbreak, and how to minimize risks.

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