Some things in the garden need to be planned out in advance while others happen by chance. For instance, this year when our spring rain stopped dead in its tracks, I gave up adding any more acidifier to my hydrangeas. You need to change the pH of the soil around hydrangeas well before they set buds. I like Mother Nature to water for me early in the season and she didn't cooperate. As luck would have it, the flowers this year are majestic purple, mauve and magenta where before they were sky blue. Frankly, I'm thrilled with this years color palette. Hooray for serendipity.
Early summer is the right time, however, for many other garden activities that you don't want to leave to chance.
Homemade bug spray
Many plants, both vegetable and ornamental, are bothered by aphids and other sucking insects as well as foliage and flower eating bugs. From cucumber beetles, flea beetles, stink bugs, weevils, curculios to borers, the list of trouble makers is endless. To help deter them, mix up some pepper spray in your kitchen.
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce or 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 quart warm tap water
Let stand for one hour, strain and spray plants either in the morning or evening.
Fertilize fruit trees
Apply the second fertilizer application for the year to your citrus and fruit trees. The last one should be immediately after harvest. Apply the fertilizer to the soil around the drip line of the tree where feeder roots are located and scratch into the surface. Water well. As with all fertilizers, make sure the trees are moist before you fertilize. Young trees in their first, second or third growing season should receive half the rate of established trees.
If your fruit trees are starting to produce too heavily, remove excess immature fruits. Doing so allows remaining fruit more room to grow and prevents branches from breaking under the weight. When apples, pears and stone fruits such as apricots, nectarines, peaches and plums reach half-an-inch in diameter, pick some off, leaving the remaining fruits spaces 6 to10 inches apart along the branch. Later, to protect your ripening fruit, enclose the tree with bird netting, hang strips of mylar flash tape near branch tips, or substitute with old CD's.
If you battle dandelions and don't want to use chemical weed killers around pets and children, get out the white vinegar from the cupboard. On a hot sunny day spray straight white vinegar directly on the weed. This method will kill whatever it touches, so direct the spray carefully. If the dandelion is in the lawn, wait a week, pour some water on the dead spot to dilute any lasting effects of the vinegar. Then poke a bunch a holes and drop in some grass seed. Sprinkle a bit of fertilizer where the seed is planted and keep the area moist. In three weeks you won't remember where the dead spot was and the dandelion will be long gone.
Another garden to-do this month includes summer pruning of wisteria. To increase flowering next spring and keep these vines under control, cut new growth back to within 6-inches of the main branch. If you want to extend the height or length of the vine, select some of the new streamer-like stems and tie them to a support in the direction you wish to train the plant.
Keep blooms coming
To encourage continued bloom on annuals, perennials and shrubs, remove faded flowers before they start to form seeds. Make sure you remove the entire flower head and the base where seeds form (such as the bulbous part of dahlia, petunia or fuchsia flowers) and not just the petals. Cut the stem down to where leaves start. The season has just started and you'll be enjoying lots more flowers in the months to come if you deadhead regularly.
Another maintenance tip is to shear spring blooming perennials to keep them full and compact. Candytuft, phlox subulata, aubrieta and other low growing perennials benefit if you cut off spent bloom and an inch or two of growth. Other perennials and shrubs that benefit from the same treatment to keep them compact are erysimum, lavender and Pink breath of heaven.
Also re-apply mulch if it's getting thin in spots. Check ties on trees to make sure they aren't cutting into the bark. Cultivate lightly around trees to discourage weeds and allow water to penetrate.
Move plants as needed
Don't be afraid to move a plant that is not working where it is growing now. Make a note in your journal reminding yourself to transplant it sometime in the fall. Gardening is a dynamic and fluid process. Enjoy piecing together pieces of the puzzle.
- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.