When you start gardening, the biggest lesson is knowing what to do when. Good timing gives you plenty of blooms in their seasons, and makes planting go smoothly, with plants developing quickly. It prevents (or greatly reduces) winter injury and drought problems, and it makes your work much more effective. In different parts of the country there will be, because of climate, variations in timing different garden tasks, with wider or smaller windows, but overall there is a rhythm to gardening that is pretty much the same everywhere, except for the most extreme locations.
June is the month when things really start to happen in the garden. It is often the month with the maximum blooms on trees and plants, and the time of most rapid growth. It can also be overwhelming, especially if you have put off jobs that could have been done earlier. A big part of the reason for following an annual schedule is to spread the work around, so your garden doesn’t run away from you, and turn from a place of beauty into an overgrown jungle. Let’s look at the jobs that should get priority this month, to help your garden thrive, and keep your gardening time under control.
In most areas this is the month to prune those shrubs that blooms in spring, if you didn’t already do it in May. If you leave it longer there will not be time for new growth to fully develop, meaning fewer flowers next spring. For many spring blooming plants, including white-flowering Spirea and Forsythia, remove the stems that have flowered. You may feel this leaves your plants looking very thin, but don’t worry, in a few weeks they will fill out again, and bloom so much better next year.
Of course, there are plenty of shrubs that don’t need pruning, particularly evergreen ones like Azalea and Rhododendron. Unlike some other shrubs and trees, these don’t have attractive seed heads or fruits, so we don’t want them to spend their energy making seeds – we would rather they put their work into flower buds for next year. Removing the flower heads once the last blooms have faded is an important job that is often overlooked. Yes, it can be a little tedious, but the results are well worth it. It is much quicker and better to learn how to do this with your fingers rather than pruners.
Take hold of the spent flower-head and snap it to one side, pinching slightly just above the first leaf at the same time. With some practice you will find it easy and quick to do. On rhododendrons you can see the buds just below the flower cluster. By this month it may be a bit late, and new shoots will already by showing, but that makes it easier to see what to do, and you will still reap the benefit.
Deadheading is the secret to keeping flowering plants in bloom, from pansies to roses. Removing spent flowers keeps them going strong, and all smart gardeners learn to do it almost by instinct as they walk around their gardens.
Fill in Gaps
Once June is underway you can see pretty clearly any spaces in your beds. Of course they might be there to allow room for plants that haven’t grown much yet, but if not, this is a great time to fill those gaps. Consider what is around them – do you want to put in a shrub that blooms at the same time, or at a different season? Do you want foliage and color contrast, or will that detract from an existing specimen plant? What shape should it be – rounded, upright or weeping? What about color of the flowers or foliage? Once you have an idea of what you need, choosing something new is much easier – it’s always better to shop with a purpose, although there is also usually room in the garden for that impulse buy of the plant that grabs your heart.
Candling Pine Trees
Depending where you are, this job is done is May or early June, on all dwarf pines, such as Mugo Pine or Dwarf White Pine. It is also the secret to those amazing trees in Japanese gardens, with their flat, sweeping branches. Like deadheading it’s a simple job once you get the knack. Wait until the new stems have grown out, but before the needles expand. This is the ‘candle’ stage. Simply take hold of the soft young stem and snap it, removing the upper part. How much you remove depends on your goal. To keep your pines really small and dense, remove all but the lowest half-inch. For more open growth, but for a dense look, remove about half the candle. Instead of producing one or two buds for the following year, candled stems will produce a whole cluster, making a much denser plant, and keeping it smaller at the same time.
You can also candle other needle evergreens, like spruce and fir, and it is a great way to control their growth and keep them really dense and neat. The plants look much better – and grow better too – than taking shears to them.
Wow, we all hate weeding, although there is something meditative about pulling weeds, no? OK, perhaps not. . . The secret to weeding is to plan not to do it all. Yes, you can avoid it almost altogether if you combine mulching with using a Dutch hoe. That tool is loved by many professional nurserymen, but often unknown to gardeners. Track one down – it is the hoe with a flat, forward-pointing blade, which lays on the ground, not the one with a blade pointing downwards. It is also called a scuffle hoe. That name tells you how to use it. Scuffle it back and forth over the soil surface, just disturbing the upper half-inch. Keep it sharp with a file and use it often – every week or two. Don’t wait until you see the weeds, and certainly not until they get large. The scuffling action disturbs new seedling weeds, and cuts through the stem of larger ones. They usually die immediately, but if you have let them grow too large they may re-sprout. Don’t worry, you will get them the next time around. Even big, established perennial weeds can be destroyed this way, if you keep it up. Once you have kept your beds clean for a few seasons you will find that the growth of new weeds is greatly reduced – the seed will have been all used up.
Combine hoeing with mulching, which should have been done in early spring. Use rich organic mulches like compost, rather than bark or gravel, as a rich mulch feeds your soil and plants, even if it needs renewing after a few years. Mulch conserves moisture too.