Friday, June 29, 2012

July Calendar

If I were limited to one plant family (Heaven forbid) it would be hydrangeas.  They come into their own in July, which is when I settle in for the summer, or try to.  I miss the peonies and iris almost every year, but have never missed the hydrangeas.  The two northeast native hydrangea species that work for us in the Catskills are arborescens, and quercifolia.  The macrophylla, though risky here, is too good to resist, so we have taken a flyer. The temperamental Nikko Blue will not bloom well this year because of a late spring frost, but we have last year to remember.  Petiolaris is clambering over a shed, for late summer we’ve planted Tardiva, and we are ready for further trials.

Early Stage Arborescens

Preparation and maintenance are not difficult. For best performance, the soil should be amended with organic material, acid in character, and well-drained. Moisture seems to be the critical growth factor.  Hydrangeas must be well-watered; a drooping plant is a sure sign there is not enough moisture in the soil.  As the summer sun swings around on its daily course and hits the plant directly, you can watch an under-watered hydrangea wilt.

Unidentified Hydrangea in a Connecticut Garden

Pruning, on the other hand is tricky.  If your hydrangea refuses to bloom, incorrect pruning is likely to be the culprit.  It is a tricky task, and your best guide is Michael Dirr’s masterly book, Hydrangeas.

Week One
Enjoy the holiday weekend.  Everything can wait.
Beware of ticks.  This is supposed to be a particularly bad year.  No flip-flops in the garden, please.     
Keep track of summer dry spells –- when they start and how long they last.  A simple rain gauge will tell you when it’s wise to water.
It’s time to cage or stake tomatoes.  If you stake them they will need to be tied periodically and trimmed.  Remove suckers or short leafy stems that sprout in the axils of the side or main stems.
If you have newly purchased flowers and shrubs, they will be blooming earlier this year than next. Make a note in your journal.

Week Two

Cleome in the Garden

If you missed starting annuals from seed, and didn’t have the foresight to buy flats, your last hope is the potted annual at your local nursery.  They are expensive, but if you missed the boat earlier, it’s still not too late to sail into summer.                                           
For terraces and patios, try herbs in pots instead of flowers.  We are doing it this year, and it’s nice having them closer to the kitchen. 

Week Three

Lay in a good supply of stakes while they are still available. Or make your own by saving twiggy branch cuttings.  They are good for propping up billowy perennials like peonies or baptisia. 
Monarda, Late July

Most flowers will need staking, but if this is not your game observe flowers that can stand on their own feet.  Monarda, daylilies, meadow rue, Shasta daisies are all good bets.  But unless you are mad for monarda, beware.  It takes over.

Set stakes early for all plants likely to need support.  Landscape –size perennials bought late in the season will need them.  Set stakes well below the top of the plants.

Check moisture in large plant containers every three or four days.  Check hanging baskets and small pots daily.
Hellebores are getting better each year.  They are still holding their foliage in our garden, along with the heucheras.

Week Four

Once your annuals start to flower, pick faded flowers so that they don’t form seed pods.  Seed formation drains strength and will prevent reflowering.
If you are growing dahlias and are pinching back for bigger flower heads, cease and desist by August 1.
This is the month when you realize you need a shade tree.  Pick your location now, decide on the tree and place your order for fall planting.
Replenish the mulch in your flower borders to keep roots cool and to maintain moisture in the upcoming dry season.  Water well first so that you are not mulching dry soil. 
H. Nikko Blue, July 4th 2011

If you have plants in containers and are planning a vacation, group them together in the shade, provide each with a good saucer and water thoroughly before leaving.