Though it hardly feels like summer, the half-crazed look of freedom in the eyes of students, college and otherwise, tells a different story. In the garden, the detritus of spring is ready to be cleared away and dead-headed, while summer's bounty is emerging in the form of early strawberries, artichokes and even a few raspberries. Read on to learn what to do for your garden in June.
Plant some glorious Alstroemeria. If you have some money burning a hole in your pocket, run out to the nursery and pick up a Peruvian lily. These florists' favorites last for about 10 days in a vase, and come in such a wide array of colors that I can always find a new one to spruce up some as yet un-spruced area of my garden. They come in shades of canary yellow, brilliant orange, cherry red, peachy champagne, coral, white and purple. Just make sure you purchase a named variety with a politely clumping habit, as some of the plants merely labeled "pink" or "variegated" are rampant garden thugs. Consider trying the wildly vivid new variety 'Rock and Roll,' which has variegated foliage emerging gold and maturing to cream, with flowers in a deep orangey-red. Despite the name, it is as well-behaved as it is fun to look at.
Repair dog damage in the lawn. While the usual Humboldt County rains rinse away urine and keep it from killing the lawn, with the warm, dry weather come additional garden tasks: rinsing, raking and seeding. If you can catch dog patches in the lawn quickly and flush them with water, it's usually not a problem, but if the acidity from dogs sits on the lawn for any length of time, it will usually create a dead patch. To repair, rake out any dead lawn, apply fresh lawn seed mixed with compost and a sprinkle of horticultural lime to neutralize the acid, and keep the area watered until the seeds have taken root.
Fertilize rhododendrons and azaleas around Father's Day. Acid-loving evergreens should be fertilized three times per year: Valentine's Day, Father's Day and again around November. This helps the plants set buds for next year's bloom, encourages them to hold their foliage longer so the plants stay more full and less leggy, and helps promote healthy leaves and a strong root system. I use a granular organic fertilizer such as Gardner and Bloome for acid-loving plants, and scatter it underneath the entire canopy of the plant, focusing on the outer edges where the foliage stops.
Fertilize plants that produce fruit or bloom heavily. Most modern fruits, vegetables and flowers such as roses or peonies have been bred to have ever-larger fruits and blooms. This reproductive cycle takes a toll on plants, so for the plants from which we ask so much, I usually offer the boost of an organic fertilizer application at this time of year to provide a bit of extra support. While native shrubs and ornamentals with unassuming flowers can do without, give everything else a dusting of an all-purpose, slow-releasing granular organic fertilizer for a gentle boost in the coming months.
Raise the mowing height to preserve moisture in lawns. One of the simplest ways to save water on your lawn and thus keep it green and healthy is to adjust the mower to a height of 3 or 4 inches, usually the tallest setting. By mowing high, the blades of grass can provide shade to the root system and keep it cool and moist. Not only that, but a taller lawn helps keep new weed sprouts from getting a foothold by shading them out. While many people mow their lawn as low as possible, there is absolutely no reason or excuse for such a water- and fertilizer-intensive routine, unless you are running a golf course. That said, don't take my urging for a taller lawn as an excuse to let things go; it's important not to cut any more than one third of the grass blades off in each run, or you risk killing the grass.
Plant a variety of vegetables. We are in major big-time vegetable gardening season, and I'm guessing you're joining me in excitedly harvesting the fruits of an early summer season. Now's the time to plant seeds for greens such as arugula, chard, lettuce and spinach, roots such as carrots and parsnips, as well as dill, beans, sunflowers and basil, and corn inland. You can still plant starts of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, nightshades such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant inland or in a hot microclimate, as well as squash and pumpkins of all kinds. But hurry it up — our lack of heat on the coast gives us a lackluster summer growing season, so the sooner you plant your harvestables, the better.
Clear up bulb foliage once it has withered. With the beauty of spring bulbs behind us, we are left with their bedraggled remains yellowing and turning brown. Once the dry husks of foliage let you know that the plants have finished taking back the nutrients from their leaves and storing them in their bulbs, you can clear away the old foliage and start the countdown for next year's display.
Deadhead roses. After that first delicious burst of blooms from your roses, the brown petals clinging to the tip of the stem can be kind of a buzzkill, and leaving the dead flowers can send a signal to your roses that they need not bother blooming again. Cut off any finished flowers to the nearest outward facing leaf with five leaflets, which will stimulate a new flowering stem to grow and prolong your season of color.
Catch the HBGF garden tour. The Humboldt Botanical Gardens Foundation puts on a garden tour every two years, and for those of us who pore over the gardening glossies and pin the latest plants on Pinterest, this is a can't-miss opportunity to see what real gardeners can do here. The gardens represent a variety of styles, and the quirkier places become a talking point for years among Humboldt's gardening geekerati. The tour is on June 22 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and this year it is centered in the Eureka area. Tickets are available in advance from pretty much every nursery and garden shop from McKinleyville to Fortuna. Hope to see you there!
Genevieve Schmidt is a landscape designer and owns a fine landscape maintenance company in Arcata. Visit her on the web at www.GenevieveSchmidtDesign.com.