Make good use of garden space with careful planning and planting

Daylilies (Hemerocallis), the original low-maintenance source of garden color, are brightening gardens everywhere. — Photo by Susan Safford

The sight of bats flitting above the lawn at dusk is a relief, but apart from their welcome beauty, the sight of ultramarine platycodon and orange butterfly weed in the first week of July dismays. Weren’t these two stalwarts of the August garden as recently as the nineties?

Strawberry fields

Good gardeners can achieve wonderful results in limited space, but having to make do with a dozen strawberry plants — Why? I am always encouraging more and larger vegetable gardens, and strawberries are a case in point. There is no such thing as too many strawberries, especially when children or grandchildren are in the mix.

Strawberries do well in Island gardens, our soils being generally acidic and sandy, which is to their liking. Strawberry beds remain at their productive best for one or two years. All strawberries are a good source of vitamin C, although compared to older ones, young plants have larger, top quality fruit. Therefore, it is usually recommended that beds be renewed every couple of years.

You will be able to judge when to renew, based on the amount, quality, and size of fruit the plants are producing, and whether the plants themselves have become congested. However, careful grooming of the crowns in early spring, by removing old leaves and runners and pinching out smaller crowns at the base, may extend the productivity of older plants.

Strawberries are self-replenishing. Even while fruiting, strawberry plants start sending out offsets, or “runners.” In a strong young bed these are usually simply snipped off, but if the bed needs renewing, the runners are guided into good spacing and allowed to root. (Pinning the offsets down is sometimes done to assist this.) Then the older plants are removed.

Or, the offsets may be allowed to root and are then transplanted into a separate, newly prepared bed, preferably well-drained, fertile loam. Although strawberries’ sweetness and flavor is best when grown in full sun, the plants make effective weed-suppressing groundcover and under-planting for shrubberies.

According to DK’s “Fruit & Vegetable Gardening” (Dorling Kindersley, 2012), “Late-summer plantings of summer bearers establish well and fruit in the following year; fall and spring plantings should have their first flush of flowers removed so the plants crop will [bear] the second year.”

Seeding for fall

Seeding new vegetable crops is on-going, even though the home gardener cannot keep up the same rates of production that market growers do. I dug my garlic last week, opening up an area for beans and other crops. I had over-seeded the garlic with buckwheat, which germinates in about half a minute, and am now broad-forking it in, along with remnants of the straw mulch that had been over the garlic during winter.

The plan is rows of cannellini alternating with cabbage, turnip, and kales. First though, I do some companion-planting research and learn to my surprise that while cole crops and beans are generally compatible, they are incompatible with pole beans, as are beets! Although I was not planning pole beans in this section, still, who knew that the two types of beans would effect this difference?

Other succession vegetables for fall crops in our garden are carrots, radicchio, squashes, beets, and miscellaneous greens, such as rapini. More space opens up when the onions are harvested. Sugar snap and regular peas, which are cool season crops, might go in later if conditions look good.

In the garden

Daylilies (Hemerocallis), the original low-maintenance source of garden color, are brightening gardens everywhere. Inconsistently, they do benefit from some tidying of the dangling spent flowers; or, in the case of those like ‘Stella d’Oro,’ removal of the many stems that have no more flower buds on them, although this is time-consuming to do. The re-bloomers, often described as “remontant,” especially tend to throw a lot of yellowing foliage; dead-leafing by pulling this improves the looks of a planting greatly.

Plantings of passé spring perennials, such as Siberian iris, aruncus, various campanulas, and oriental poppies, will be neatened by having the bloom stalks removed. They will not re-bloom, however. Many plantings of nepeta have greyed out in the rain and fog and may be cut back by one- to two-thirds when no longer showing color. They will flush again.

Speaking of flushing again, shrubs such as spirea, potentilla, and hypericum do re-bloom if sheared back or otherwise cleaned up. Lavenders and santolinas, too, may need some clean-up after the damp. These, and other herb garden subjects, really do prefer sunny conditions and dry, free-draining soil. For culinary purposes, their aromas and essential oils intensify with so-called Mediterranean conditions.

The downside of the 2013 wet spring is proving to be a seriously weedy year, with every stray seed being helped to germinate. The upside is that damp soil weeds more easily than dry. Keep on top of weeds as much as possible with mulches and frequent cultivation. I am still digging new dandelion plants from the lawn, which is preferable to using herbicides with their implicit health risks.

Protect fruit trees with deer spray and be conscientious about picking up drops. Make hardware cloth cages or use tree-guards for their trunks as protection against rodents if you have added new ones this year.

Dead-heading annuals and biennials keeps their flowers coming. In the case of many, such as foxglove, columbine, calendula, and short-lived poppies, allowing the seed heads to mature somewhat and then laying them unobtrusively on the bed’s soil helps to promote next year’s volunteers.

Side-dress long-season vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, and corn. Pick green beans regularly to prolong production, and continue to make succession sowings of them. Give vegetable gardens and roses one inch of water weekly if it does not rain. This is a good use for greywater.

July is forecast to be very hot. Pay close attention to containers and hanging plants: they may need watering twice daily.

Polly Hill Arboretum

July 17th: Martha’s Vineyard Garden Tour, 9:30 am – 3:30 pm; “Trees in a Changing Climate,” with Guy Sternberg, 7:30 pm.