Last week we had two significant rainfalls, even a little hail. Welcome relief of our current drought conditions but not quite a solution to the overall problem. We still are several inches short of our usual rainfall totals — but we’ll be grateful for what we get.
I had just purchased a small wading pool to make watering easier. I’m sure I’ll need it soon enough The plan is to move my containers into a group, hopefully a harmonious arrangement of pots, foliage and flowers, into the pool so that watering is simply a matter of adding water to the pool. There are a few qualifiers for using this system. Water should be limited to only so much as the plants can absorb into their soil. Most plants don’t enjoy wet feet and stagnant water can quickly become breeding pools for mosquitoes. Avoid this by restricting the water in the pool and emptying it every week and rinsing it down to dislodge and flush any eggs or larvae.
There has been some disagreement in recent years on using birdbaths in the garden, As with other containers, birdbaths can quickly become breeding grounds for disease and pests. However, it is important to provide a water source for birds and butterflies.
Remember that the baths must be emptied regularly; rinsed and brushed with a stiff brush and refilled regularly. There are birdbath treatments to inhibit problems with insects and algae but if you are regularly maintaining the bath, you should be fine.
If you aren’t going to maintain the birdbath, don’t set it out. Bird diseases can be easily spread if the water is not properly maintained.
You can improve the situation by adding a few small stones that are just above the surface of the water. This will attract butterflies to drink from the moist stones and provide some support for the young birds, unused to water pools.
Will the birdbath attract other animals? Yes, if it is the primary water source in the area it can be visited by the local squirrels and chipmunks.
For more ideas about attracting birds to your garden see the Penn State article, Landscape to attract Birds to Your Garden (https://www.psu.edu/news/agricultural-sciences/story/landscape-attract-birds-your-yard/).
My position is that a well-maintained birdbath is a great addition to the garden. It offers a much needed resource, water, and an opportunity to watch the birds enjoy a refreshing bath, However, it is a bad idea if you are not prepared to empty, clean and refill the bowl regularly.
This is the time of year when several plants that I really like appear. However, my enthusiasm is tempered with the knowledge that some beautiful, fragrant plants are thugs. Non-natives that crowd out less vigorous natives. I am thinking of the beautiful dames rocket (Hesperis matronalis) that lines our lane and the sweet scent of honeysuckle growing at the edge of the woods. Dames rocket resembles phlox but can be easily compared by examining the flower. While the height and color of dames rocket is similar. The plants are unrelated. Phlox is Polemiaceat, the phlox family. The invasive dames rocket is part of the Brassicaceae family, the Mustards.
The easiest way to identify which is which is by counting the petals on the flower. Phlox has five petals, while dames rocket has four.
The plant is a problem because it is a prolific seeder with thousands of seeds per plant. They easily sprout on disturbed soil and crowd out almost everything else
When it comes to honeysuckle, it is the stem that gives us a way to differentiate the native honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) from the invasive varieties, Amur, Morrow’s and tartarian honeysuckle. Amur and Morrow’s honeysuckle produce white flowers, and tatarian honeysuckle is bright pink.
The stem of the native honeysuckle is solid, while the invasive varieties have hollow stems. The non-natives get a head start by leafing out earlier than the natives. They do produce berries, and the birds eat them. But according to the Penn State article, Invasive Species Highlight: Bush Honeysuckles… Not for the Birds! (https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research/centers/private-forests/news/invasive-species-highlight-bush-honeysuckles-not-for-the-birds), the berries are significantly less nutritious than the native. The Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica Thunb.) belongs to the same family as our native one.The fast-growing vine twines around stems of shrubs and herbaceous plants. In full sun it forms large tangles that smother and kill vegetation.
So, when planting, try to grow native varieties of these two plants. When cleaning up neglected areas, remove these invasive non-native,
Sue Kittek is a freelance garden columnist, writer, and lecturer. Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, PO Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105
Week in the Garden
Planting: Plant a final crop of snap or pole beans, radishes, and carrots.
Plant or pot up summer bulbs and tubers such as dahlias, cannas, calla lilies, and caladiums.
Replace spent containers of pansies with heat-loving annuals. Move the pansies to cool shade and keep them watered during the summer if you want to keep them for the fall.
Plant bare root trees and shrubs. Make sure the soil is dry enough to work — Don‘t dig or plant in mud. Use annuals for containers, annual garden beds and to fill in bare spots in perennial or shrub beds. Shop for summer bulbs.
Seasonal: Stalk tall flowers and provide supports for vining plants. Cut back boltonia by half the size of the plant. Cut Joe-pye weed back to three feet tall. Cut back candytuft to encourage bushiness. Shear back woodland phlox (P. divaricata)
Deadhead sea thrift (Armeria), centaurea, centranthus ruber, dianthus, fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra exima), hardy geraniums, bearded irises, red-hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria/tritoma), catmint (Nepeta), herbaceous peonies, oriental poppies, pincushion flowers (Scabiosa).
Fertilize Siberian irises, summer phlox (P. paniculata) and Shasta daisies with a light application of balanced fertilizer
Divide spring blooming perennials after they finish blooming. Cut back peony flower stems as the blooms fade. Allow the greens to grow until fall then cut them back to the ground. Clip back iris flower stems as the blooms fade; divide plants in crowded beds. Pinch back helenium, chrysanthemums and asters to promote bushy growth and more flowers. Continue to pinch back new tips at two-week intervals until early July. Test soil for new beds, Retest soil in poorly performing areas or those that haven’t been tested in the last 3-5 years. Apply corn gluten based weed control in the garden and establish a schedule for reapplication, usually at four to six week intervals
Lawn: Keep newly seeded or sodded lawns watered; supplement rain in weeks where less than an inch. By mid-June apply spring fertilizer treatments. Apply preemergent crabgrass control in the next few weeks. Fill in holes and low spots in lawn.
Chores: Harvest crops regularly, at least every other day. Check hoses; replace washers and correct leaky connections. Dump standing water and remove anything that may collect rainwater to help control mosquito populations. Check seed inventory for late crops and fall planting. Inventory and restock seed starting and potting supplies. Clean, disinfect and store pots and trays used for seed starting and transplants. Water any recent plantings and containers anytime we experience a week with less than an inch of rain. Fix damaged screens and garden hoses. Note damaged caulking around doors and windows. Dump standing water and remove anything that may collect rainwater to help control mosquito populations. Provide deer, rabbit and groundhog protection for vulnerable plants. Reapply taste or scent deterrents. Clean and fill bird feeders regularly. Clean up spilled seed and empty hulls. Dump, scrub and refill birdbaths at least once a week. Consider setting out nesting materials if you have them. Clear gutters and direct rainwater runoff away from house foundations.
Tools, equipment, and supplies: Check spring equipment and supplies, repair or replace. Sharpen blades, get fresh gas, check and/or replace oil. Send mowers and tractors for tuneup or repair.
Safety: Clear lawns of debris before mowing and make sure pets, children and others are well away from the area being mown. Store garden chemicals indoors away from pets and children. Discard outdated ones at local chemical collection events. Photograph storm damage before clearing or repairing for insurance claims and file promptly. Anytime you are outside and the temperatures are about 50 F or warmer watch for tick bites. Use an insect repellent containing Deet on the skin. Apply a permethrin product to clothing. Wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, hats and long pants when working in the garden. Stay hydrated. Drink water or other noncaffeinated, nonalcoholic beverages. Even in cold weather, apply sunscreen, wear hats and limit exposure to sun. Wear closed-toe shoes and gloves; use eye protection; and use ear protection when using any loud power tools.