Jeff Lowenfels: Remember to enjoy the fruits of your labor

Jeff Lowenfels
Peonies can be supported with tomato cages. Jeff Lowenfels photo

I suppose I should start by suggesting the hard work in the yard is done. Make sure to take some time out to enjoy your efforts. We get so caught up in the rush to not miss a week at the beginning of the season that we often forget gardening is a hobby to be enjoyed, too. It shouldn’t be constant work. Having said that, there are a few chores you might want to consider this week.

First, staking. A lot of folks found out this week that it really doesn’t take very many raindrops to bring all your blooming peonies crashing to the ground. If you grow them, you simply need to stake them. There is no getting around it. You need a system you can use every year. Set one up and use it automatically every year.

Personally, I like to use simple tomato cages. They come in different sizes and can be set up over your plants when they are dormant and left in place all year long. All you have to do is keep the new stalks growing inside the cages, along with the blooms, of course. The foliage ends up hiding the cages and no will be the wiser.

Or, you can install those green, bamboo tomato stakes early in the season and tie individual flower stems onto them as they develop. I’ve seen the stakes put in at angles emanating from the center of the plant (be careful not to injure the tuber when you insert stakes) so they were hidden from view by the leaves. Use yarn to do the tying and be gentle.

Unfortunately, for many it is too late for their peonies. However, it is not too late to stake up soon-to-bloom delphiniums. These have hollow stems, so staking is absolutely crucial if you expect them to hold up to the inevitable August rains. A blooming delphinium stalk can hold a pound or more of water, so heed my warning. If you have mass plantings you can “fence” them in. Individual plants require eight-foot stakes.

Obviously sweet peas and climbing peas need support, or better put, something on which to grow. So do clematis plants, kiwis and hops. If you have not set up something, you’d better do it this weekend.

Next, harvest. There are things in your gardens that need to be eaten. Don’t let food go to waste. Radishes, for sure, along with kohlrabi (which is better golf ball to baseball size), lettuces and early snap peas need to be enjoyed before they get to big and “pulpy.”

While you are at it, finish up thinning carrots, turnips, young lettuces and beets. Also, remember that the beet seeds you planted were really pods. Each contained six seeds so they really need to be thinned down to one.

Finally, I may be a bit late as Invasive Plant Week has passed, but we really shouldn’t confine ourselves to one week of alert, anyhow. Butter-and-egg plants are big enough now to pull so they won’t flower. Red and orange hawkweed (aka “indian paint brush”) are in full bloom and soon to go to seed. So are Canadian thistle plants. The list, unfortunately, is far too long to include. Every gardener in Alaska, certainly, all who read this column, should have the invasive weed booklet you can find at local nurseries. It's also available online (pdf).  Take a look at it and make sure you don’t have any on your property.

Oh, and don’t forget to spend a bit of time this week enjoying the fruits of your labor thus far this year.

Jeff’s Alaska Gardening Calendar for the week of July 10, 2014

Nurseries: Still time to get stuff to fill in holes in your displays. Great time to buy trees and shrubs.

Weeds: Time to get at them again. Mulch them if you are lazy like me.

Willow Garden Club Tour: Saturday, July 26, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. This year marks the 29th year of the Willow Garden Tour. (Les Brake’s Coyote Garden is one of the featured stops on the Willow Garden Club tour). Meet at Willow Community Center for maps: Mile 69.8 Parks Highway at 9:45 a.m. (Plant Sale at WGC begins at 9:15 a.m.) Lunch is from 11:30-1 p.m.at Nancy Lake. Please bring a sack lunch. Tour of gardens will resume at 1:30 p.m. For more information about Willow Garden Tour, email willowgardenclub@hotmail.com or call 495-6034.

Coyote Garden Tour  (Les Brake): Saturday, July 26, 10 a.m. to  5 p.m.,  Sunday,  July 27, noon to 5 p.m.  Mile 71 Parks Highway; turn right on Willow-Fishhook Road.  Drive 7.5 miles up Willow-Fishhook Road.  For further information about Coyote Garden Tour, call 495-6525 (Suggested donation $7).

Jeff Lowenfels is co-author of "Teaming With Microbes" and author of "Teaming With Nutrients." Contact him on his website at teamingwithmicrobes.com.