Marianne Binetti

Pick lettuce, berries early in morning for peak freshness

Raspberry pruning depends on the type of plant you have.
Raspberry pruning depends on the type of plant you have. MCT, file

The third week of July is time to harvest early crops such as lettuce, raspberries, blueberries and everbearing strawberries as well as fresh herbs. To enjoy the best flavor from your berries and the most crispness from your leafy crops, harvest in the morning. Early in the day, when flowers are full of moisture, is also the best time to gather roses, sweet peas and other cut flowers to enjoy indoors.

Here are a few reader questions, with answers.

Q. When do I prune raspberries? I have everbearing raspberries and also the type that bear fruit once in the summer. T., email

A. Cut back traditional raspberries after they have finished bearing fruit. Snip the old canes right down to soil level to make room for the new shoots that will bear next year’s crop. The everbearing raspberries should not be pruned as severely. Shorten the canes by one half at the end of summer or when they stop producing berries. Be nice and add a mulch of manure around the roots of your raspberry plants. A mulch will seal in the soil moisture and provide some nutrients as the raspberry plants store energy for next summer’s crop.

Q. I heard you should not put beauty bark around rhododendrons and azaleas as they have shallow roots and a mulch will suffocate them. Is this true? P. T., Email

A. Not true. Rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and hydrangeas all have shallow roots, so these thirsty shrubs dry out quickly and suffer when there is a lack of rain. A bark mulch is the perfect way to keep these shrubs cool and comfortable and to conserve water. The suffocation problem occurs when a mulch is piled up too high around the stem or neck of the shrub or when a mulch is deeper than 4 inches.

Just think “no turtlenecks” when you layer a mulch around any plant and use your hands to push bark back so that it does not pile up around the trunk. Feather the mulch so that it is one to two inches deep next to the stem and three to four inches deep on top of the root zone. Important tip: Before adding a mulch in the summer, soak the soil thoroughly so that it is moist to a depth of at least six inches. If you add a mulch to dry soil it can keep out the rain and add to the misery of thirsty plants.

Q. I have a multitude of Shasta daisies and they bloom well in my rocky soil. Once they finish flowering, do I need to prune them? Also, when is the best time to dig up and share these perennials? C.W., Bonney Lake

A. Pruning after blooming is the rule of green thumb, and with Shasta daisies and many other early summer perennials if you cut them back now, fertilize and water well, you’ll reap the rewards of a second flush of flowers later in the summer.

You don’t need to be dainty with your daisies — use hedge clippers or even a string trimmer to cut off the plants at their ankles — leaving just three to four inches of green coming up from the ground. An extreme makeover can be shocking but necessary for a fresh start. The best time to divide and share most perennials is in the fall or early spring. This rule is made to be broken however as many perennials including hosta, daylilies and phlox can be divided any time of year — just be sure to push the liquids after any major surgery.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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