Dirt-y Secrets: Have patience in June and don’t give up on garden tasks

By Ranel Hanson
Reader Columnist

“Wherever you are planted in life, bloom with courage and grace.”
— adapted from Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

I can think of two people who epitomize this sentiment. Sadly, I recently learned of the passing of one of them: Jeffrey Rich, known to all as “Sprouts.”

I only knew him enough to say hello and talk about pruning fruit trees (he was an expert) or making dried plums. He was well educated and smart, but the best, most wonderful thing about Sprouts was his kindness. A Vietnam War veteran, his mantra was, “War is not the answer.” 

I, along with his many friends, will miss him at the Farmers’ Market and anywhere music is played, but we will certainly feel his presence. Farewell to a good man.

The second person who blooms where planted is familiar to many: Valle Novak, who is the youngest 90-plus person I know. She only recently retired from sharing her gardening and cooking wisdom in a local newspaper column. She knows so much about so many subjects, but birds and plants are her main loves. She has “bloomed with courage and grace,” and I thank her for sharing not only her knowledge, but her love of the natural world — and for setting a wonderful example for the rest of us humans. 

My sunflower seedlings are in the ground. I tucked them in wherever I had a blank space. I am hoping to have a riotous gang of tall, yellow cheerleaders for Ukraine by July. I can’t think of much else to do in order to support those suffering people except to plant lovely flowers. 

Jeff “Sprouts” Rich, smiling at Farmin Park. Photo by Lee Santa.

Most of the spring bulbs are spent by now, but you should leave them in the ground until their leaves turn brown. They are storing nutrients for next year’s blooms. In the meantime, think about what bulbs you would like to add next year. 

I was just introduced to Camas bulbs (native to our area and an ancient source of food for Indigenous peoples). They are a beautiful blue, unattractive to deer and gorgeous among yellow daffodils. 

Meanwhile, those beautiful hanging flower baskets will stay lush and lovely if you keep them watered, deadheaded and fertilized. They need a weak dose of fertilizer every other watering. I use one of these methods: fish emulsion, worm castings (either dissolved in your watering can or top-dressed) or any organic fertilizer designed for blooms.

Now is not the time to give up on weeds. All of our recent rain is just what makes them grow big and strong and suck water and nutrients away from your landscape plants. Dig them out, spray a solution of vinegar and dish soap, burn ’em out… but no chemicals, please. If our precious lake could talk, she would say, “Thank you very much.”

Don’t give up on discouraging slugs, either. Mix your crushed eggshells with epsom salts and spread liberally around your vulnerable plants: sunflowers, geraniums, hosta, etc.

Peonies are bursting open. They need the support of cages or stakes because the weight of their blooms will pull them down with summer rain and wind (by the way, peonies are fine with no added fertilizer). You may need to support hydrangeas, too. They need a good balanced, organic fertilizer and an acid soil. I use coffee grounds in the soil around them and fish emulsion at the drip line. Fertilize lightly now and in July. They bloom best when they are a little hungry for nutrients. 

What would summer be without hummingbirds? Keep that food coming! Soon, they will disappear for a bit to nest and raise their young (some overachievers might already have gone), but keep your sugar water fresh and plentiful until then. Don’t despair if they disappear, they are raising babies and will be back with children following along. They teach the next generation where to find food and they will find your feeder next year, after their long migration.

I want to mention a couple of late-comers to the garden. Wisteria takes a loooong time to establish — you must be patient. But, when they get around to it, the blooms are spectacular. I almost dug mine up last year, thinking they had died, and now they are thriving. 

Hardy hibiscus are also late to the spring party. Every year, I think they may have died over the winter and then, about the first of June, they surprise me with a couple of tiny shoots that, by August, turn into big, gaudy blooms. 

In gardening, patience is necessary. Until July.

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