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.
Glad to know I’m not the only one who constantly has to fight weedy grasses. I haven’t found a solution to them yet, other than pull and dig, pull and dig. I really need to do more editing–my garden is getting so crowded that some of the plants I really, really like don’t have enough room to breathe. I like Kathy P’s comment that just because I planted something doesn’t mean it has to stay or re-seed. I need to tell myself that more often. Maybe if I pulled out more of the asters and goldenrod, I’d have space for a cup plant–what a gorgeous specimen you have! And I absolutely love the field of zinnias!
Robin Ruff Leja says
I’m battling with a bad knee this summer, so my work in the garden has been limited. But at the same time, we’ve had sufficient rain and my plants grew large enough to fill all the empty spots. And that has meant fewer weeds have found purchase, so it all worked out perfectly. I do tend to cram plants into every possible spot, and over time, they’ve spread and filled in, so it was actually purposeful. I’ve been able to contain the weeds over a few hours every other week. But oh those grasses you mentioned! Grrrrr.
Excellent info, Dee. The best way to teach others is from one’s own experience. Thank you!
I’m glad your garden is having a good year! And what a clear photo of the sphinx moth. I tried catching a photo of one in my garden last year and had miserable luck. Yes, the mudslides will be bad if we have heavy rains this winter in the burned areas – the fires in many places have been so hot that they’ve killed all the seeds that would normally survive and replenish the area. But I suppose nature will find a way eventually. We visited Yellowstone this summer and the burned areas from years ago are full of young trees and other life. Hopeful.
Kathy Sturr says
Oh Dee, I am so ready to edit my garden – off with their heads! Any advice on bindweed? I may try spraying with vinegar. Vinegar works well. Oh, I can just imagine those zinnias – beautiful bold brilliant color! Cup plant and rudbeckia laciniata are taking over my garden and they just may get ripped out entirely! I will be doing a lot of digging before our first snowfall. You are an inspiration to me! Thank you.
Dee Nash says
Hi Kathy! Thank you. Okay, bindweed and nutsedge are the worst. Here’s the truth about bindweed. Its roots go so deep into the soil that the only way I know to get rid of it is to use a herbicide that is also a root killer. That means a chemical one. Sometimes, we are forced to use a chemical control, but there are ways to minimize any impact on our gardens and wildlife. I know people who take the plant, cut it back to about four inches and then paint the herbicide only on that foliage. That way, you don’t get any overspray. You can put cardboard behind the bindweed after cutting it back and then spray it. As far as I know, organic weed killers only kill top growth. Since bindweed has such an extensive root system, this is the only way I know to get rid of it. If it’s in a path though, you can torch it several times and kill it that way too. Good luck!
Kathy Sturr says
Thank you Dee! It is everywhere but I will try an herbicide with the advice of my extension – as long as it doesn’t harm the other plants in my beds! I so appreciate your reply. Thanks again.
Thanks for the tour, Dee. And I am indeed happy for the delightful summer weather you’re having. Would love some of it myself. 🙂 I’d also love to get some of that BTN here. Think I’ll ask the nurseries about it.
Dee Nash says
Yes, ask Jean. I know it’s sold nationwide.
Bruce Batman says
Beautiful gardens! With some rain here in Texas, my garden is coming back to life. There is something special about a drink from Mother Nature!
Dee Nash says
Bruce, there is nothing like rain. All the watering in the world can’t replace it.
Beth @ PlantPostings says
Enjoy the “editing”! I know I need to get out and do that, too. What a great photo of the sphinx moth. I know how difficult they can be to capture. I’ve been unsuccessful so far. And your patch of Cup Plant–very impressive!
Dee Nash says
Thanks a bunch Beth. I got several good shots of that Sphinx moth. He or she must have been moving slowly that day. I do love cup plant. It’s a beast though. ~~Dee
Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening says
I have recently gotten braver about editing. I cut back all my violas in mid-summer because they were getting leggy. I pulled a lot of sundrops out of one bed, making room for something new. It took me a long time to realize that just because I planted something didn’t mean I had to let it seed wherever it wanted. If you are a gardener you have to be the boss (or editor) of the garden. Or maybe we should say referee. It’s the choices and decisions you make about what goes and what stays that makes the garden yours–your creation, your vision.
Dee Nash says
Hey Kathy, I like the idea of referee for sure. I had to dig out a bunch of stuff today. I am sore and tired. Your creation and your vision. I love that.