Blinded by the light? Like a mole poking out of the soil after a long winter, I can hardly see. Even with my sunglasses, I blunder about squinting until eight at ‘night’ before finally succumbing to lowering the blind on the garden.
How soon things change! If we find the light a tad insufferable (yet also fabulous), imagine you’re a plant. You’ve been nosing out roots all spring soaking up moisture, busy growing underground. Every day that lengthens you do too, and then suddenly it’s hot. The race is on. And what do you do? You bolt.
‘Bolt’ essentially means flower in a hurry to a gardener. It means ‘run to seed’. It’s what overwintered arugula does in June when it sends up stalks of spicy flowers, what flowering plants are designed to do: make ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and reproduce in your prime. (I’m not saying this is wisdom for living, but you can take it that way if it reaffirms your identity.)
It’s important to think about how the lifecycle of a plant is tied to the seasons. At solstice, growth keeps pace with daylight. What does that mean for you and your garden? Here are five things to do now to get your plants on track for summer and fall:
1. Use the ‘Chelsea Chop’. Cut your fall blooming perennials such as Phlox, Sedums and Heleniums down by one-third. Had a hole in the centre of your heavy Sedums last year? Cut them down now and they’ll bloom on sturdy stems.
2.Get your stakes out. If you haven’t prepared for wind, now is the time. Top-heavy plants can blow down. I tie my sweet peas flat against their netting to prevent flopping. I corral perennials into handmade pens, built from twine and rebar. And speaking of rebar, you’ll need it for dahlias. If you didn’t insert a post next to your tubers at planting time, do so now. Use five-foot lengths pounded down one foot for strength.
3. Pick and pinch. Pinch annual flowers like cosmos, zinnias and dahlias to promote branching. Deadhead your roses and geraniums. Make bouquets for yourself.
4. Water deeply and infrequently to get roots deeper into the soil. Resist the urge to do a little watering, splattering moisture here and there. (You’ll train roots to stay on the surface, thus making them more vulnerable.) Target areas with your hose on low flow, lay it on the ground, set a timer for half an hour and walk away.
5. Feed all that growth. I’m in love with a dehydrated seaweed powder from Reindeer’s Natural Plant Food in the Cowichan. I mix it in water, then dilute again for heavy feeders like sweet peas and tomatoes. It last and lasts. The company also sells jugs of molasses for feeding fruit trees and flowers. Makes cocktail hour in the garden take on a whole new meaning.
Christin Geall teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Victoria and is an avid gardener.