Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ten Terrific Summer Garden Ideas

1. Keep planting in the vegetable garden.

'Freckles' Lettuce

Wise gardeners already have an eye towards the fall harvest season. After Labor Day, tomatoes are on their last legs, zucchini are about shot (or you are sick of them), and summer diseases have ravaged the vine crops. By planting cool loving crops in July and August, you can extend the gardening season to Thanksgiving… and beyond. Beets and carrots can be seeded in July and early August for fall harvest. Cabbage family crops such as broccoli and cauliflower can be transplanted at this time. Check out garden centers for transplants. Also, in places where peas, radish, lettuce, broccoli and other early maturing crops have petered out, consider seeding quick maturing crops like beans and summer squash which can mature in 50-60 days from seed. For a good guide to seeding dates and culture of many vegetable see Penn State’s publication, Vegetable Gardening

2. Try something new.

Ever eat Kohlrabi? Rutabaga? Arugula? You might be surprised to find you love them. Each of these is a great addition to the summer vegetable garden and will be ready for fall harvest. Even if your tastes are not adventurous, you’ll surely find a new kind of lettuce in the gardening catalog. My new garden plant this year is Johnny’s Seeds Salanova lettuces. Check it out! These varieties would make a great addition to the fall garden. Seed in early-mid August.

Oh, and I had to try tomato varieties called Paul Robeson and Blue Beech!
Ok, not into vegetables? How about flowers? If you want to see what’s new in annual flowers, take a ride out to Penn State’s Flower Trials  in Landisville, PA (near Lancaster). More than 1000 cultivars are beautifully displayed and labeled. The public is welcome to visit on weekdays from dawn to dusk (Fridays till 2:30) throughout the summer. This place is a “must do” on my summer calendar. There is a one-day special Summer Garden Experience on July 27 with guided tours of the farm, speakers, and special displays. The event is free but parking is ten bucks.

3. Kill poison ivy.
Poison ivy in bloom

Perhaps only a card carrying member of the Northeast Weed Science Society (like me) would put this on their list of summer fun but there it is. Fact is, mid-summer ‘til frost is an ideal time to tackle this weed. The herbicides triclopyr and glyphosate are the best materials for this job. Triclopyr is found in several products sold in garden centers, sometimes sold as Poison Ivy Killer. In some products, it is pre-mixed with glyphosate. Products containing triclopyr alone will kill poison ivy but will not damage turf grasses. Glyphosate products are “non-selective” and will injure all plants that are contacted. As always follow label instructions. For a more complete discussion of poison ivy, see this.

4. Harvest and enjoy garlic.
July harvested garlic

Ok if you didn’t plant garlic last fall you won’t be harvesting your own this July. In this case, make finding a source of locally grown garlic your mission. Farmers markets and garlic festivals are good places to find some locally adapted “stinking rose”. For those of us with garlic, the rule is to harvest when about 60 % of the leaves have turned brown. Usually this is about the 4th of July… or a bit later. Hang the harvested garlic in a warm, well ventilated place out of the sun such as the rafters of a garage and let them dry down for a few weeks. Then trim the tops off… about an inch above the head and store at room temperature. Of course, enjoy some of that fresh juicy garlic right away. If heads of garlic got a bit over-mature, save these for fall planting or eat right away. Be sure to give a head or two to friends and encourage them to join the garlic growing gang.

5. Plan for late summer turf renovations.
Kids like lawns
Penn State agronomists continually remind us that late summer is the best time to renovate an old lawn or start a new lawn from scratch. Why? Because conditions are excellent for grass seed germination and this is followed by perfect condition for continued growth. Soil is warm, days are cooling, weed pressure is reduced, rainfall is plentiful… perfect for our cool season turfgrass species such as Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and fine fescues. So, set a target date in the last week of August or the first week of September. Follow guidelines in Penn State’s lawn renovation fact sheet . You’ll want to be prepared with soil fertility information (pH, nutrient and organic matter levels), so soil test in July or early August. See this to learn how to submit sample to Penn State for analysis.

6. Pinch and Prune
Guess what
While the old saying “prune when the knife is sharp” may be a bit too liberal, the window of opportunity to prune is wider than most folks think. Forsythia over grown? Prune it. Missed thinning out the Wigelia? Do it in July. Didn’t pinch the mums? No wonder they are so straggly! I weed whack my Nipponanthemum nipponicum every 4th of July to keep the plants compact and the bloom upright. Late summer is probably not an idea time to do major pruning but July has some good possibilities. Here is a great Penn State guide to pruning woody landscape plants.

7. Start a compost pile.

Two bin turning unit

As summer progresses, mounds of organic matter begin to accumulate. Grass clippings, garden cleanup stuff, melon rinds and corn husks from a picnic…. all great stuff for a compost pile. If composting is new to you, here  is one of many great guides that will get you started. Turn that trash into treasure. It’s black gold for the garden. If you encounter compost questions as you go, please call us at Bucks County Extension (215-345-3283) to discuss your situation.

8. Visit gardens and arboreta near and far.

Longwood Gardens
If a picture is worth a thousand words imagine the volumes of information you will get by visiting a new garden. This might be a friend’s place down the street or the bulb display in Keukenhof ! Well, save the Keukenhof trip for next Spring. But you don’t have to go to Holland to see world-class gardens. Longwood, Chanticleer, Scott Arboretum, Henry Schmieder Arboretum, Burpee’s Fordhook Farm and many, many more outstanding places in our neighborhood will provide a shot of garden inspiration. Plan to visit one interesting place this summer. Don’t forget Penn State’s Trial Gardens in Landisville.

9. Find a place to plant a tree this fall.

Balled and Burlap Tree Planting

I have been appreciating some of the trees that Penn State Master Gardeners have planted in our Almshouse Arboretum over the last 6 years. It’s amazing how fast they grow. Maybe your own property doesn’t need a tree. I’ll bet you can find a place that does. Schools, parks, churches, municipal grounds and other public places need trees. Get involved. Start a tree planting program of your own… or join an existing one like PHS’s Plant One Million .

Fall is an excellent time to plant trees and shrubs. What to plant? You’ll find good suggestions here  .

10. Hug a bug.
Praying Mantis
Ok, not literally…. but consider doing something nice for an insect. And you don’t have to become a beekeeper to do some good.
For some people, hugging a bug seems counter-intuitive. All bugs are bad to some folks. Certainly gardeners experience their share of destructive insects. Most of us have been stung, literally once or twice in our lives and this leaves a lasting impression. But the vast majority of insects we meet are nice creatures… simply going about their business. And some researchers are pointing out that we may be taking for granted the “free services” that many insects provide, especially the insects that serve as pollinators…. the bugs that move pollen from flower to flower. In many cases, this service is an essential part of seed and fruit production. Lots of these insects are bees….all kinds of bees. Tiny ones and big bumblebee-like ones and everything in between. Most of us will never know their names.

So how can you figuratively hug a bug. Plant them something they like! Make it part of your garden. Herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees can all serve as food and shelter for insects. Want more information? See this. I found this very nice guide by poking around the site. Really into it? Get your garden certified as pollinator friendly.