Jeff Lowenfels: There's still some summer -- and some summer garden chores -- remaining

Jeff Lowenfels
Has clover taken over your lawn? Be grateful! The plant lends your lawn a nice natural look, and provides as much natural nitrogen fertilizer as your grass needs. Jeff Lowenfels photo

Have you noticed the mornings? They are cooler and the lawn is wet with dew -- harbingers of autumn. It may be getting closer, but it is not here yet. We are still very much in the swing of summer gardening chores.

First, those lilacs. This is the time to prune them. They have finished blooming and will be setting buds for next year. When I say “this is the time,” I mean now. Right now. Don’t wait. If you do, you won’t hurt the plant, but you may end up pruning off the buds you want, because lilacs set buds for next year’s flowers this year.

By the way, it is not necessary to pull off all of the spent lilac flowers when it comes to lilacs. The only reason people do this is to increase the number of branches and blooms next year. If you pinch off the old flower properly, you end up getting two branch tips instead of one. Both will flower if the moose don’t find them first. This is a practice that I don’t recommend for large bushes. If your bush is covered with flowers, as most of those I see in Southcentral are, you don’t need to cut off all the flowers. Still, the practice may make sense if your lilacs are young.

Next, peonies are finishing up their blooms. The question is whether to remove spent flowers. Normally, this would be my practice when it comes to a perennial so the plant can divert its energy into making sugars for winter storage instead of making seeds. However, in the case of peonies, the flowers develop into very interesting and -- to my way of thinking -- beautiful seed pods. (If you are like most, you had thrips on your flowers anyway, so this might be the only way you can enjoy your peonies indoors!)

Whether you cut the spent blossoms or not, check the soil level around your plants. Peonies won’t bloom if they are planted too deep. We mulch our plants and this mulch turns to soil on top of the tubers. This is a good time to clean up a bit under your peonies so that the soil level remains level.

On to lawns. This time of year the dandelions are no longer in bloom, or at least not all of them at once. Now it isn’t necessary to mow the lawn as low. The tall grass will be healthier and will compete with the dandelions (ha!). The next flush, if we have one, is a few weeks off.

At the same time, now is the time for clover to flower and flourish in the lawn. This is free nitrogen fertilizer, and for most lawns, this is all you will ever need. Instead of fearing those patches of white flowers, rejoice and hope that the stuff will take over your lawn. It does a much better job choking out dandelions than does grass, requires less mowing and will give your lawn the natural look that is the norm these days (as opposed to being a badge of chemical danger).

As for those mushrooms popping up in the lawns, do not panic. Some are from fungi attacking wood in your lawn soil. Most are the fruiting bodies of mycorrhizal fungi, the guys that get carbon from your trees and shrubs in return for all manner of nutrients obtained by the fungi. As even the casual reader of my columns should know, these are a very good thing, in fact, necessary to the health of your plants. Fungi rule the earth.

Finally, my friend RoseMarie Nichols tells me that she shipped an extraordinary number of Yacons to Southcentral. These edible tubers produce huge green leaves and, at the end of the season, an edible tuber and one that is used to propagate new plants. If you are one of us, make sure that you are letting your plant grow unimpeded. These babies need repotting as they grow. Better yet, put yours into a larger diameter pot (18 inches or more) right now and leave it there. You may want to bring yours indoors this fall. It’s a beautiful plant.

One more thing. With the rain last week, it now is definitely slug time. Trapping and hand-picking is the way to handle this. Beer or yeast in water work well. Remember that if you use beer or yeast in bowls or cups to trap them, place these outside the garden, not in it. You don’t want to attract slugs into the garden from your neighbors’ yards. Some folks are finding small snails. Yes, these guys are coming in from Outside on stock. They trap like slugs.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar for the weekend of August 3

Plant a Row for the Hungry: Alaska Mill and Feed is a drop-off depot for your extra produce. This is a national program, started right here. We want to keep our pride. Donate your excess to Bean's, the various food banks, places of worship, friends or neighbors who might need some fresh food.

Raspberries: Time to pick yours. Don’t let them go to waste.

Cauliflower: If you want light heads, now is the time to clip leaves so they cover up the flowers.

Broccoli: Remember to cut just below the flower so the plant can regenerate new ones for more harvests.

Tomatoes: Stop pruning back. Too late if you want fruit this season. Harvest and share. Make sure your flowers are being pollinated.

Building a wattle fence: Aug. 6, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Alaska Botanical Garden’s Mike Monterusso will teach you how to build these great fences used out at the garden. There is a fee and you need to reserve space at alaskabg.org.

Recycle plastic pots and trays: Aug. 28 at the Alaska Botanical Garden. Start rounding up yours. This year ALPAR et al. will take all your plastic garden pots and flats.