The lone voice of horticultural reason

Remember The 15th

 8-20-1999 — The fifteenth of each month during the gardening season always serves as an easily remembered catchall for important garden tasks.

April 15 is a good date to check our beds under their layer of protective winter mulch to see what’s going on down there, and to start removing it as we see fit. This spring most of us were surprised to find many perennials upwards to three inches tall on the fifteenth; not much one can do but remove all of it, and, as it turned out, we were safely off to the races.

Vegetable gardeners check their soil on the fifteenth and if the frost is gone and the earth is workable, the earliest vegetable varieties-lettuce, peas, beets, spinach, broccoli, turnips-can be planted from seed.

May 15 is to be remembered because this is the date of the average last spring frost for our area. It might truthfully be the 12th, or maybe the 14th; I can never remember for sure. So what I remember is May 15. Get into the habit of planting all your annuals when they first appear at the garden centers, grocery stores and gas stations around the end of April (if the sun is out), or the first week of May, and it’s only a matter of time until a killing frost in mid-May will both wipe out every annual you planted and speed you along in remembering this important “15.

June 15 is the date when we apply a one- to two-inch layer of cocoa bean husks to our flower and vegetable beds. Yes, it means there is weeding to be done prior, but only for the first one or two years. Try picking seven weeds a day in the spring-should take you about thirty seconds-and you’ll find that you get comfortably ahead of them. Non-gardeners often lament, “I’m not sure I’d like gardening, I hate all that weeding.” Good. Less traffic at the garden store for the rest of us. Never let on that after just two or three years, weeds cease to exist in a properly maintained garden, some picked in the spring, the rest killed by the layer of mulch we apply on June 15. You will stop seeing weeds after a few years because nothing is left to make weed seeds.

July 15 is a good time to give everything we grow a second application of granular fertilizer. This mid-season feeding ensures the health of our vegetables as well as our perennials and annuals.

Which brings us to August 15, which is the date to remember as the last date you should fertilize. Fertilizing anything you grow after the 15th is akin to the babysitter letting your kids stay up watching MTV and socking back Surge until midnight, then trying to coax the little darlings to sleep.

What do you get the next day? Cranky kids. What will you get in the garden next spring? Cranky plants. Our trees, shrubs and perennials are already hip to what’s behind these shorter days and cool nights; it’s time for them to start the long descent into slumber, to “harden off,” as it’s called. Fertilize perennials now and they get all jazzed up, then suffer severe shock, like a runner finishing a race and sitting down instead of jogging through a cool-down period. Fertilize trees and shrubs now, and they’ll give you a burst of new growth in September that will be too tender to survive the winter.

And I suppose the final, important task we do each and every August 15th is begrudgingly give our hearts to the Vikings one more time, because hey, this could be the year.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener