Sara Swanson

June Gardening Advice 2017

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by Jennifer Fairfield

Editor’s Note: Manchester resident Jennifer Fairfield owns and operates the Garden Mill in Chelsea, serves on the Manchester Community Garden Committee, and volunteers with the school gardens at Klager and the MECC.

How did it get to be June already?! I have no idea where the first five months of this year went – especially the last 31 days. In April, when we were getting temps in the 70s and 80s, I thought I would have my entire garden planted by mid-May. Then May came along, and we had temperatures more like early April, along with what seemed like endless rain. It was impossible to get anything done in the garden. So now, I’m behind – I haven’t gotten my tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant transplanted into the garden, nor have I planted any beans yet. That will change this weekend – regardless of what Mother Nature has in mind. If I have to be out planting in thunderstorms, I will!

Don’t let things get in your way this month – it’s time to get planting:

  • If you haven’t gotten your warm-weather vegetable and herb plants in yet, you should do that ASAP. Many of them need all summer to really produce, so the longer you wait, the less you will likely get from them. It’s really getting too late to even think about planting these plants from seed in the garden now – there won’t be enough time for them to grow to maturity at this point – so get plants that have already been started. This will give you a jump on the necessary growing time. This is true for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and squash, and even some cucumbers, though there may be time enough for seeds of those if you hurry. If you are considering planting seeds, check the seed packet for the “days to maturity.” That’s how long it takes from the time the seeds first come out of the ground to when the plants will begin to produce. Since our average first frost is around October 5, we have just about four months for growing. If a tomato seed takes 10 days to germinate and 90 days to maturity, then you won’t even begin to see tomatoes until just before it starts to frost, let alone get many tomatoes!
  • The time to stake or cage your plants is when you are putting them in. If your tomatoes are the type that will do better with staking or caging, doing that now will help ensure that you don’t damage the roots trying to get them in later. Peppers and eggplants also often do better when staked, so put the stakes in when you put the plants in.
  • The other thing to do as soon as you plant your tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers (and really everything else), is to begin a program of spraying your plants with fungicide. If we continue to get the amount of rain we have been, conditions will be ripe for diseases that can decimate your garden. The only way to deal with these issues is through prevention, as once the diseases set in, there is nothing you can do to stop them. So, start spraying early, and keep doing it. Follow directions on the fungicide’s packaging to determine how much and how often. If you’re not sure what to use, come talk to us – we have a few options, depending on what you are growing.
  • Plant bush bean seeds now, and for the next few weeks. Bush beans produce in one big flush over a week or two, so planting some every couple of weeks into mid to late June will ensure that you have a continuous harvest all the way up to first frost. You can also plant successions of beets, carrots, dill, parsley, and cilantro through the end of July to ensure a prolonged harvesting season. You can still plant pole beans now, but don’t delay too much longer. Unlike bush beans, pole beans produce throughout the season – all the way to frost – but they need a little longer to start producing, so get them going now.
  • Cabbage and broccoli can be started at the end of the month or early July for fall harvest. Plant seeds directly into the garden, or start them indoors and transplant the seedlings into your garden by late August. They’ll be ready to eat by late September or early October. To protect these cool-weather loving plants from the heat of summer, try planting them in a shady part of your garden or in the shade of other plants, or use shade covers to keep them cool.
  • Keep your gardens weeded. Pulling weeds out when they are small makes it much easier to get the whole thing, and keeps the weed from spreading as easily. I try to fit in a little bit of weeding at a time, while I’m doing other things, such as planting beans – that way I don’t notice that I’m actually working at weeding.
  • If you’re hoping to grow flowers, and haven’t gotten those seeds or plants in the ground yet, don’t wait much longer. If you’re putting in plants, don’t forget to mulch around them when you plant. Mulch is just about the most important thing you can do for your plants – it helps keep moisture in, maintains moderate soil temperatures, and keeps weeds down. If planting seeds, mulch as soon as the plants are big enough not to get crushed by the mulch, and keep them well-watered in the meantime. Of course, Mother Nature seems to be doing a great job of keeping things watered, without our help, so far – but that could change at any moment, so keep an eye on the weather, and water whenever Mother Nature isn’t providing at least an inch per week. Invest in a good rain gauge to help you keep track of the amount of rain we get – it helps take the guesswork out of the whole watering thing.
  • Be sure to pay extra attention to anything you have just planted (or are going to plant) this spring. Newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials need to be well-watered as they are getting established. They aren’t as good at taking up water from the soil as plants that have been there for one or more years, so you need to make sure that you are keeping the soil properly hydrated. If we continue to get the kind of rain we have been, that shouldn’t be a problem, but you just can’t count on Mother Nature being cooperative, so stay vigilant.
  • Water your container plants regularly – especially any that are under porches or eaves (like window boxes), since they often don’t get the benefit of the rain. Soil in containers dries out much more quickly than in the ground, even more so if the containers are in the sun and exposed to the wind. Don’t forget that plants in containers need to be fertilized on a regular basis, mostly because you will be flushing out what fertilizer is in the soil with all the water you are giving them. Just be careful not to fertilize more than is suggested on the label of the product you are using – chemical fertilizers can cause “burn” on your plants when over-applied. Fertilizer burn happens because most chemical fertilizers contain salts, which draw the moisture out of your plants. Slow-release and organic fertilizers can help to prevent fertilizer burn.
  • Speaking of containers, indoor plants can benefit from spending the summer outdoors, but be sure to place them in a spot where they will be protected from winds and where they will get some filtered sun throughout the day. Houseplants are not used to the direct sun, and can be easily scorched if they are not given a little shade. They will also dry out more quickly outdoors than in, so be sure to increase your watering schedule. And don’t forget to fertilize them!
  • Are you planning to do some planting of trees, shrubs, and perennials yet this year? June can be a good month to do that, especially if you or Mother Nature are sure to keep them well-watered. If you are looking for some ideas of what to plant, consider planting natives that will attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial species. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been working on removing some of my lawn and replacing it with native flowers, grasses, and trees. I have a couple of reasons for doing this, but the biggest one is to cut down on the amount of time and effort that goes into keeping up the perfect lawn, not to mention the cost of fuel, fertilizers, and pesticides. Some statistics that are a little mind-boggling to me about lawn upkeep are:
    • Americans spend more than $40 billion on lawn care every year
    • 9 billion gallons of water are used, every day, in the US, just to take care of residential lawns
    • Americans use 90 million pounds of fertilizer and 78 million pounds of pesticides on lawns every year
    • 17 million gallons of gas are spilled every year in the US, in the process of refueling lawn equipment
  • My other reason for converting lawn to gardens is to help the bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. We are losing our honey bees at an alarming rate – though last year’s rate of loss was a little lower than the last few in Michigan, honey bee keepers still lost around 20% of their bees. Monarch and other butterfly species are also declining. We can help to slow down that process, though. One way is by planting native plants that provide sources of food for larvae and adults. Some of the best plants native to Michigan for bees and butterflies include penstemon, coneflower, asters, and milkweed.
  • I’ve had a number of people tell me they haven’t been seeing as many Baltimore orioles or hummingbirds at their feeders this year, and they can’t figure out why. I have seen them at my feeders, though they were later arriving than usual, but only by a few days. I had the opportunity to speak with one of our local experts, who told me that large numbers of our hummingbirds were delayed by storms, but they have been starting to show up more and more in the last couple of weeks, so don’t despair! Keep your feeders clean and full (change the nectar at least once per week at this time of year, and more frequently as the temperatures go up). One thing to keep in mind – all the rain we’ve been getting could be diluting the nectar in your feeders, making it less attractive to the birds, so you might want to refill your feeders after a good rain.
  • Water is just as important to your backyard birds as it is to your plants. Birds need good sources of clean water for drinking and bathing, and even if we have been getting a lot of rain, it doesn’t mean that there is always a water source nearby for the birds. If you don’t already have one, consider putting out a birdbath for your feathered friends. If you have one, make sure you keep it cleaned out and filled with water. Replacing the water every day will be as beneficial to you as the birds – it helps keep mosquitoes from laying their eggs in the water. Another option is to keep the water moving. Birds love moving water, and mosquitoes don’t!  Adding a fountain or “water wiggler” to the birdbath will make your birds happy and help to reduce the number of mosquitoes.
  • At this time of year, birds are busy raising their young. While you are out in your yard and garden, keep an eye out for baby birds so that you don’t inadvertently harm them. Whether or not you should do anything to help a baby bird you find in your yard depends on a number of things.

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