Garden Life: Rain or shine, summer chores must be done




This is the time of year when spring is supposed to become summer. A week ago, the weather outside my writing room window belied this forecast. It was cold and raining and the sky was an ashen gray. However, the entire garden stood out beautifully against the elements. My hostas were especially beautiful with their expansive, textural leaf surfaces washed clean by fresh rain. The chartreuse foliage of the full moon maple fairly glowed against the backdrop of overcast skies.

In mid-June I expect more sun than rain. Nevertheless, we find ourselves with the same extensive list of garden chores that we always have at this point in the season. Rain or shine, in late June we need to deadhead spent flowering plants, fertilize perennials and roses, and put out any bedding plants that you have already purchased but have not planted. As always, healthy plant material removed from the garden can be added to the compost pile.

Broadleaf evergreen shrubs will appreciate a shot of fertilizer as soon as they are finished flowering for the season. Here in Southwest Washington, there are products specifically made for the nutrient requirements of our acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, and rhododendrons. Each product will have directions for application on the container. If you want to prune back an overgrown rhododendron or any of the early spring flowering shrubs, now is the time to take care of that job.

If you have not already done so, mulch perennial beds with compost to suppress weeds and conserve moisture. There is still time to plant late season-vegetables. Garden centers are filled with veggies ready to transplant. They will very likely be marked down in price before the end of the month. Stressed plants with burnt leaf tips or cracks in the skin of emerging fruits will not perform well. Use your best judgment to buy only healthy plant material.

Begin a regular watering schedule for annuals, perennials and roses. This is especially important for seasonal potted plants and hanging baskets that are not on an automated watering system since they have a limited water holding capacity. Most trees and shrubs need only a couple of years to establish themselves before they can be left to their own for watering needs. If you are still putting out new plants remember to water once a day for a week. Continue with long, deep watering once a week for a month and then as needed throughout the season, depending on our rainfall.

I know it’s an outdated way to garden but watering plants by hand, using a hose with a shower-head nozzle, is one of my favorite garden tasks. As a child I used to help my Uncle Oat on his rounds of neighborhood garden maintenance. In the afternoon I’d stand alongside my grandmother in her garden as she watered individual plants. In winter, when it was 75 degrees in Southern California, Grandma would let me pour a bucket of ice at the feet of her hydrangeas to give them the chill they needed to bloom the following summer. We had long, easy conversations about everything and nothing that now come back to me as vibrant reminders of our cherished kinship.

These days, I find myself carrying around a note card and a pencil so that I can write down jobs to do as they come up throughout the day. Later I will add these to my garden journal. If I can stay on top of garden chores, I find the time to include such information as the location of new plantings and details of seasonal bloom. This is the time of day I relax, sit down and just enjoy being surrounded by the garden. After all the work is done, take pleasure in the results of your effort.

Late in the day or early in the morning, before or after your next sojourn into the garden, take the time to enter a few thoughts in your own journal. Brenda Euland’s book, “If You Want to Write,” is one I highly recommend to anyone interested in the pursuit of creativity. She says simply, “Write about what you saw, thought and felt the day before.” Her suggestion helps me put words on paper and hones my ability to become more precise in memory and thought throughout the day. Try it. It will add a new dimension to your gardening life.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at