Could you use a break from a few yard and garden tasks? We can all ease up a bit, with a clear conscience, because it’s Independence Day for gardeners.
Certain yard and garden chores should stop in midsummer, and July 4 is an easy date to remember. It’s a transition point of the growing season, and we can switch gears away from some tasks, giving us time for others.
It’s not only Independence Day for our country, it's independence day for us, too.
The following are tasks that should end around the Fourth of July:
- Perennial flowers, shrubs and young trees benefit from fertilizer applied during the first half of the growing season, but it should now stop. These plants need the second half of summer to gradually slow down, allowing them to “harden off” by autumn, so they enter winter tough and ready for the elements. Fertilizing too late in the season stimulates new growth that won’t have sufficient time to harden off, making plants more vulnerable to winter damage and branch dieback.
- Extensive pruning is best halted. Light trimming and shaping can continue, but heavy pruning stimulates new growth that might not have enough time to toughen up before winter, with potential winter dieback.
- Rhubarb harvest is also best completed in early July. Allowing the leaves and stalks to grow naturally for the rest of the season helps rhubarb replenish itself after we’ve plucked its leaves and stalks for the past months. Harvesting rhubarb after July 4 doesn't mean it will die, and a few stalks picked later for a rhubarb pie does little harm, but if heavy harvest continues all summer, it can weaken the plant. If blight, rot organisms or virus attack, or if the winter is severe, the rhubarb plant might not be as strong to fight adversity. If rhubarb sends up a flowering stalk, always remove, as it drains energy.
- Digging and dividing perennials takes a midsummer rest. The season is past for types best divided in spring, and fall-divided types should wait, such as iris in late August and peonies in September. The heat of midsummer is the most stressful time to interrupt most plants.
- Lawn fertilizing should cease during the hot summer months, as turfgrass slows down during high temperatures. Fertilize again around Labor Day, which is a key date for supplying nutrition for long-term grass health.
The following tasks should continue after July 4:
- Continue fertilizing annual flowers like geraniums and other container plants. They’ll bloom stronger with extra nutrition, such as water-soluble fertilizer applied every seven to 14 days.
- “Deadhead” geraniums and other annuals by removing withered, “spent” blossoms as they fade. Preventing seedhead formation will keep flowers blooming more prolifically for a longer period.
- Potted trees, shrubs and perennials from garden centers can be planted all summer.
- Maintain a high mowing height of 3 inches for healthiest turfgrass.
- Deadhead roses and perennials to encourage continued bloom.
- Eradicate as many weeds as possible to prevent them from going to seed. A single weed can produce thousands of seeds, dispersing them over a wide area, multiplying the weeding chore for years to come because many seeds remain viable in the soil for decades.
- Take long breaks to enjoy midsummer’s landscapes, flower beds and vegetable gardens.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-241-5707.