Saturday, June 22, 2013

Heat Slows You, Not Your Garden

Happy summertime! Today is the first full day of summer, and the temperature is in the upper 80s throughout the Tennessee Valley. Gardening now can be exhausting, but this is a great time to get some chores accomplished. For example:

Weed and brush removal are likely to be more effective when the weather is hot and dry, as the weather makes it hard for new shoots to recover. Similarly, high temperatures make herbicides like glyphosate more effective, as the plant takes up the chemical more rapidly. As I have previously mentioned, I do not advocate the widespread application of toxic chemicals, but some noxious weeds can be eliminated no other way. One plant I am attacking this year is Chinese autumn clematis, Clematis ternifolia. This plant is considered a pest plant of concern by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, because it can outgrow and smother native plants and shrubs.

In the vegetable garden, there is still time to plant beans, cucumbers, summer and winter squashes, okra, tomato plants and pepper plants. I transplanted two Bush Big Boy tomatoes that I had been holding in large pots, awaiting the garlic harvest.

Speaking of garlic, boy did we get a good crop this year. Most of the heads are over two inches in diameter. I attribute this success to the abundant rainfall we have had, at least 15 inches above normal, according to the National Weather Service. Usually, we harvest garlic in June, but the leaves were beginning to yellow, a good sign the crop is ready. The freshly harvested garlic, leaves and all, is spread out on a rack in the shade, protected from rain. Once they dry enough, I will braid the stems and hang them on the clothesline in the garage to finish curing for storage. I still have a few cloves in the refrigerator from last summer's garlic crop, although most of them are sprouting.

Our Plant of the Week this morning on Garden Talk was purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea and its related species and hybrids. This easy-to-grow member of the aster family comes in an array of colors and sizes, thanks to active plant breeding in recent years. E. purpurea is a denizen of the open plains. In a few Middle Tennessee counties, Tennessee coneflower, E. tennesseensis, thrives naturally. It lives abundantly in gardens across the state, as well, both in its pure form and in the genomes of numerous hybrids. The use of yellow coneflower, E. paradoxa, as a hybrid parent has resulted in a color range including yellow and orange shades. Coneflowers will bloom with a little afternoon shade, but the best display is in full sun in moist, well drained soil of average fertility. The plants are visited by butterflies and other pollinators, and the mature seed heads attract goldfinches. Once established, they are pest and disease free and will grace your garden from summer to frost. In the first season after transplanting, remove the flower buds as they form, to allow the plants to develop an adequate root system. Water new transplants during periods of drought. Established plants tolerate drought well. If you grow coneflowers in your garden, you will find volunteer seedlings here and there. If their blooms delight you, it is easy to multiply the plants by dividing the rootstock in fall after the plants have gone dormant. If you have more than one species or cultivar, you will get hybrid seedlings, such as the example from my garden shown in the image. This is a tennesseensis/purpurea cross, I suspect, created by insects.

Echinacea tennesseensis is endangered and is found only in a few locations in Middle Tennessee. Wild stands should never be disturbed. This plant is nevertheless easy to grow and can be purchased at many specialty nurseries and better garden centers. The leaves and petals are much narrower than in E. purpurea, and the plant is fuzzier.

The hot weather will also speed up growth in your earlier vegetable plantings. Make sure you keep beans, cucumbers and other early crops well picked, or they will stop bearing. Get out there and weed some every day, too, because the weeds also are growing vigorously. Just be sure to protect yourself from the sun and to drink plenty of water. When the temperature is above 80, I work about 30 minutes and rest in the shade for 15. Pace yourself.

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