University City

Gardening: June garden opens summer’s door

It’s been a long, cool spring – not that I hear anyone complaining. After all, the heat of summer will lay heavily on us by the end of June.

A visit to local gardens and farmers markets reveals that early June is prime harvest season for spring crops such as lettuce, beets and carrots. By the end of this month, it will be another story; many cool season crops, especially leafies and sugar snap peas, will die, bolt or just give up in the heat.

Don’t fight it. Just toss them in the compost and whet your appetite for the coming tsunami of tomatoes, green beans and summer squash.

The soil now is nice and warm, so it’s a good time to plant sweet potatoes, okra and melons, all of which thrive in our summer heat.

As time allows, start a new spring composting project. Making compost in the South is easy, especially in the summertime, when you can almost hear the materials break down in real time.

Just remember Southern Garden writer Felder Rushing’s composting rules for the South:

In our part of the world, that’s all it takes to make pure black gold for your garden. You don’t need to buy anything fancy, and you don’t need to wait until fall.

Not just for vegetables

Compost isn’t just for vegetables, though. It improves soil in countless ways for your entire garden’s benefit, including flowers, shrubs and landscape plants.

Lawn care depends on what kind of lawn grass you have.

Most University City lawns are tall fescue, a common upright grass. Do not fertilize tall fescue now. Keep it mowed high, at 3 1/2 inches, so it can out-compete weeds. Mow before the grass gets above 5 inches tall.

This month, water your fescue regularly as needed, so it receives about one inch per week (rainfall counts).

Warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda, can be cut closer and should receive a biweekly dose of fertilizer.

If you are growing your food crops organically, why not expand your organic horizons to include your whole yard?

Applied conscientiously, organic techniques – such as composting and natural pest management strategies – work well for landscapes and even lawns.

Also, as English garden authority Monty Don points out, nothing is sillier than an “organic” garden in the midst of a landscape that is completely chemically dependent.

Water plants as a mitzvah during dry spells, and don’t neglect your pots, planters and containers. Watering in the cool of early morning or late afternoon is most efficient. Be sure that about one inch of water a week gets to your vegetable garden and other demanding plants.

Summer brings out the bugs, including Japanese beetles. This year another beetle, the sugarcane bug, has gained some notoriety for damaging new corn plantings. In the early morning, handpick bugs off sensitive plants, such as roses, and wash aphids off with a strong blast from a hose.

Believe it or not, the end of June is time to start seedlings indoors for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, Brussels sprouts and other members of the cabbage family. They should be transplanted out in August – just six weeks away – to mature in the fall.