Late summer is the season of garden editing especially in a year with consistent rain and moderate temperatures. Consistent rain and moderate temperatures in Oklahoma? Yes, indeed. The summer of 2015 reminds me of the summers of my youth. There’s heat, but only a few days over 100F, and it’s rained every few weeks throughout June, July and August.
I am overjoyed by this turn of events until I think of my garden blogging friends out west. In case you haven’t heard, California is drying up and on fire. Washington and Idaho are also going up in flames. Because I’ve blogged since 2007, I have friends in all of these places. I see their shares on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and my heart hurts for them. Oklahoma is frequently dry and on fire too so I empathize. I am praying for that Godzilla El Nino with a vengeance even though it will mean mud slides because of a lack of vegetation.
Because my friends are such good and generous people, I know they don’t begrudge Oklahoma finally having a decent summer. They’re far too kind. Usually, by the end of August, my garden is very, very dry. Not this year. In fact, more rain is forecast this week, and we had beautiful storms two days ago. I am still watering, but not as often, and for once, the gardens at my church, which I care for, are in pretty good shape.
At home, where I can watch things day-to-day, summer gardening is all about editing. Weedy grasses want to take over any space left bare. Late summer is an easy time to pull/dig weedy grasses because they elongate, and you can spot them from their inflorescences (blooms/panicles.) Even so, try to reach down and get grasses and other weeds where they grow. Otherwise, they will just break off in your hands. Weeding is all about getting to the root of the problem.
My garden, in a good year, is packed to the gills with plants. Part of this is that I’m a girl who just can’t say no, but there’s also method to my madness. A garden full of growing plants crowds out many weeds by throwing shade.
A visitor in spring asked me what I spray for weeds especially in the gravel paths. I use regular vinegar, not the stronger horticultural type, but plain old vinegar set at 5% acidity. It will kill smaller weeds and weaken larger ones, but mostly, I just pull weeds and smother others with mulch or even black plastic on a warm day. Weeds in the gravel paths are at their worst in early spring when we have moderate temperatures and rain.
If you’d like to read more about natural versus chemical weed control, check out the recent discussion between Jeff Gillman and Margaret Roach on her blog, A Way to Garden. Note, I don’t use the epsom salts/vinegar mixture they discuss, but their talk gives you good insight about chemical methods versus organic ones. I only use plain vinegar on my paths, but vinegar doesn’t kill the roots of most perennial weeds. In spring, when the weather isn’t as dry, I also use a propane gas torch to kill weeds. Over the years, I’ve improved the soil in the garden beds and borders so it’s pretty easy to pull weeds. I know most people don’t work from home like I do, but if you weed thirty minutes a day after work, you’ll find you have a lot fewer weeds, and you won’t need so much herbicide, organic or not. Remember, weeding has a meditative quality too.
As the weather gets hotter, there are fewer weeds in the paths because the rocks are really hot and dry. I pull weeds in the gardens and in the paths everyday. With certain weeds like the ever-present Bermuda grass, you have to dig down into the soil to get the larger roots. In another bed, I have a stand of Johnson grass,which is worse, because I swear, those roots go all the way to China. I will probably spray it with vinegar, being careful not to overspray other plants, and then work on digging it out a few days later. I find a garden digging fork is my best took in the fight against weedy grasses. Will I ever completely rid my garden of Bermuda and Johnson grass? No. To achieve root kill on nutsedge, Bermuda and Johnson grass, I think you’ll have to use a chemical spray designed for that purpose. However, I’m organic so I just beat things back all the time. I do a lot of digging.
A new gardening friend visited and asked how I amend the soil. This is where I tell you should first get a soil test. I no longer get soil tests every few years because I’ve worked out my methods of soil amendment. If I’m having a problem with a particular bed though, I would then get a soil test to see what’s lacking. This spring, because I’m working hard on prepping new daylily cultivars for the regional tour in 2017, I did a lot of work on the soil, and the garden really responded. I used Back to Nature on the beds in March and April. It took two weeks to weed the garden and put down BTN wherever I’d weeded. One of the things I like about BTN is that when I place it on top of the soil as a mulch, it initially seems to stop some weed seed germination. If you tilled it into your soil, it wouldn’t have this effect. Further, this effect is simply based upon my observation over the years. To sow seeds in a certain location, I would cover them instead with shredded leaves for best germination. I waited a few weeks to let the earthworms till the BTN into the soil and once it decays to half its original size, I placed either shredded leaves as mulch, or fine pine, wood mulch. I used fine pine because it is very small and will degrade within a season. It provides better weed control than the shredded oak leaves. Think about it. In the forest where leaves fall to the ground, they provide a perfect soil amendment for understory plants. They do the same thing in your garden. If you don’t have fibrous leaves like those from our oak trees, you don’t even need to shred them.
I was also asked what I do about bugs and insects in the garden. I don’t do much to discourage them. Instead, I work to provide a haven for birds and all types of wildlife excluding deer of course. Deer visit anyway, and if they’re hungry enough, only a large fence, or large active dogs will stop them. I don’t have a large fence, but I plant large grasses and tall plants around the exterior of the garden because deer don’t like to venture into a space where they can’t see all around them. It’s not a perfect system, but it works pretty well. Maddie and Tap also patrol outside and reduce some of the nightly visitors like skunks, deer, opossums, raccoons, armadillos, etc. I still have damage here and there especially if I forget that deer love a certain plant and put it in the gardens further from the house. I’m thinking of the variegated oyster plant I grew for a day or two before the deer found it in the bed next to the street. Whoops.
In addition to the weeds, there are also plants that need editing. Some plants, especially passalong favorites like Phlox paniculata, Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm,’ goldenrod, Physostegia virginiana (false dragonhead) and some asters, must be pulled out. You can wait until next spring, but by then, they will be even more entrenched. I pull many of these volunteers away from other established plants. It gives everything a bit of breathing room. I pulled large piles yesterday. I may remove Verbesina alternifolia, yellow ironweed, because it is trying very hard to take over the lower beds. I do love its tall stature though at the end of the garden so maybe I won’t. I also have an aster that’s run amok, and I’ve pulled it, smothered it with plastic and sprayed with vinegar. It loves a wet clay area of my garden and is a real problem there. We all have our problem children, ‘er plants in the our gardens, don’t we?
Well, the morning is cool so I’m off to do more editing. The skies are cloudy, and I’ve got people coming to visit on October 17. Wish me luck that I get things tidied up by then.