The flower garden of our dreams has beautiful color all season long. We look longingly at catalog pictures, attend seminars, read advice from experts, and know every garden center within 50 miles.
We buy new plants, pull out dead plants, get divisions from friends, and move things around ever hopeful of the “voila” moment when our garden transforms into a living work of art from spring thaw until autumn freeze. Then, we retreat indoors to mist our neglected houseplants and wait for the new catalogs to arrive. But I digress.
Long before you achieve that perfect garden you might be faced with this scenario. Your spouse will say, “Let’s take off for Wisconsin next week,” and you will panic because that’s when your agapanthus will be blooming.
In that moment you will realize how attached you are to the care of your work-in-progress and you will find yourself wondering, “Is there ever a good time to go away on vacation during the growing season?”
Here are some must-do chores that need my attention every year and might need yours.
-As soon as the ground thaws, the battle of the quackgrass begins. Pull out the long runners while the ground is soft. If they sneak into your iris bed you will never want to grow iris again.
-Pull out all garlic mustard by the roots before they flower. One plant can produce thousands of seeds, viable for 10 or more years. Do not discard them on the ground. Wear gloves.
-In early spring use a pre-emergence herbicide such as PreenTM around shrubs and flowers. We tested its usefulness last year and ended up with a weed disaster of epic proportions. Where the heck did all that wild mint come from? I mulch my flowerbed with oak leaves.
-Every spring a few deer come into the yard to nibble new shoots. Shouting from an open window only entertains them. On a whim, I blasted them with a loud party horn. They scatter every time. Remember, deer are early risers, so don’t freak out your neighbors or your pets.
Summer into Fall
-Some weeds are inevitable. Grab them while they’re small. I was away 10 days and black nightshade grew tall enough to shade my lantana transplants. Wear gloves in case there’s poison ivy sprouting under bushes. The seeds journey through the digestive tract of birds and animals.
-Pull out over-enthusiastic sundrops and common yarrow. Never turn your back on anything innocently described as “groundcover”. Pot up your plant divisions and bring them to the Master Gardeners for their Plant Sale on June 9.
-Starting at the end of June, patrol daily for Japanese beetles. They feed on over 300 species of plants. Knock them into a bucket of soapy water. The adults have a short life span of from 30 to 45 days, but during that time the females feed, mate and lay one to five eggs — every 24 to 48 hours.
-Keep an eye on those vines. Make them keep their wandering tendrils on their trellis. My mandevilla swipes at the car every time I pull out of the garage.
-Water containerized plants every day when hot and sunny. Boy, do they let you know if you slip up. One inch of water every 7 to 10 days in the garden is in order, but don’t overdo it.
-Deadhead perennials to encourage more flowers and to keep them where you want them.
Finally, I sit back to count and recount the lovely blue flower balls on my potted agapanthus, and I watch the hummingbird show.
The weeds will grow, the wildlife and bugs will chew, but the flowers will bloom. Go ahead and plan that vacation.
Janice M. Weber – University of Illinois Extension, DeKalb County Master Gardener
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