Roots and Shoots: What to Do in the Garden Now

Philipstown has exploded with green things

By Pamela Doan

Mulch your plants, trees and vegetables. Use wood chips that have been decomposing for more than a year or shredded leaves. Hot days are coming and mulch will help your plants and trees retain water, stay cool and control weeds. Add a couple of inches in a wide ring, leaving about 6 inches of open space around tree trunks and a few inches around plant stems to allow the roots to breathe and develop.

Prune lilacs and forsythia that have finished blooming. To encourage new growth, prune lilacs by taking out one third of old growth each year. This will rejuvenate the bush. Forsythia can be shaped and cut back without disrupting next spring’s flowering. Flowering shrubs each have their own pruning rules, so look up your particular bush before attacking it with the loppers.

Plant evergreens. Spruce and fir trees can still be planted in June before the hot weather takes hold, but do it soon. Spring and early summer plantings give the trees time to adjust before cold winds and winter dryness set in. Evergreens have a better chance of success if they’re planted earlier in the season.

Observe. If pests or pathogens are going to cause problems, it’s best to catch the problem immediately. If a leaf is being munched, is it a deer, groundhog, rabbit or insect? Each of these pests requires a different strategy, and before you take action, identify it. If leaves are dropping off or have spots, note the precise pattern and impact to track down the cause.

Watch out for poison ivy. Photo by P. Doan
Watch out for poison ivy. Photo by P. Doan

Weeding, ugh. Invasive plants like stiltgrass, knotweed and Oriental bittersweet, as well as undesirables like poison ivy and wild grape are trying to take over the landscape as you read this. (Has anyone else noticed that poison ivy seems to be remarkably prolific this year?) Wear gloves, get out there and manage the weeds before they’re controlling the garden. Mulching, as I mentioned above, is an effective method for keeping weeds away from the flowerbeds and garden. Weeds of the Northeast is a great reference guide for identifying and determining the impact of weeds.

Fertilize the lawn now if you’re going to do it. Memorial Day and Labor Day are the best times to feed grass. Test a soil sample to determine the pH balance of your lawn first and then only feed according to the results of your test. It might not need anything. Follow the instructions carefully for application. Too often, fertilizers contain nutrients our lawns don’t need, and if it’s applied incorrectly, like right before it rains, it doesn’t even stay. Runoff from lawn fertilizers ends up in storm drains and upsets the balance, causing damage to streams, lakes and ponds.

Mow high. Setting the lawn mower deck at 3 inches and leaving the clippings on the lawn lets the grass develop a strong root system. It can better withstand drought and competition from weeds. Although grass can get really brown and not die during a drought, if you’re going to water the lawn, measure the amount of water from the sprinkler — 1 inch per week is all it needs, and the best time to water is in the early morning.

Sharpen the lawn mower blades. Dull blades tear the grass instead of cleanly cutting it and damage the lawn. Regularly sharpening the blades makes for a healthier lawn and less energy consumed when mowing.

Enjoy the beauty of growing things! Philipstown has exploded with green things. As they say, take a moment to stop and smell the roses.

Garden questions? Send them to askrootsandshoots@philipstown.info.