University City

Gardening: June brings rain, but be vigilant about watering

June Cleaver wore a string of pearls even when she worked in the garden, which is not a great idea in Charlotte during her namesake month.

During the month of June, it is just too hot and humid here to keep up appearances. Forget the pearls and embrace the grime, with a big straw hat, an old T-shirt, sunscreen and bug spray.

To be fair, the Internet is full of June Cleaver-inspired garden and outdoor sites. (I suppose Martha Stewart owes June a debt, doesn’t she?) The iconic housewife from the ’50s sitcom “Leave It To Beaver” managed to stay relentlessly gracious in the face of parenting, and that counts for something. Rumor has it that June also made knockout lemonade.

There’s no shortage of rainfall here in June, but that is deceptive. Much of our rain comes as intense afternoon thundershowers, not a gentle soaking. A storm can drench UNC Charlotte, while Plaza Midwood and Concord stay dry.

With the heat, plants dry out. The answer is to get out in your yard and look.

Humans come with a handy, built-in high-tech moisture sensor: It’s called an index finger. Poke it down in the soil to check for moisture.

Be especially vigilant about transplanted shrubs you put in this spring, and about newly planted flowers and vegetables.

One particularly sensitive area is the covered porch, one of the South’s best inventions. Porch plants in baskets and containers under a roof, out of the rain, dry out fast in the summertime. Check daily (use your “sensor”) and give each the water it requires.

The edible garden

In the edible garden, start summer crops throughout June. You can transplant another round of tomatoes and peppers (sweet and hot banana types are proven winners), and keep planting beans, lima beans, black-eyed and Southern peas, cucumbers, squash and okra from seed.

I’m trying some Asian greens, too. They thrive here, and nothing is better in terms of nutritional superfoods. Chinese spinach (amaranth) is a good choice, and the red stripe type is as pretty as a coleus in the flower beds.

Plant sweet potatoes this month, from bundles of slips available at local garden stores (Renfrow Hardware in Matthews usually has a good selection).

You can also plant pumpkins and winter squash from seed this month, and melons, if you have space for sprawlers.

Keep picking

Meanwhile, keep up with your picking as conscientiously as Bill Monroe. Squash, especially, goes downhill fast in quality as it gets bigger and bigger. It’s a sad June ritual to see gardeners trying to foist off zeppelin-sized zucchinis on friends and family.

Also, when lettuce bolts and radishes wilt, dig them up, put them in the compost, and either plant something new, or sow a round of buckwheat to protect the soil.

Anytime past mid-June, start cabbage family transplants indoors to set out in August. Brussels sprouts are especially important, since you’ll want to transplant them as early as mid- to late July. Kale, collards, broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi and other cool-season crops are all good choices, and even cauliflower for the fearless (it is a bit more difficult).

It is fun to start your own seedlings, plus you get a much better selection of varieties by starting from seed. For advanced or adventuresome gardeners, late June is the time to take semi-hardwood cuttings for growing shrubs, such as azaleas, camellias, hollies and rhododendrons.

Again, that’s more challenging than just buying at the nursery or plant sale, but you can biologically copy favorite plants and increase their number in your landscape.

Lawn care

Environmental and cost drawbacks notwithstanding, lawns are a beloved obsession in North Carolina, more or less the horticultural equivalent of NASCAR. Besides, June Cleaver had one, so Beaver and Wally could mow it and build character.

First order of business for good summer lawn care is to find out what kind of grass you are growing. (This is North Carolina, not Colorado. Our elevation is lower.)

Think haircut. If your lawn stands up like a mohawk, it is probably fescue. If it spreads like Rasta dreadlocks, it is probably bermudagrass. Neither likes to grow in the shade, and no amount of fertilizer or pesticide will change that.

So, use June to switch to mulch and ground cover (or, better, natural plantings) under your trees. Grow lawn in sun. Don’t fertilize fescue until next fall. Keep it tall (3 inches or taller) so it can shade out weeds.

You can fertilize bermudagrass this month, and mow it a bit shorter. Too bad it turns brown in the fall, and it also can become a noxious weed.

June almanac

Average low temperatures are in the mid-60s, average highs in the 80s. Day length is fairly stable at about 14 1/2 hours per day. Sunup is shortly after 6 a.m., sunset a bit past 8:30 p.m.

Rain is likely on at least two or three days each week, and we can expect an average of about 3 3/4 inches total rainfall this month.

The moon is full on June 12 (also the day the World Cup starts in Brazil); a new moon occurs on June 27. The summer solstice, marking the longest day of the year and transition from spring to summer, occurs at 6:51 a.m. June 21. Processions honoring Mother Earth are optional but strongly recommended.

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