University City

In Charlotte, the solstice is a good excuse for a garden celebration

In June, spring crops such as broccoli and chard are ready to harvest, growing side-by-side with ripening tomatoes at Reedy Creek Community Garden.
In June, spring crops such as broccoli and chard are ready to harvest, growing side-by-side with ripening tomatoes at Reedy Creek Community Garden. DON BOEKELHEIDE

June heralds the arrival of summer and the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. Farther north, the sun circles in the sky, never setting. In Charlotte, the solstice is not so dramatic, but it is a good excuse for a garden celebration, anyway.

Charlotte gardens and gardeners both change appearance during June. Gone are sweaters and warm socks, replaced by shorts and floppy-brimmed hats. June starts with lettuce and peas, but by the end of the month, the garden is all squash and tomatoes.

Sweet potatoes top June’s “to-plant” list. Once the soil is warm, they thrive here. You can find sweet potato starts now at independent and big-box garden shops.

In June, you can start a second round of warm-season crops, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and summer squash. I have recently noticed transplants of excellent tomato varieties for mid-summer, such as heat-resistant Florida 91 and disease-fighting Defiant, on sale at big-box stores.

Toward the end of June, start seeds of broccoli, cabbage and other fall crops in flats indoors, for transplanting into the garden in early August. Although you can also buy these seedlings in the fall, they sometimes arrive too late in the stores. Seeding your own also gives a wider choice of varieties. The process is much like starting spring transplants, except you are protecting seedlings from too much heat instead of too much cold.

Although ample rain normally falls in June, check water regularly. Check pots, planters and containers daily. An inch of water per week (rain counts) is the rule of thumb for vegetable gardens, lawns and other demanding areas. This need not be applied all at once – new seeds and seedlings need daily – or twice daily – light sprinklings. Keep tomatoes evenly moist.

Use mulch to save water, keep the soil cool and suppress weeds. An inch or two of chopped leaves costs nothing but provides great benefits. You may need to renew it once or twice over the summer, since organic matter breaks down rapidly.

Pro-actively harvest tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers and other fruiting crops. If you leave your vegetables rotting in the garden, you lose out on the nutrition, but that’s not all. Decaying produce looks bad, may attract pests (including rodents), and provides a place for diseases to get a toehold. If you have too much to eat yourself, don’t leave it – harvest it and share it.

Trim hydrangeas and gardenias immediately after bloom; don’t wait until after July 4. You’ll be rewarded with healthier plants and better blooms. You can trim the green parts of your conifers this month, but do so carefully, avoid cutting into brown wood. Keep an eye on fruit trees. Summer pruning is a useful way to keep their size under control. Get rid of suckers (trashy growth around the trunk, especially below the graft.)

Be ready for bugs – Japanese beetles, potato beetles, cucumber beetles, plus all the new pests that have joined them (brown marmorated stink bugs have already shown up.) Hand pick bugs after watering and in the morning, and crush eggs any time you see them on leaves. Be relentless.

Fungal diseases sometimes strike late in June or in July, particularly downy and powdery mildews on squash and cucumbers, and blights on tomatoes and potatoes. Extension agents are often aware of the spread of these diseases and can provide early warning. Organic controls exist, but are far more effective as preventatives applied very early in an outbreak. Resistant varieties remain the best solution. Steel yourself, and be ready to promptly remove all obviously sick plants from the garden.

June Gardener’s Almanac

Welcome to summer, with June’s average highs in the 80s and average lows in the mid-60s. Day length is fairly stable at about 141/2 hours. Sunup is shortly after 6 a.m., sunset a bit past 8:30 p.m. Rain is likely at least two or three days each week, and an average of about 33/4 inches total rainfall falls this month. The moon was full June 2; a new moon occurs o June 16. El Niño conditions continue, so predictions are for instability and an equal chance of above or below average temperature and rainfall. The summer solstice, marking the longest day of the year and transition from spring to summer, occurs June 21. Plant a food crop to honor Mother Earth and Father Sun.

Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Don? Reach him at unicity3@gmail.com.

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