The lone voice of horticultural reason

Late Summer Tips

Minnesotans are purported to be such eternal optimists, how can it be that already there is talk of “the end of summer?” I won’t hear of it, and never have. Here’s a little gardening mind trick I have used for years and years and is perhaps the most important bit of information I have passed along in the three months I have been writing this column: September is a summer month.

There! Can you believe it? September is a summer month. Why of course it is! In September we swim, we sail, we fish, we ride bikes and plan picnics. We toss baseballs, footballs and Frisbees. Every minute of September is summer; when the sun shines warm and our gardens continue to bloom. And do you know the best thing about adopting this philosophy, starting right now, and believing it with all your heart? It’s currently early August. That’s right-summer is barely half over! Feeling better?

Savvy vegetable gardeners have long understood how lengthy the true summer growing season is. If you act right now, it’s not too late to plant a second crop of the early varieties of lettuces and carrots, both cool-season crops that perform best in periods with cool nights and daytime temperatures in the 60s and 70s. By “early” varieties it’s not meant they need to be planted early in the spring, it’s meant they grow quickly and are the earliest in your garden to reach harvestable size. So once you throw July out of the way, guess what? We enter a two-month period when we sort of reverse back toward spring temperatures, meaning if you plant the faster-growing lettuces and carrots now, in mid-summer, you’ll once again encounter their preferred, cooler growing conditions towards the end of August and on through September. Try sowing peas and snap beans this week, for that matter, or any variety of vegetable that matures in seven to ten weeks. A lot of this is traditionally August 1st stuff, but I’m an optimist, and have a hunch we’re in for an especially long summer.

For flower gardeners who, as I, devote an inordinate amount of time growing annuals and perennials, this mid-summer period is payoff time, when there is very little to do in the garden save enjoy the bees, the butterflies and the beautiful view from a comfortable garden bench. Even Mother Nature, after a dry start, completely handled all our watering chores for the month of July, though like a lot of mothers, went a little overboard.

If you grow lilies (real lilies, genus Lilium, from bulbs, not daylilies, genus hemerocallis, a different, entirely unrelated plant) one chore I do recall from last week was deadheading all of mine that had finished blooming, down to the highest set of leaves, and scratching a little granular bulb fertilizer into the soil around them, then just barely watering it in. Like tulips and other bulb perennials, lilies spend their time after blooming storing energy for next year’s show, so it’s imperative the stalk and leaves remain undisturbed. Remember too that lilies should only be moved, divided and planted in September, not in the spring.

Deadheading-the removal of spent flowers by cutting with a sharp bypass pruner below the flower and above a full set of leaves-is something fun to try on every perennial you grow. For many perennials this practice will give you a second, smaller but perfectly pleasant wave of bloom two to five weeks later. You’ll learn which plants in your garden will oblige. Even if some don’t bloom again, deadheading flowers stops the plant from continuing in its cycle towards producing seed. The plant adopts an optimistic view instead, and decides that if it can’t produce seed it should attempt to bloom again, and to prepare for that it will direct energy towards growing more roots, which, like optimism, is never a bad thing.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener