The lone voice of horticultural reason

Mid-Season Duties

Closing in on the end of July means it’s halftime here at the 1999 Great Minnesota Gardening Season. Let’s get a quick recap of the first half:

Both bulbs and perennials started out quickly due to the second relatively mild winter in a row, and the early arrival of spring. Instead of accelerating right into summer, however, a cool, wet May segued into a cool, wet June and the stage was set for greater than normal outbreaks of fungi and evil garden bugs.

Soil temperatures took a little longer than usual to warm to proper vegetable-seeding temperature, but the cool nights through June proved beneficial to vegetable gardeners who enjoy growing lettuce, cabbage, radishes, broccoli or any of the other early vegetables that grow best in cool weather. I decided long ago to focus in on flowers, and not grow anything I could buy at the grocery store, especially after realizing there’s not one square foot of “full sun” anywhere in my little half acre. My only regret is that I am unable to grow my own broccoli; I tasted it, once, snapped fresh from a friend’s garden near Hinckley, and it was like eating candy. Unlike most vegetables, the taste of the fresh broccoli I buy at the grocery store bears absolutely no relation to the taste of home-grown.

Steamy, very hot weather grips the gopher state as I write this column, which is not what our gardens need right now. The only good being accomplished is that my grass is shutting down. That leaves a few extra hours on the weekend to take care of some simple mid-season chores:

It seems every year I plant more and more lilies, and am growing increasingly fond of the species. I’m referring to real lilies, from bulbs, and not daylilies, which are not really lilies at all. Deadheading lilies as soon as the last bloom has dropped and scratching some fertilizer into the soil around the stem(s) is important if you want your lilies to bloom and expand robustly year to year.

After lilies bloom, seed pods develop at the end of each stem that held a bloom. By cutting this top portion of the plant off you cancel the seed-production stage and the plant goes to work storing energy for next year. I cut the whole top of the plant off, as high as possible, fertilize, then leave alone, watering if we should ever hit a true dry patch. Just like tulips, lilies absorb the energy for next year’s growth from this year’s sun and store it in the bulb, so wait until your lily plants are brown and withered before removing them this fall.

This is also a good week for applying a second dose of fertilizer to our fall-blooming perennials. For me that means my fall aster, sedum, chrysanthemum, boltonia and solidago plants all got a fresh circling of granular fertilizer in the past week. Now they’re ready for the kick-off to start the second half, and will reward my diligence with dazzling performances this fall.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener