Roots and Shoots: Gardening Checklist

It’s that time of the year — time for a checklist to take into the garden. How are you doing so far?

Vegetables
Keep planting. Want a September or October harvest? Anything with a 90 to 100 “days to maturity” range can be sown. That could include carrots, beets, broccoli, cabbage and winter squashes. 

Keep weeding.
The first weeds of the season are going to seed now. Knowing the life cycle of the plant helps with management; this is an important moment to prevent more weeds from sprouting next season. It may seem futile but new plantings and vegetable gardens benefit from attention the most. 

In flower beds, plant tightly as weed control. A lush and full planting versus leaving a lot of space between plants suppresses weeds with less bare soil. Even if you have mulch, weeds will grow; it isn’t a permanent solution. 

While barriers such as landscape fabric or plastic seem like an easy fix, they are about as effective as mulch. Barriers over the soil interfere with movement of air and water and the buildup of organic matter. The less porosity, the worse for the soil. Lee Reich’s book, Weedless Gardening, is a useful guide for weed management that takes soil enrichment as a priority.

Healthy plants come from healthy soils.
It’s always a good plan to add compost and organic matter over the soil to feed plants and build up the dirt. Healthy plants need fewer interventions, can survive pest and pathogen attacks better, and need less supplemental care like water and nutrients. In the right place, with adequate sunlight, plants are pretty self-sufficient. 

Be conscious of your landscape’s carbon footprint.
Gas-powered lawn equipment like mowers, blowers and whackers are big polluters when it comes to carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. By one estimate, using a mower for an hour produces the equivalent pollution of driving a car for 200 miles. Switching to electric gear and reducing the amount of mowing can make a difference. 

To reduce the frequency of mowing, replace the grass with no-mow or low-mow varieties of eco-grass mixes. These look interesting as a ground cover and stop growing at a height of 3 or 4 inches. 

I love the way that white clover looks as a ground cover and it also adds nitrogen to the soil and the bees appreciate the flowers. These attributes make it more beneficial than a straight lawn. 

Turning areas of the lawn into beautiful islands for native perennials and grasses that benefit insects and wildlife can also reduce mowing. You can find the perfect plant selection in any palette that is as lovely as ornamental plans, but with ecological benefits. 

Butterfly weed and lavender

Butterfly weed and lavender pose together with bees and butterflies. (Photo by P. Doan)

Try Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed), Echinacea purpurea (coneflower) and Pycnanthemum muticum (short-leaved mountain mint) for a butterfly-attracting combination that grows well in full sun. Butterfly weed is a milkweed, a crucial plant for monarch butterflies. I like it because it’s more well-behaved than common milkweed in a landscape bed. Common milkweed, while fragrant and interesting, is harder to control. 

Even though it isn’t about carbon emissions, using natural resources like water wisely makes good sense in adapting to our changing climate. Rain barrels to collect rainwater for plants, and using irrigation hoses, conserves water and makes it available when you need it. 

We’ve already had a dry few weeks followed by a two-day period with as much rain as we might get in a month. Rain patterns have become less reliable in the Hudson Valley due to climate change and, like most things related to global warming, will become more extreme.

New York’s Invasive Species Awareness Week ended this past Saturday (June 12). Check out the resources for plant identification and volunteer opportunities at the Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (lhprism.org). If you have questions about dealing with invasive plants like Japanese barberry, garlic mustard, stiltgrass, knotweed or swallowwort, email me at [email protected] 

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