There’s still time to plant vegetables

June 20, 2012 

If you missed your chance to plant an edible garden this spring, don’t fret. Even during the third week of June, it’s still not too late to plant a vegetable garden. It’s also not too late to renovate your lawn. In today’s column, I’ll give advice for both, as well as answer reader questions about bearded iris and Lady’s Mantle.

PLANTING A SUMMER VEGETABLE GARDEN

Start with great soil in a raised bed and you can plant all types of warm-season crops from seed this week such as corn, beans, cucumbers and squash. If you want to harvest tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, then you’ll have to go with potted starts from the nursery or garden center. Your best strategy right now for potted vegetable starts is to either grow them in containers, so they will have the benefit of more heat, or choose a spot against a sunny wall or near warm concrete so these heat-lovers will have time to mature before the first frost.

TEND YOUR LAWN

If you have not yet aerated or fertilized your lawn, June is still a good month for lawn renovation. Every lawn will benefit from leaving the clippings to decay and return much needed nitrogen to the soil. Just be sure you mow at least once a week or when the grass blades are three inches tall. Then remove only the top one inch of the blade so you are not cutting into the stem of the grass blade.

A FEW QUESTIONS FROM READERS

My bearded iris are done blooming. Should I cut off the tall stems? I also want to move and divide this clump of iris. What is the best time of year to do this? – A.S., Tacoma

Right now, it’s time to tidy up not just iris, but any perennial plant that has bloomed and left behind the remains of the party. Follow the stem all of the way to the base of the plant and cut off the entire stalk leaving the foliage behind. The best time to move or divide bearded iris in our climate is early September. Be sure you do not bury the knuckle-like roots too deep. They need to sit nearly on top of the soil with just the lower half buried. You can cut back the strappy leaves when you dig and divide iris but leave at least four inches of foliage. Bearded iris also need good drainage and enjoy soil that is dry during the summer months after the plants bloom.

I have these huge poppies that bloom every year, but then the flowers fall off the stems and I am left with all these leaves that start to turn yellow. Must I put up with this mess? I like the flowers but not the foliage that keeps getting bigger. The leaves of these poppies look a bit like a giant dandelions so that adds to their ugliness. Any ideas? –N.G., Bonney Lake

Life is too short to put up with ugly plants. Don’t be afraid to cut off yellowing foliage of any perennial. If the plant dies you now have a spot to add something better-behaved. When it comes to the robust Oriental poppy, you can cut the foliage all the way to the ground or just tear off the older outer leaves as they turn yellow. Either way, the deep tap root will survive and you’ll still see blooms next spring. In our rainy climate these magnificent flowers are often short-lived as the paper-thin petals are washed off by rainstorms. Enjoy them longer by harvesting the buds just as they crack and the color from the petals begins to show. Enjoy the blooms indoors or in a vase under a covered porch or patio where they are protected from the rain.

I have lady’s mantle and I love the citrus-green blooms. I also love this plant because it seems to grow in my rather poor, rocky soil. What I don’t love is that after the really nice blooms, I find myself pulling up baby plants all over the garden. My question is: If I take the time to cut off all the faded blooms, will this stop lady’s mantle from reseeding? – J.J,, Renton

Yes – and you have discovered that this lady is indeed a tramp, popping up in other beds without even an invitation. To control plants that re-seed freely, you must be quick and cut back the faded blooms immediately before the seeds can ripen and are flung about or cast upon the wind. If you’ve already waited too long and the flowers have faded and gone to seed, you can try mulching on top of your beds to bury the tiny seedlings. Like many self-seeders, lady’s mantle (with the Latin name of alchemilla) needs sunlight for the seeds to sprout so a few inches of bark chips or even dried grass clippings on top of the soil will help to control the chaos. A good use for this overly ambitious plant is as a ground cover in the shade where it won’t bother anyone that promiscuous Lady Alchemilla is stealing all the real estate.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and will answer questions at her website binettigarden.com.

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