Every year there comes a point in time when we find ourselves juggling an endless list of garden chores. Mine seems to have come early this year. As the growing season kicks in, there's always the need to deadhead spent flowers, fertilize perennials and roses and fill gaps in planting borders with annual bedding plants.
On the planning level, I find it helps to have a few basic chores that are done on a regular basis, once a week and sometimes every day in a specific season, such as watering hanging baskets in summer. One logical daily garden chore in the height of spring and summer is deadheading perennials. Deadheading keeps the garden looking fresh, keeps the visual focus on those plants in bloom and often encourages perennials to send out a new flush of bloom.
This is a great job to do at the end of the work day, especially if you get home early enough to take a garden stroll before dinner. It's also a great chance to collect flowers for indoor vases and pots. Morning is the preferred time to cut indoor flowers but I can never find the extra time that early in the day.
To make this job more routine, set aside a deep, water-holding container with a handle and a pair of sharp hand pruners where you can grab them on your way out the door. If you have chrysanthemums and asters in your flower beds, pinch back flower buds through the month of June. This will encourage the plant to grow bushier and stave off flowering until summer turns to autumn.
Every garden has its fill of spontaneous chores. There are the individual weeds that come up one at a time, weeks after we've done major scheduled weedings in perennial and shrub borders. The wayward bramble sneaks its way into a planting of ground cover. Obviously, these can be taken care of without scheduling. Get them out as soon as you see them. I find that I get some of my best work done by setting aside a bit of time each week when I put on my working gloves and head out into the garden looking for trouble.
Broadleaf evergreen shrubs benefit from a serving of fertilizer as soon as they are finished flowering for the season. Think of it as ensuring vitamin supplements in recognition of the energy it took to produce this year's flower show. Fertilizing also aids in preparation for next year's equally impressive efforts. In the Northwest, there are products specifically made for the nutrient requirements of our acid-loving evergreens such as pieris, camellias, and rhododendron. Each product will include directions for application on the container.
I can safely say there will always be garden chores to keep you busy through late spring and into the upcoming summer. Begin to thin apple and pear trees with heavy crops. Mulch perennial beds with garden compost, well-rotted manure or a packaged soil conditioner. In prominent positions and for attractive pots and planters you may want to use a more decorative mulch such as river rock, pebbles or chipped bark. All of these will help suppress weeds and conserve moisture.
Dry season ahead
Even if it is pouring rain on the day you happen to be reading this piece, consider the fact that we will ultimately begin our annual season of summer drought. Begin with a regular watering schedule for annuals, perennials, vegetables and roses. Most trees and shrubs need a couple of years to establish themselves before they can be left on their own for watering needs. If you are still putting out new plants purchased this year, remember to water long and deep, once a day for a week. Follow up once a week for a month and then as needed throughout the season.
Don't neglect to give yourself the occasional chance to just rest and relax in your garden. I have to remind myself to set aside time on clear, warm days to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Sit back in a comfortable outdoor garden chair with a drink and a garden book. There are times when life and seasonal garden chores feel like a balancing act. When you finish relaxing, putting outdoor furniture cushions back under cover in case of rain is one more job we can add to this busy month.
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.