by Joan Hinkemeyer
June is “bustin’
out all over” – or so the words of an old song proclaim.
In most years we
gardeners revel in June’s freshness when trees and shrubs are in full leaf, the
first glorious explosion of perennials appears and we can give full attention
to our gardens.
year’s higgledy-piggledy weather pattern has lessened June’s freshness, this
first month of summer still offers its usual promise. Since gardeners have
always been an optimistic, resilient lot, we too will adapt to nature’s
challenges just as gardeners have done for generations.
Although our energies will focus on
fledgling vegetable, herb and flower gardens, we must also do some pruning now.
Any spring-blooming shrub (lilacs, forsythia, quince) that has become overgrown
must be pruned ASAP if you want to see blossoms next spring because the nucleus
for new blossoms is already forming.
We gardeners know that gardening is always a
gamble, but it can be more difficult in a drought year. To manage water more
efficiently, use mulch and floating row cover in vegetable gardens. That will
help retain moisture, enrich the soil and the cover will also deter insects.
Then, too, you can minimize indoor water use by re-cyling
and composting all fruit and vegetable waste rather than running your garbage
disposal. Rain barrels are useful, but they can be mosquito breeders, so
caution is urged there.
Q. Our lilacs have become wildly
overgrown, so that it’s difficult to know where to begin to prune. Someone
suggested just cutting them to the ground and that they would then grow out to
a manageable shape. Ideas?
A. Actually, this will work very well. That
happened to me. I had permitted my lilacs to grow to their heart’s content to
shield me from a next door eyesore. My tree man cut
them to the ground a year ago, and I now have this lovely new growth that I can
control and will be able to enjoy. Lilacs are really tough, so go ahead and
enjoy your new improved shrubs.
Q. A friend has offered me cuttings of
some of her heirloom peonies, but we don’t know when to do this.
A. Peony cuttings and transplanting should
be done in mid-September when the nights are cooler. That also is time enough
for them to establish themselves before winter sets in. Peonies require morning
sunlight (never hot western blazes) and well-drained rich soil. Plant the pink
nodes with only about 2-3 inches of soil covering them. If you plant too
deeply, the plants will take forever to bloom. Pinch off any buds that appear
the first year to permit the plant’s energy to go to establishing a strong root
system. Expect full blossoms in three years. Peonies last for YEARS, so give
them a good home to start.
Q. Our grandchildren (5 and 7) will be
with us this summer. Can you suggest some flowers to add to our landscape that
will attract bees, especially bumblebees, and butterflies so we can teach them
A. Great idea. My sister and I were on an
insect kick one summer. We learned lots and stayed out of our mother’s hair,
albeit briefly. Bees and butterflies require water, food and shelter.
Butterflies want flat flower clusters (coneflowers, Shasta daisies, yarrow,
butterfly weed, allium, scabiosa, columbine, aster,
etc.) that offer a stable landing surface while they feed. Maintain an organic
landscape, offer a variety of color and fragrance and birdhouses and you will
be pleasantly surprised at the many tiny visitors to your little spot of
paradise, because plants attracting insects also attract birds. I’m certain you
will also check your local branch library for books on butterflies, bees and
birds to enrich the children’s experiences.
Q. Two years ago we planted a natural
landscape using native plants and drought-tolerant wildflowers. What once was
tidy is now a jungle with wildflowers growing in increasingly invasive
groundcover and shrub suckers everywhere. Help!
A. You need to do some ruthless plant
editing. Remove anything you don’t want, painful as it may be. Nature doesn’t
respect human boundaries. Plant roots reach for optimal soil, temperature and
space. Wildflower seeds are dispsersed by wind, birds
and even our pets. Wild cottage gardens aren’t really wild. Loving gardeners
control abundant plant growth and regularly fill barren spots with new plants,
annual, perennial or herb.
the haven your garden offers you this month of promise. Remember that gardening
is always a dynamic, evolving process. Immerse yourself in that process, but
always take time to smell the roses ... or thyme, whichever pleases you.