When June is well under way, the gardener rests on his hoe and draws a breath of relief. But only for a moment; work must go on and on.
Theoretically growth should now cover the ground completely. There are bare spots, however, and weeds are struggling to get possession of every one of them. Such spots must be gone ;over at least once, and there are the paths to hoe again. All of which is very prosaic when there is a riot of roses and the Canterbury bells and foxgloves are vying with them and each other.
Pruning the shrubs that have bloomed in spring is a task of early summer. Most will stand plenty of cutting back, as it is the new wood that will furnish the next year's blossoms. Limit the pruning of lilacs to the removal of weak and superfluous branches and the disfiguring seed clusters. Pinch off the tops of hardy chrysanthemums, to make them branch. In August pinch off the ends of the branches.
Bugs demand June attention. The principal offender is the rose bug, which is not, satisfied with his June fodder but must needs feast upon the Japanese irises of July. Fortunately he is big enough to handle very conveniently between the thumb and forefinger. Pick him thus from the rose or iris and drop him into a wide-mouthed pickle bottle partly filled with kerosene oil. If you object to touching this creature, which has a special hankering after white blossoms, poke him into the bottle with a little stick; the end, not the means is the important thing. Gather up the rose bugs every morning. Once in a while empty the bottle on the ground and touch a match to the mixture of dead bugs and oil. Snipping, of which the summer brings a great deal, begins in June—if May has not been a reminder of earlier needs. This is snipping with scissors and the objects are two—neatness and prolongation of the blooming period. As soon as a flower fades, if no seed is wanted, snip h off, with its individual stem. Then the plant retains its attractiveness. And it is astonishing how much difference this little thing makes, especially with such flowers as the rose, iris and peony. The later blossoms not only have more room for expansion but benefit by strength that otherwise would go into the development of seed.
Pansies planted in a partially shaded place and treated in this way will bloom quite freely into August and Sparsely until winter. Canterbury bells and some of the other bellflowers, whose beauty is serious marred by the brown of even a few faded blossoms, will give a second crop of bloom if snipped. Snip hollyhocks, foxgloves and annuals that self-sow freely, as their progeny is sometimes as much of a nuisance as weeds. Let the blossoms and stems fall to the ground, between the plant, to serve as mulch and soil nourishment if this can be done without making an unsightly appearance.
Remove flower stalks from June on, when bloom is entirely over, cut down plants whose foliage has turned brown and pull up by the roots biennials and annuals that have bloomed themselves to death. Leave hollyhocks and foxgloves if they show new crowns, as sometimes they send up small second stalks of bloom.
Fill in the spaces thus created, and those left earlier by the dying down of the spring bulbs, with annuals from the coldframe or seed bed, or with potted plants. In some way all the garden gaps should be filled as summer progresses.
Transplanting is safely done on the hottest of summer days, though cloudy ones would better be given the preference. Use plenty of water. Shade for a few days with pots, slats or cotton cloth stretched on pegs, if the plants look as if they would wither quickly. Toward evening is the best time for the work. Where a plant is very choice, or the roots are not strong, minimize the risk by filling the hole with water once or twice and letting it soak in. Set the plant in a little lower than usual and only partly fill up with soil. Then add a thin layer of wet lawn clippings, more soil and a light top dressing of the clippings.
Mulching is a summer task much more honored in the breach than in the observance. It is always beneficial, and when there is a long period with little or no rain it is the alternative of tedious watering. Sometimes water is so scarce that mulching is the gardner's only solution.
Either dry soil or lawn clippings and other vegetable matter may be used as a mulch. The dry soil is simply the surface of the ground kept loose by frequent cultivation—a good thing in summer even when the season is normal. Lawn clippings are an excellent mulch, but they must be spread very lightly as otherwise they heat. Or a thin layer of wet clippings with a litle dry soil on top may be used. Tall weeds—if there are no ripe seeds on them—flower stalks and discarded bouquets make good mulch when run through a hay chopper. Then there is leaf mold, but that is rarely at hand.
Spraying with the hose toward evening always freshens plants in summer. But real watering has to be done only when digging into the ground a little shows plainly that the soil is abnormally dry; do not wait to find this out by the appearance of the plants themselves. Watering having to be done, do it thoroughly rather than frequently. Set the hose where the spray will fall like so much rain, and leave it there until the ground is well soaked; then water the next tract. A still better way to fight drought is to dig a circular trench around a plant, or a straight one between rows, fill this with water two or three times and then put the soil back in place. A day or two afterward cultivate to keep the soil from baking.
Potted plants, even when sunk into borders to fill up the empty places, dry out quickly and may be crying for water when their neighbors are not. This is particularly true of Hydrangea hortensis, one of the hardest of garden drinkers. Use a watering pot with a long spout and no spray.
Seed gathering goes on all through the summer and into the autumn. It is worth while when there is a good strain and when the flower is one of association. It is not worth while, in many cases, going to the trouble for the sake of mere economy, for seed is comparatively inexpensive. Poppy seed, for instance, is easily saved, but gathering and drying China aster seed is bothersome and it means the sacrifice of several blossoms to concentrate strength in one.
Some seed, like that of the fraxinella, must be gathered before the pods split; or it will be scattered far and wide. Upright receptacles, such as the columbine and iris have, may be left until they have split a bit. Generally the seed is dead ripe when the pod, or in the case of composite flowers the head, is brown. Cut off pods carefully, so as not to spill any of the seed, and place in a saucer to dry; if the seeds are of the shooting kind, cover the saucer to prevent their escape. Usually they will dry sufficiently in a day. Shake out any seed remaining in the pods and throw the latter away. Then winnow the chaff by blowing gently with the* breath across the saucer. Dry composite heads by hanging them up in a paper bag, out of the reach of mice, for a fortnight or more; then shake or pick out the seeds and get rid of the refuse.
For carrying seeds through the winter, or for making up packets for friends, the little manila pay envelopes that open at one end will be found very serviceable. Seed that is as fine as dust must first be folded in tissue paper; otherwise it is likely to leak out of a corner of the envelope. Or, instead of the envelope, a small piece of white paper folded after the manner of a druggist's powder wrapper will do. Label the packages with ink, and be sure to state the year as well as the kind of seed.
It will be well to sow the new crop of perennial seed on the first of August or thereabouts. Bloom cannot be looked for in some cases the next year, unless the seedlings are given the benefit of a hotbed later, but the plants will have a better start than if the seed is held over the winter. Sow in a coldframe or in the open in a seed-bed, which it is always well to have on the place for this purpose and for cuttings of perennials. Proceed as with the May sowing of seed, but shade with laths and be careful that the ground does not dry out. Transplant the seedlings in rows when large enough. They may then be removed to permanent positions in autumn or wintered where they are.
Cuttings are also planted in rows. They root readily in summer if kept well watered and shaded a bit at first. This is a good way to propagate grass pinks, Ardbis alb id a and Torrey's pentste-mon. Pull off sprigs that have half-hardened wood at the base; do not cut them off, because that makes it less easy for the callous that precedes rooting to form. Some of the perennials, especially the creepers, will furnish cuttings that already are partly rooted.
Summer work is most comfortably disposed of in the cool of the morning; leave only transplanting and watering for the other end of the day. If the work is properly spread over the period, the time spent will hardly be missed.