Toronto Star column – published August 2, 2014
Welcome to the long weekend of August. You earned this one. With lots of things going on in and out of the city, I am grateful that you are able to squeeze some time out of your schedule to read my column. With this in mind, I am not giving you a ‘to do’ list. I will, however, provide a gentle reminder of the changes that are occurring right before your eyes and under your feet out in your garden.
This weekend marks the official half way point on the garden calendar: there is roughly the same number of gardening weekends ahead of us as there are behind us. But more to the point, we are entering a whole new gardening season. While you prepped your soil to sow seeds and plant new transplants last May and June, the harvest is in front of us. And so is the very best time of year for thickening your lawn with a layer of triple mix and fresh grass seed and an application of fertilizer [a notion worth repeating].
Let’s take a look at what is happening out there, what you might consider doing to keep your garden running like a finely tuned machine, and [more to the point] what NOT to do this time of year as ‘hammock time’ is precious and lazy weekends few.
The peonies would look a lot better if you removed the spent blossoms this time of year. Use a sharp, clean [always] pair of hand pruners to remove the spent blossom and about 30 cm of the stem. This will preserve energy for the roots as the leaves convert solar energy into plant sugar that is pushed downwards. This bodes well for blossoms come spring.
Any perennials that have finished blooming are ready for the same ‘peony’ treatment. Day lilies, delphiniums, hollyhocks and sweet William [which are actually bi-annuals] will rebloom later this month if you ‘deadhead’ the spent blossoms now. But this only works if you get to it within the next week or so. Don’t worry, the ‘not to do’ list is coming.
Dead head them also [remove spent blossoms] and fertilize them once more with Green Earth Rose, Annual & Perennial Food. The same can be said for all shrubs and evergreens in your garden: this is the time of year for the last feeding, unless you took my advice in May and used Smartcote slow-release fertilizer, in which case you can enjoy more leisure time and keep your wallet in your hip pocket.
If your roses require watering, apply it in the morning so that any water that lands on foliage dries quickly in the morning sun. This reduces the development of black spot and powdery mildew. Keep your eye out for aphids and when you spot them give them a blast from the pistol grip hand sprayer on the end of your hose. A direct hit will knock them off and clean up your rose, for now. Repeat as necessary [as in, whenever you think you could use the therapy of blasting away some aphids – they are persistent things].
One last feeding: use 30-10-10 for good results.
Prune soft evergreens like cedars, boxwood and yews, if you haven’t done this already this season. Be sure to use a sharp and clean pair of shears. I run a bastard file over mine every time I use it. Every time. I consider it a good investment of time, which is about a minute to do the sharpening and several more to find the shears and the file in the first place.
Prune for shape, except for junipers which need to be thinned out right about now. With a pair of hand pruners, reach down into the centre of the plant where the woody growth is and prune out the heaviest wood. This opens up the plant to sunshine and air circulation through its middle, where new growth will develop over time, giving your junipers a fresh, cared for appearance without the formal stiffness of the Versailles gardens.
The most frequently grown vegetable [I know, it is technically a fruit] needs your attention. Prune tomatoes by rubbing out the sucker, which grows between the leaf axle and the main stem of the plant, using your thumb. Simply put, you rub the sucker out at the crotch. Just trying to keep things simple. Oh, never mind.
Fertilize again, if you haven’t done this since June. Use Green Earth Tomato & Vegetable Food or an inch of compost on the root zone. Mulch with finely ground up bark mulch about 4 cm thick or 30 cm of straw and stake your plants with a spiral stake, which does not require you to tie your plants up against the stake. Mind you, if you did all of this earlier this season, take a seat.
Harvest whatever becomes ripe as soon as it is. This is true for all fruiting plants. As you pick, you encourage the plant to produce more flowers and fruit.
Sow another crop of radishes, lettuce, mesclun mix, cauliflower, broccoli and [if you must] Brussel sprouts as all of these tolerate the gentle early fall frost if you haven’t already harvested them.
Be sure that the cook in your house is taking lots of cuttings from your rosemary, thyme and sage… not to mention all of the other herbaceous herbs out there. Your basil is likely growing like crazy in the summer heat. Go for it! Put it up in freezer bags; when you cut it back it just produces more new, tasty growth this time of year.
Do not feed your herbs.
What not to do?
Don’t go away. And don’t go to work until Tuesday. Instead make it a habit for at least the next three days to walk around your garden slowly, with a coffee or a cool beverage in hand. Stop, stoop, pick, smell, observe and contemplate the many changes that are taking place in your garden at this very moment.
You see, your garden is changing at a faster pace now than at any other time of the year. Why? The days are slowly getting shorter, temperatures remain high and the circadian rhythms in nature are causing a re-grouping of sorts. Put another way, there is less groping and sex going on out there then there was earlier in the season. Adolescent bugs and birds are finding their legs and wings. Tadpoles are now frogs [small ones] and fingerling fish are now eating adult food, if they were not eaten themselves by bigger fish.
The smartest ones among us take our cues from Mother Nature, from whom all life springs. Including our own. If you take time for nothing else this long weekend, be sure to sit somewhere with a view. Take some pictures of a garden at its peak and if you don’t have a garden borrow one by visiting Edwards Gardens or Allen Gardens or any one of a number of public gardens.
Mother Nature is turning the corner on this season. She is done with the last page of the first chapter and is moving on with or without us.
Take time to smell the roses, (most of) the to-do list can wait.