Happy Fourth from the Hollow!

Drumstick allium (A. sphaerocephalon) shoots off like a firework from a bed of Black-eyed-Susans for the Fourth of July weekend.

Despite a few beneficent showers we are still within the dusty embrace of the drought that has settled over most of the country. The soil is bone dry and any errant moisture is quickly sucked away. Thankfully, here in Virginia we are not in extremis like so much of the west, but the time for supplemental water has come.

Anything planted last spring or later needs regular watering during the months ahead. Don’t even think about planting anything until we get steady rains that replenish our water table. Young trees and shrubs as well as established specimens need good soakings every 10 days or so in the absence of an inch of rain. Small annuals or perennials from quart or pint pots need it every day until they establish new roots. Water at first signs of wilting, preferably before.

I’m often asked how long to water and the best answer is to time yourself watering each plant until its rootball is saturated and see how long that takes. Water slowly (do not blast with a sprayer like you’re washing a driveway) with a hose until the water pools at the base of the plant. Then let it sink in while you water another plant or two, then go back and keep watering until the pool takes longer and longer to soak in.

I prefer hand-watering by a sentient human being, but well-maintained soaker hoses will do especially if it’s a bed of all the same sized plants like a bank of shrubs or groundcover. It’s difficult to water a mixed planting – annuals, perennials with shrubs and trees together in the same bed – with automatic irritation (oops!) systems since small root systems can get too much while larger ones don’t get enough.

Random reports from the garden:

The rabbit has stopped grazing the gravel path larkspur; it’s quite bushy now.

I’m finding brushing off Japanese Beetles into soapy water much more efficient than crushing them with my fingernails. Get them fast before they fly away. They come in waves on the old single-flowered scarlet geraniums from Monticello that we have in the aqua pots at the front walk. They will also attack Zinnias, but if you check every day, you can stay ahead of them.

Malabar spinach seeds, soaked overnight and sowed directly into the soil, have sprouted in the heat after a week. This tropical annual vine will twine up an old tomato cage and produce succulent deep green leaves the perfect size for sandwiches and salads.

This has been a busy summer for home consults with my clients old and new. Aside from inept watering, one of the most common problems seems to be paying people to weed ornamental beds only to find they’ve uprooted all the Hellebores or merely pulled the tops off dandelions and dock. To these trusting souls I say NEVER LET ANYONE WEED UNSUPERVISED IN THE GARDEN. Paying someone does not absolve you from making sure they know what they’re doing as well as knowing what you want.

Take the time to walk through the area to be weeded and point out what you want gone and what you want kept. Have a pointing stick and don’t be afraid to use it. Explain the difference between shallow rooted chickweed that can be pulled by hand and tap rooted dandelions that need specialized tools to dig them out – asparagus knives, soil knives, trowels, narrow-bladed shovels. Make sure they have the proper tools. Do a final walk-through before you pay them.

As we celebrate the birth of our Republic, the garden reminds us of the virtues of persistence, faith and hope, not to mention the old Roman idea of the wheel of fortune to which everyone is strapped. For all our failings we are still trying to govern ourselves. We haven’t given up yet, just as we go on with the garden.



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