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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

More information on soil preparation and mulching is detailed in Deer in My Garden, Vol.1: Perennials & Subshrubs and Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!

Tanacetum niveumJuly in the Garden
A slow start to the summer this year

by Carolyn Singer
July 3, 2010

Last year I was writing about six-foot tomatoes in mid-July. Was that just my imagination, or was I really picking ripe tomatoes by fourth of July weekend in 2009? This year is decidedly different. My foxglove has reached six feet in height and most of my tomatoes are under two feet, with no ripening tomatoes in sight.

chard July 2009Fourth of July weekend is a time of celebration for me in the garden I started 33 years ago. The weather that weekend was very hot, but I was so excited to have ample space for vegetables (and I was considerably younger), that I spent most of the daylight hours preparing soil and planting.

I don't remember considering that Fourth of July "late" to be planting. Even the pumpkin seeds I planted that weekend produced beautiful ripened pumpkins in the fall.

This year the soil has been so cold for much of June, the winter squash planted now may do better. If you want to add heat, try spreading black landscape fabric near the plants (about two feet away). This will also reduce the weeds. The fabric works better than black plastic, because it allows moisture and some air to reach the soil. But don't use mulches next to the plants yet, unless it is dark compost. Most mulches cool the soil.

I had a few tomatoes in the ground when the hard frost occurred in May. They were severely damaged, with total loss of leaves. All that remained was the withered central stem. Ever curious about how plants respond, I left most of them in the ground. For a couple of weeks, little growth showed, and then a few shoots began from the base of the plant. Now some of the plants are three feet tall, with vigorous, healthy growth.

Eggplants and peppers have also recovered from the May freeze. Basil had to be replanted, and is now ready for a second harvest. One lesson relearned from this year's late freeze is that a garden planted in June (and even July) gets off to a faster start. Next year I will follow my own best advice and wait. Or maybe just plant two tomato plants in mid-May.

a Nevada City CA gardenJuly is a good month to propagate plants from cuttings. Gather material early in the morning and work in the shade. Cuttings should be kept small, inserted into a mix of half vermiculite and half perlite. Shade and mist will keep the cuttings perky while they root. A vegetative cutting taken this month will be ready for planting into a small container in August or September, and into the garden in October or November.

In the flower garden, the Matilija poppy or fried-egg plant (deer-resistant!) is in full bloom. Take a drive up Sierra College Drive to see a magnificent stand. Few flowers are as dramatic as these large white blossoms, and a close-up look reveals insect and bee activity that would be great to share with a child. If you have a dry, sunny location where this vigorous perennial could establish, try a plant. It's hard to get started. Do not add too much compost to the soil, and water the area thoroughly after planting. Then try to neglect it, irrigating only if the leaves feel wilted.

straw foxgloveStraw foxglove (Digitalis lutea), photo left, is also deer-resistant, and is blooming at the irrigated edge of my meadow where the deer roam. Pale yellow flowers, and the attractive plant, are much smaller than the more common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. A strong perennial, straw foxglove easily spreads by seed each year, as the tiny seeds fall on top of the compost I spread around each plant. Find seed through the "2010 Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds" (J.L. Hudson Seeds.net or P.O. Box 337, La Honda CA 94020, catalog $1.00). If I am looking for seed for an unusual plant, this company is the first place I look.

<i>Hemerocallis</i> 'Alan'Also in my meadow, feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) and rabbit's ears (Lychnis coronaria) are in full bloom. I've been watching swallowtail butterflies visit the magenta flowers of the rabbit's ears, undaunted by the heat we've had this week. With all the color and activity in my garden in July, it's amazing I get any work done!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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