June: Sass and class in the summer garden


“Gardeners have to be a combined chemist, botanist and meteorologist to carry all such information in one’s head and be able to send it forth when visitors pose embarrassing questions.”

— Dr. E.J. Salisbury W ater is one of the most important and precious natural resources necessary for a healthy and bountiful garden. However, the combination of last year’s drought-like conditions and the uncharacteristic mild winter weather may have taken a toll on gardens.

So let’s see what can be done to withstand whatever Mother Nature has in store this summer, while using water wisely.

To start, build great soil. Mix in rich organic matter when planting. A good garden soil helps protect plants from over- or under-watering by holding onto moisture and releasing it as needed. It also provides enough air space for roots to grow and breathe.

Mulch everything. A3-inch layer around your plants helps reduce evaporation from the soil surface and cuts down on soil crusting, which reduces water infiltration. Mulching also blocks water-stealing weeds by reducing access to sunlight.

Timely and gentle liquid feeding is an easy and convenient way to nourish your plants with both water and plant nutrients.

Water wisely! When additional watering is necessary, do so between 6-10 a.m. to reduce losses from evaporation.

The year 2012 has been designated the Year of the Geranium. When shopping for these attractive, dependable and durable plants, choose plants based on color and size.

Look for healthy leaves, with no discolored spots above or underneath, compact growth with no straggly stems, and no obvious pests.

Geraniums are universally liked because of their long-lasting flower displays, but make sure they will get at least four to six hours of direct sunlight daily. Protect them from strong winds and assure good air circulation. Geraniums are well-behaved, lowmaintenance and high-performance garden queens, perfect for any spot that calls for a splash of color throughout the summer.

Eager to try something new? A wonderful summer perennial, phlox, has been around for decades and has never been out of fashion. Many special qualities make it a desirable addition to your perennial garden.

The wonderful color palette ranges from white to pink, deep crimson, lavender, mauve and many more pale, muted colors — just one of the reasons you should grow this dependable perennial.

Attractive to beneficial insects, strong, not easily giving in to dry periods, and longlasting flower power — what is there not to like about phlox? Phlox paniculata and phlox maculata are preferred in sunny borders, a joy for your eyes for many weeks.

Remember: In the first year, grasses sleep, in the second year they creep, and in the third year they leap. So keep this in mind when planting any of the wonderful grasses available to us.

A15-foot stalk towering over you might not be what you envisioned when you planted the diminutive plant two years ago. Think carex, hakonechloa or pennisetum. These grasses will be manageable. Be very aware of the long-lasting effects of bamboo; it will turn out to be a foe, not a friend, unless you keep its roots imprisoned in a solid, large container.

What to do now:

• Continue to plant warm-weather flowers, vegetables and herbs.

• Keep your plants well mulched and beds weeded.

• Prune or cut back spring-flowering shrubs immediately after flowering (azalea, cotinus, quince, forsythia, deutzia, mockorange, rhododendron, spirea, styrax jap. and lilac.

• Remove spent flowers from annuals to stretch the blooming season.

• Trim back spring-blooming clematis after flowering.

• Continue to fertilize roses and treat with fungicide as needed.

Happy gardening!

Gotti Kelley, a past president of the Navesink Garden Club, also serves on the board of The Garden Club of New Jersey and Central Atlantic Region of National Garden Clubs.