It’s finally summer! And if you’re like me, your garden has been fully planted for a few months now. All your perennials, annuals, shrubs, and trees are putting on new growth and blending together into one beautiful palette. Summer is the time to sit back and enjoy your garden full of flowers, fragrances, vegetables, and pollinators. But as your garden continues to grow, there will be chores that need to be performed to keep it looking gorgeous all summer long. These tasks are the same as the ones we undertake across the Smithsonian Gardens campus to keep our gardens looking their best.
Staff watering in Enid A. Haupt GardenOne of the primary tasks in the garden is getting out the hose and water, water, water! Watering correctly is crucial and the second most important component—after sunlight–of healthy plant growth. If there is no significant rain in the forecast you’ll want to make sure to give your garden a good, deep soaking–at least an inch a week. Remember, though, that rain usually does not water pots and containers thoroughly since they are typically very densely planted. Most containers need to be watered every other day, but as roots start to fill out the container and the hot weather really takes off you may have to water every day.
As you water, make sure you water the soil rather than the plant. Spraying water over the tops of plants is not usually effective at getting water from the surface of the leaves to the roots. Try to concentrate a watering wand, for example, directly at the base of the plants. If you’re unable to get the hose right at the soil level, water for a long time over the tops of the plants. And don’t forget to feed your containers, annuals, and veggies every other week with an all-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer to give them the food they need to bloom, grow, form fruits and vegetables, and maintain their overall health.
Staff Working in Crop Lands at the National Museum of American IndianAfter all the plants are watered, it’s time to tackle the weeds. Get out your cultivator, gloves, and a kneeling pad and go to town. The key is to pull weeds before they set seed and spread their progeny to even more parts of your garden. You may also want to remove any “volunteer” flowers you do not want in your garden. “Volunteers” could be the seedlings that sprout from bird seed in your bird feeder, seeds that travel in the wind, or seeds that fall directly from plants, like sunflower seeds (Helianthus) or Cockscomb (Celosia). We all know that weeding is a never-ending task but it is a chore of love.
Staff working in the Woodland Garden at the National Museum of American HistoryWhen you are satisfied with the weed level in your garden, it’s time to grab pruners, clippers, twine, and stakes. Mid-summer is the best time to step back and really look at your garden. Assess what needs to be deadheaded, staked, or pruned. Start by deadheading annuals and perennials now to encourage additional blooms as the summer continues. And sooner rather than later, cut back asters, solidago, and fall mums halfway to stall their blooms until the fall or they will start blooming in August before you might be ready for that fall garden effect. Cutting them back now also helps to keep them a little neater and tidier so they do not flop open or grow too tall (I’m looking at you Solidago ‘Fireworks’!).
Next, inspect your shrubs. Try to limit yourself to the 3 D’s of pruning before clipping any good stems: dead, damaged, diseased. Prune roses after they have finished blooming by simply deadheading the flowers back to a leaf stem that has at least 5 individual leaflets. Stake up any floppy plants to make room for other plants that may be trying to push their way up. Flowers are not the only plants that will need staking. Tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers all need to be staked or trained onto a trellis.
Grab yourself a lemonade, take a seat in your freshly tended garden, and pore over those fall bulb and seed catalogs. Even though it is the height of the summer, now is the time to order spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils, tulips, alliums, and crocus to plant this fall. You will also want to order any veggie seeds for fall crops, such as salad greens, carrots, and beets.
On a rainy day, take some time to look over your tools and supplies. Thoroughly clean and sharpen spades, pruners, and hoes. Check to see what needs replacing or order a tool that you’ve been wanting to try out.
Summer is the time to love your garden! Enjoy the blooms and fragrances but also value the mundane chores since they help shape your garden just as you envisioned it. Now get out there and get your hands dirty!