Volume 5, July 2015
Hello to Everyone on a Beautiful Summer Day,

We hope you are enjoying this high season of color, warmth and energy.  Here at Pumpkin Brook we are in full gear for pruning season, yet we find ourselves still weeding, edging and mulching parts of properties that have been overlooked for a while.  In the office we're preparing for fall plantings with all the usual behind-the-scenes efforts.  It's a busy time, but luckily we are most often outdoors and can readily enjoy the fruits of summer.
Questions to Ponder in the Heat of Summer....
Why is my Lettuce Tall and Bitter?

As more of us grow our own food, even on a small scale, there is much to learn about the life cycle of various plants in the vegetable garden.  Most lettuce varieties are cool season crops. When the hot weather comes, they send up tall stalks that will flower and set seed.  You'll notice that the leaves begin to taste bitter around the same time the stalks elongate.  This is called bolting.  Seed savers participating in a Seed Lending Library might like to keep a few plants to collect seed, dry it, and return it to the "vault."

But for me, a big salad eater, an elongating stalk is my signal to pull out the aging lettuce and plant a new crop.  I do this in my deck containers three to four times during the growing season and start over with new young seedlings.  We switch to growing heat and bolt resistant lettuce varieties at the summer solstice.  Right now we have the varieties Magenta, Freckles, Nevada and Merlox Red Oak Leaf available.  Let Priscilla know if you would like to purchase a 6 pack or two for your garden.  We will arrange delivery as we make our rounds.

We will also have fall lettuce varieties available in August.

Here are some tips for growing lettuce in hot weather:  

1.  Water daily - lettuce loves moist soil.
2.  Protect newly planted seeds or seedlings with row covers during the hottest weather.
3.  Harvest young leaves every few days, as new ones grow on quickly to replace them.
4.  It's OK to pull out your aging lettuce plants and start over with fresh ones.
Example of lettuce
that is "bolting"

Next planting ready to eat
Heat tolerant variety - Merlox Red Oak Leaf
Foxgloves in Priscilla's Garden
Should I cut down Foxglove stalks or let them go to seed?

Most foxgloves are biennial plants, meaning that they flower at Age 2.  The dwarf pink variety 'Foxy' falls into this category.  After that, the plant dies.  So if you have 'Foxy' you can leave the seed stalk and hope that it will spread some seed around your garden for another year.  In 2016, this biennial will make a small rosette of leaves and put down roots.  In 2017, it will put up a flowering stalk.  So there is not immediate gratification!  

Other foxglove varieties are also considered biennials, but I've found I can trick them into thinking they are perennials if I cut down the flowering stalk immediately after bloom.  This sends energy back into the root system and keeps the plant reasonably well rooted to bloom another year.  If I left the seed stalk, all the plant's energy would go to making seeds and not roots.  The plant might not pull through another winter for me.

This plant also likes to go through winter with its green basal leaves intact and seems to gain energy that way.  So don't cut them away during fall cleanup.

It may be a good strategy to plant a few new foxgloves every year if they are an important part of your garden! 
Newly planted trees
How often do I water my new trees during hot weather?

It all depends on the soil characteristics (sand, loam or clay) and temperature.  Evaporation rates are higher during periods of high temperatures.  See the chart below for guidance (from our summer watering instructions):

Be sure to fill the wells around each tree completely if hand watering and let the water soak down naturally.

Rain Gardens
Rain gardens are becoming increasingly popular as more and more people are taking responsibility for their "ecological footprint."  A rain garden is a sunken garden that is planted with deep-rooted, water loving plants and grasses in a well-draining basin. Its purpose is to receive runoff from impervious surfaces such as roofs, sidewalks, and driveways. Storm water is redirected into a highly pervious garden. Here it naturally percolates into the groundwater supply while recharging water reserves.  Rain gardens can be more than functional; they can also be beautiful and beneficial to wildlife.  

Benefits of Rain Gardens
  • Prevents storm water runoff from polluting community watersheds
  • Recharges groundwater reserves with naturally filtered clean water
  • Creates habitat for butterflies, birds, and beneficial insects 
  • Adds diversity and interest to the landscape by providing a low maintenance alternative to a lawn or an expensive drainage project
Frequently Asked Questions about Rain Gardens

1. What are the components of a rain garden?
Each rain garden is unique to its particular site, but most will contain some common components such as: a sunken ponding area that is at least 6 inches below the surrounding grade; a highly porous soil medium composed of sandy to sandy loam soil supplemented with compost; a mulch layer; and an assortment of plants that tolerate both wet and dry soils.  
Q. Why are rain gardens important?
A. A rain garden improves local water quality by controlling the flow of storm water.  It allows storm water to filter through soil and into aquifers rather than "running off" into storm drains and picking up pollutants along the way that will contaminate our rivers, lakes and ocean.  
Q. Does a rain garden form a pond?
A. No. The design of a rain garden is intended to allow water to pond for a few hours to two days maximum; depending on the amount of storm water taken into the garden.
Q. Is a rain garden a breeding ground for mosquitoes?
A. No. Mosquitoes need at least 5 days of standing water to lay and hatch eggs, and the standing water in a rain garden will not be around long enough to become problematic.  Rain gardens will attract dragonflies and other wildlife that eat mosquitoes.
Q. Do rain gardens require a lot of maintenance?
A. No, rain gardens are low maintenance, especially if planted with native plants that can tolerate a range of conditions. During the first two years, weeding and watering may be needed as the plants establish themselves.  Raking fallen leaves is suggested in autumn to allow for easier infiltration of water in the springtime.
Plant Pick:  Phlox paniculata 'Blue Paradise'
Phlox paniculata 'Blue Paradise'
This variety came into the marketplace several years ago, and I snapped it up for its fantastic color.  It's the earliest phlox in my garden to bloom and certainly the longest lasting.  Phlox likes a mineral-rich soil high in organic matter plus good air circulation. Plant it in the open in full sun for best results.  I suspect this year's intense color of 'Blue Paradise' comes from repeat fall applications of trace minerals and high fungal compost!

Another favorite is the soft lavender/pink/white color montage of Phlox paniculata 'Franz Schubert.'  As a former pianist and music lover, I had to have this one in my garden!  Schubert is one of my favorite composers.  This coloration blends well with the cool blues and lavenders of July bloomers such as Campanula trachelium, tall Coventry bells.
Plant Health Care News
Japanese beetle season is here, says Carmine.  They are most attracted to plants in the rose family.  This includes not only the flowers of common garden roses but other plants like raspberries and Roses of Sharon.  

What to do?  In the long term, we amend the soil so that the plants growing in it have fewer simple sugars that make them attractive to insects.  Our goal is to build complex sugars that are harder for insects to digest.  Fall will be the season for soil amending.

As a sort of band-aid, Carmine is spraying affected plants with a combination of the Neem oil product called Azadirachtin (Aza-Direct) mixed in the same tank with Pyganic, a botanical insecticide derived from chrysanthemums.

Both products are OMRI listed (Organic Materials Review Institute) and approved for use on organic crops and landscapes.
Organic Lawn Care Tips
Grass is a cool weather crop.  This time of year your job is to help it ride out the heat.  One simple way to reduce summer stress on your lawn is to mow high, high, high.  Not only do you naturally crowd out weeds, you're allowing native pollinators to thrive in that taller canopy.  Conservation biologists at UMass have shown that allowing your lawn to grow to 3 1/2 vs 3 inches results in increases in native pollinator habitat.

Growing taller grasses also results in stronger roots and greater moisture holding capacity.

Return clippings to the lawn to build organic matter.  This is a great source of free nitrogen, the nutrient most desired by your lawn.  Bag clippings up only when weeds are present.  And keep mower blades sharp at all times for the best cuts.  Sharpened blades naturally reduces stress of disease.  Sharpen after each 8 hours of use.

Water properly in the morning to prevent disease.  Regular watering encourages strong root growth and helps the grass withstand drought.  An inch of water per week is ideal.  Watering once or twice per week is fine, and remember to count rainfall in your total.

Also, late August is the absolute best time to fertilize and overseed.  Schedule an appointment for an evaluation by contacting Chuck.

Priscilla's Garden To-Do List for Late July/Early August
  • Keep up with weeding and cover bare soil with your choice of mulch or new plants
  • Deadhead perennials and annuals to promote repeat bloom
  • Stake tall perennials preventatively BEFORE they begin to lean
  • Prune vegetative growth of wisteria back to 4-5 leaf nodes from point of origination to stimulate bloom next year
  • Pull spent spring vegetable crops and replace with new seedlings
  • Sow seeds of summer squash, beets or carrots for fall crops
  • Water anything newly planted in 2015 (see summer watering tips)
  • Pinch back leggy container plants and feed with a liquid organic fertilizer to stimulate compact regrowth
  • Flame weed walkways and patios
  • Set out new strawberry plants from runners of your existing plants
  • Prune spring blooming shrubs such as rhododendron, azalea, lilac, and weigela
  • Prune spring flowering trees and birch trees
  • Deadhead rhododendrons to promote new branch and leaf growth
  • Follow organic lawn care tips (see above)
There's still time for your fall planting project on our schedule.  New plants will soon be arriving at the nursery. Please let me know if have a new project in mind.

Priscilla H. Williams
Pumpkin Brook Organic Gardening
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